An Unlikely Instrument Unites A Community

An Unlikely Instrument Unites A Community

Some people say music can make all of the difference. One community is using an unlikely instrument to create unity.

Gabriele Terrone, the resident organist at the Madeleine Cathedral said music is making a big difference in his life.

“If I didn’t have music I don’t know where I would be now,” Terrone said.

Clay Christiansen shared the role the organ has played in his life. “I’ve been at the tabernacle since September of 1982 as a full-time tabernacle organist,” Christiansen said.

“Every time I learn a new piece, it’s ‘How am I going to set this up?,’ ‘What colors am I going to explore?,” and “How am I going to bring this to life, to realize it?,” organist Andrew Unsworth said.

Unsworth said many people never step into a church searching for the organ or “get to have a chance to witness the majesty of a cathedral space and a cathedral organ.” 

KBYU decided to create an annual event that would give people that chance.

“This was an event that was started by KBYU ten years ago, and the idea was to celebrate the organ in the community and its role,” Unsworth said.

Tabernacle Organist Bonnie Goodliffe shared her experience playing in the first Organ Fest.

“I remember the first Organ Fest One and we actually thought, ‘will anybody come?…’ and it was standing room only,” Goodliffe said.

“I think I’ve never seen a crowd of that size for an organ concert,” Terrone.

“It’s packed, every time,” Unsworth said.

People said some of the reasons they keep coming back every year is to learn more about the impressive instrument. “To gain knowledge about the organ and the youthfulness of the organ,” Beth Bigelow said.

In addition to celebrating the organ, the festival this year also honored an organist who has dedicated more than 36 years to sharing his love of music with others.

“It’s been a life-long endeavor and I hope that I will bring something to that music that will be meaningful to the listeners. This Organ Fest Ten will be my last because I plan to retire after April conference next spring,” Christiansen said.

Christiansen’s fellow musicians said his presence will be missed, but they plan to continue sharing his and their love of the organ with people all over the world.

“Most people hear the organ in a church setting but there is a huge repertoire of concert organ music, some of the best music in the world. Bach, after all, was an organist and so some of the best music in the world is for organ and we’ll never run out, there’s so much,” Goodliffe exclaimed.

Many people say music is what’s bringing them together in a time of social and cultural division.

“No matter what is your background, when people experience this good music that touches deep inside, their reaction is always good and the reaction is always of wonder and of gratitude,” Terrone said.

Principal Organist Richard Elliott for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir explained why the arts are so important to communities across the globe.

“The arts are always a refuge for people and they’re a way to not only just forget your daily cares and the bad news of the day but to also…really feel like you’re elevated to a higher level,” Elliott said.

Terrone said music can bridge the gap between any social, cultural or economic division: “All of the differences that we have, we found this common root in the passion and love for the organ music.”

The organists said their free concerts attract people of all ages and backgrounds, but more importantly, they offer a place of refuge and love for those in need.

Jessica Coombs

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