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The pivotal decision that led Tabernacle Choir organist Richard Elliott into his music career


The following is excerpted from the Church Newsroom. To read the full report, CLICK HERE.

There was a period during show-stopping organist Richard Elliott’s college years when he almost didn’t go into music.

The man now known for his rousing solos in the Tabernacle Choir’s annual Christmas concerts had then completed his master’s degree but was counting the cost of a doctorate and wasn’t sure how he might make a living as an organist.

“I was looking at the practicalities and I thought maybe this isn’t the right thing,” Elliott said. “I had other interests in computer science and other fields and thought maybe I should just rethink this and go into something other than music.”

An anonymous benefactor helped Elliott make his pivotal decision.

“The offer for someone to pay for my doctorate was enough to persuade me that maybe it was just worth taking that leap of faith,” he said. “I hadn’t been playing as much then. The combination of missing the playing and the possibility of getting my doctorate and knowing that I may be qualified for a university teaching position after I got my doctorate, that was enough to tip the scales.”

Several decades later, Elliott, principal organist with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, will be among several artists honored with the 2022 Governor’s Mansion Artist Awards by Gov. Spencer Cox and first lady Abby Cox on Wednesday.

“The arts can inspire us, uplift us, and help us reflect on the complexities of the human condition as well as our common humanity,” Gov. Cox said in a news release. “Utah is so lucky to have such a rich tradition of artistic talent among us and we are grateful to these artists for the joy and hope they contribute to our quality of life.”

“Art speaks to us in a language everyone understands,” Abby Cox said. “It’s a connecting point. The Governor’s Mansion Artist Awards are a way for us to honor and celebrate exceptional artists in our community.”

Those receiving awards include:

Elliott isn’t the first musician affiliated with the Tabernacle Choir to receive the honor. Previous Tabernacle Choir recipients of the Utah Governor’s Mansion Artist Award include the choir itself (2002), longtime choir director Jerold and JoAnn Ottley (2003), current choir director Mack Wilberg (2009), former director Craig Jessop (2014), and Alex Boyé and Sue Allred (2015).

Tabernacle Choir organist Richard Elliott practices at the Salt Lake Tabernacle for a concert with the Utah Symphony in Salt Lake City Friday, April 15, 2011. Elliott will receive the Utah Governor’s Mansion Artist Award.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“I’m really deeply honored,” Elliott said. “We feel here that we stand on the shoulders of many people who came before us, specifically in the choir organization, and we are fortunate to have the blessing of being able to use our musical gifts to bless the lives of others.”

Elliott, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, has played the organ for the Tabernacle Choir for more than 31 years, performing in many of the world’s great halls and appearing on numerous television and radio programs and recordings. He has studied at the Peabody Institute and the Catholic University of America, received a bachelor’s degree in music from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and a master’s in music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

Prior to his appointment as Tabernacle organist in 1991, Elliott was an assistant professor of organ at BYU. He and his wife, pianist Elizabeth Cox Ballantyne, are the parents of two sons.

Elliott is one of five Tabernacle Choir organists who regularly perform on “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcasts, at Latter-day Saint general conferences and for daily 30-minute organ recitals in the Tabernacle.

Shortly before receiving his award, Elliott spoke with the Deseret News about when he first liked playing the organ, key decisions in his career, changes he has witnessed within the choir over many years and a few of his most memorable moments as an organist.

To read the full report, CLICK HERE.




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