SALT LAKE CITY — Perhaps no one is more thrilled by the ingenuity and devotion to music shown by the Mormon pioneers than Linda Swenson Margetts.
Since 1984, the Farmington resident has been daily touched by their efforts, as she performs as one of five organists at daily practice sessions and noon recitals on the Tabernacle organ at Temple Square for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“It just thrills me that these pioneers were trying to exist and they drug these logs up here and constructed this pipe organ,” Margetts said. The sugar pine logs for the instrument came out of Pine Valley, near St. George in Southern Utah, 300 miles away.
Margetts’ awe is evident in her smile.
“I just create the sound and it fills the room with love,” she said of the Tabernacle organ.
The Tabernacle organ, celebrating the 150th anniversary of when it was first played in General Conference, is the subject of a new exhibit at the Church History Museum.
Those who visit the exhibit, open until April in the museum’s boardroom, can view photos of the organ’s original appearance and how it has expanded throughout the years. Also in the exhibit is a timeline of changes to the organ. Today’s organ has 11,623 pipes.
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The large middle two sections make up the original organ. Shorter sections on each side were added 100 years ago, Margetts said.
The instrument’s smallest pipe to date, Margetts said, has a music-producing portion the size of a fingernail. The largest, one of the original pipes, is 42 feet from its mouth to the top.
“Isn’t that exciting that pioneers built those large pipes?” she said. “As the pipes get shorter, the notes get higher.”
A visit to the exhibit allows visitors the chance see numerous artifacts and artwork related to the Tabernacle organ. Visitors can play a display model organ that operates through a bellows, much as the Tabernacle organ originally worked and the way organs were built for thousands of years.
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One of the favorite stories told by Harry Cross, the exhibit’s creative consultant, is about how the organ was manually operated and required two full-sized men to continually pump large bellows in order for someone to play the Tabernacle organ.
“One pumper went on strike,” Cross said, noting the difficulty of the bellows-pumping job. “He thought he wasn't getting enough recognition. After that, they took a bow.”
Margetts’ favorite story is one that happened to her personally.
When a robin came up to her in the Tabernacle on June 6, 2007, while she was playing the organ, it made such an impression on her that she recorded the story in her personal journal.
“I knew a little bird was in the Tabernacle and had heard it chirp during my noon recital,” she said. “The little sparrow flew from behind me, over my shoulder and sat on the base of the organ’s lamp in front of my face.”
The bird sat on the lamp, cocked her head and looked Margetts as she played, she said.
“I watched back, transfixed by her pretty feathers and quick movements, but continuing to play the majestic music.” Margetts said. “Perhaps the sparrow enjoyed the organ music, too. After a minute or two, she flew from the lamp, down the stairs and out an open door.”
Margetts also has had the opportunity to meet famous people who attend her performances — actress Angela Lansbury among them.
She was excited to be playing the organ during a historic meeting when “The Family: A Proclamation” was introduced by then Church President Gordon B. Hinckley. The presentation was as part of his message at the General Relief Society meeting Sept. 23, 1995.
Margetts’ duties include working with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and teaching in the choir’s training school for new members. She accompanies the Temple Square Chorale and Bells on Temple Square and plays for a variety of guest choirs, meetings and concerts. She has played in more than 50 General Conference sessions of the church.
For the first time in a decade, the church is advertising for two new skilled organists to join Margetts and the other four organists in entertaining those who visit the Tabernacle.
The effort is in anticipation of retirements by some church organists who have served for decades, according to a news release from the church. Detailed information for both full- and part-time positions and instructions on how to apply may be found at careers.lds.org.
Margetts holds a doctorate degree from the University of Utah, where she also works as an adjunct assistant professor of organ. She runs a group organ program open to the community, training pianists to become organists. She is a fellow of the American Guild of Organists.
Officials are looking for similarly accomplished organists to join her in her Tabernacle organ duties, according to the news release.