I was sixteen, bored with the Temple Square tour, an event during our youth temple excursion. About 250 youth from the Columbia River and North Columbia River Stakes bussed to Salt Lake City for a temple baptism experience. This tour was an event during my fifth temple excursion. Sharon seemed marginally interested. Anyway, that was my interpretation.
I really did like Temple Square. Truly I did. My husband and I married in the Salt Lake Temple. But what happened when I was sixteen just was not my fault. I had experienced years of mind-numbing trips from the Pacific Northwest to Salt Lake City and the Utah canyon hamlets of our ancestors, recording “Little Stinker” jokes on a notepad to pass the time, jumping out of the car to stare down into Malad Canyon, and capturing tumbleweeds to spray silver and decorate with Christmas glass balls. Each trip had included the Tabernacle/organ/pin/Indian mummy tour.
But now, I wanted more. I dawdled. Sharon looked at me and I said, “Wanna skip this and go see the organ? I mean, up close.” She looked doubtful. I was surprised when she agreed. I had played the piano since first grade and the organ since sixth grade. I deserved this close encounter for all my practice time.
We veered left to the massive oak doors, pulling them open. “Our voices carry just as well as the pin,” Sharon giggled. “Weird, no one is here.” We strode toward the dais with its choir seats still upholstered with the original burgundy velvet, burnished to the bare warp and weft at their edges.
“Let’s get to the organ.” There it was...five tiers of white and ebony keyboard glory, needing two and a half organists, thank you very much. To the sides of the keyboards were a plethora of stops which could duplicate sounds of horns, chimes or bison. I itched to sit on the bench. It beckoned me, like a siren, to slide onto it. Everything about this organ was…celestial.
“May I help you young sisters?” boomed a male voice, much louder than a pin.
Rats! We were undone.
We gasped and turned. In front of us was a tall, slim man wearing completely white overalls and a tool belt. Should we be afraid? I could envision the headline: “Two girls found dead by tabernacle organ. Who were they? Why in the tabernacle?” Rationale thought argued that he really didn’t look like a killer. White overalls?
“May I help you?” he smiled.
Sharon scowled at me, obviously a sidelong pass for me to speak. I already came up with the organ idea. It was her turn to do something, please! But I sighed, “We wanted to see the organ.”
“Oh,” he said. “Well…that’s not the organ.”
“Do you want to see the organ?”
He started to walk away and, beyond all reasoning, we meekly followed him.
He led us through an arch at the left of the dais framed in drapery of the same velvet as the seats. He opened[JE1] a little door to our right. “Follow me. Be careful. Don’t touch anything but the rail.” We entered…a lumber yard. Inside were gigantic rectangular wooden boxes of various gigantic sizes. He seemed to touch the largest and a bellow reverberated around us. We continued along the plank. He rounded a corner. We did also; teen lambs following our white-denim shepherd. The boxes were becoming smaller, their chortles increasingly higher. “Be careful. Stay on the plank.” He pointed to a miniature tube, almost pencil-sized. “This is the highest note.” A thrill lilted heavenward.
“Wow!” Our best word of adoration.
He looped around the pipes once again. We all exited from the hole to Wonderland, walked back under the arch to the dais.
He stopped. We stopped.
Turning to us he smiled again and said, “Now you’ve seen the organ.”
SIDEBAR: In the 1960s hundreds of LDS youth from Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington stakes attended baptism sessions in temples from Alberta to Salt Lake City to Oakland. Orchestrated by the visionary Brother Otis Randall of the Portland, Oregon Stake, we traveled in four to seven passenger buses to perform temple ordinances of baptism for at least seven summers, of which I traveled on five. On our way Relief Societies fed us, having contracted with Brother Randall on his dry run forays. We sang, joked, flirted, and occasionally slept on these treks to the temple. Buses occasionally broke down. Arriving at our destination, families sponsored our stay for almost a week. In one location, housing arrangements slipped through the cracks and we stayed in a local church. Another time my hosts, the Stuckis, an older couple from the Idaho Falls area said, “We knew you were the Brinton girl.” The Coopers, my Logan temple excursion hosts, even visited us in the Northwest after I married. Though I cannot remember the name of the family who hosted me in Lethbridge, attending the Alberta Temple was my first and favorite temple excursion. The Spirit of peace permeated that fortress-like bastion of the Lord’s. Only a few years before my parents and I were totally inactive. I had not even known there were temples on earth that I could enter.
Brother Randall was amazing. He accompanied us on every excursion. I never knew his first name. But I knew he was god-like, that he loved us, that he loved the temple experience, and that he wanted us to embrace a temple experience in spite of living hundreds of miles away from temples. During our last excursion he was suffering from cancer, but we never knew it. He was our communal father and cheerleader and Moses, leading us to the promised land. There were no youth family history consultants or temple challenge goals then. Without Brother Randall many of us would have never had a temple experience until preparing for a mission or for marriage. He knew it was his mission to turn our hearts.
Aftermath: In my collection of “articles to keep until torn and ratty” is the October 1, 1994 Church News written by Gerry Avant entitled “Tabernacle Organ Gains More Fame.” The issue is still my favorite article about the tabernacle organ of Salt Lake City. My love of the organ is shared with past tabernacle organist notables such as Alexander Schreiner, John Longhurst, Robert Cundick, Linda Margetts, Bonnie Goodliffe, Clay Christiansen, and Richard Elliott who traced their relationship with the organ in the article. Brother Longhurst’s fascination began at age eight. Youngster Clay Christiansen stayed glued to the new television broadcasts of General Conferences to catch glimpses of the organ console and organists. Brother Elliott had an “in” as a friend’s mother who was in the choir orchestrated an opportunity for him to play the organ a few months after his baptism. Though not the first women to play the organ, Sisters Goodliffe and Margetts entertained the public with organ recitals and accompanied church meetings. Sister Margetts remembers entertaining herself in sacrament meetings by creating pencil rubbings from the embossed image of the pipes on the hymnal. (We all did that, right?) Little did she know then that she would play the organ someday. Both of them have been tabernacle organists for quite a few years. My husband and I saw Sister Margetts practicing when we were on a Conference Center tour, but I did not ask to see the organ.
In the October 1950 conference Elder Levi Edgar Young spoke on the history of the tabernacle organ, honoring its primary architect, Joseph Ridges. Elder Young’s speech intimates his adoration of the organ with this statement: “It is a majestic creation, and to this day, thousands come to listen to its melodious strains. It is one of the great instruments of the world.”
My recollections of my fantastical field trip to “see the organ” may be flawed, but it stands as one of the pivotal events of my youth. I recently talked with Sharon who said, “I remember the feelings… knowing we were sharing a very special experience; then knowing we were taking a chance with a total stranger and how our parents wouldn’t approve; then the feelings of gratitude for the stranger who [gave] a few minutes of his time to share [the organ] with us. Still hard to believe!”
Today the archway is quite different. The seats are replaced. The organ still reigns.
Avant, G. (1994, October 1). Tabernacle Organ Gains More Fame. Deseret News
Church News, pp. 8-10.
Bonnie Goodliffe: Tabernacle Organist Who Composed "We Meet Again As Sisters"
(2014, May 12). Retrieved February 2, 2016, from
Miller, S. (2004, March 4). Stinker Photos. Retrieved December 27, 2015, from
Organist: Linda Margetts. (2014, May 14). Retrieved January 18, 2016, from
Joan Enders is a former high school librarians and the current Family History Director of the Longview Washington Stake Family History Center. She posted this memoir under “Stories” in her Family Tree on FamilySearch. She had her first church organist calling at age fourteen. She and her husband, Jerry, are the parents of three brilliant daughters and grandparents to six amazing grandchildren.