The First Mormon Tabernacle Organist

By Brian Ebie

Anyone who has traveled to Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah is of course familiar with the famous 206-rank Aeolian Skinner pipe organ in the Mormon Tabernacle, and perhaps even the 130-rank Schoenstein pipe organ in the LDSConference Center.  And while these are certainly the most famous instruments on Temple Square, there are many other smaller pipe organs that are used for concert and practice by the Tabernacle Organists Richard Elliott, Clay Christiansen, and Andrew Unsworth.   The Assembly Hall boasts a 65 rank Robert Sipe Tracker, and the Joseph Smith Building a 45 rank Casavant.  Additionally, there are three practice organs located in the offices under the Assembly Hall by Austin, Casavant, and KennethCoulter.  Two Dowd Harpsichords and a continuo organ and some 75 pianos also reside on Temple Square.

But it was a humble reed or “pump” organ, maker unknown, which traveled across the plains on the Mormon Trail in the year 1862 and often carried on the back of pioneer John Daynes that would lead to the birth of the great pipe organ tradition on Temple Square. 

The reed organ carried across the plains on the back of John Daynes, father of the first Tabernacle Organist, Joseph Daynes.  

The reed organ carried across the plains on the back of John Daynes, father of the first Tabernacle Organist, Joseph Daynes.  

There was much hardship and difficulty, treacherous conditions, poor weather, sickness and death accompanying the Saints as they traveled west.  Physical exhaustion and lack of food contributed to terrible conditions along the trail. There was little else to do but travel by day and sleep by night.  But on one particular evening, around a campfire and circled wagons and handcarts, John Daynes’ young son Joseph played the little pump organ and entertained the tired travelers with songs and hymns.  Brigham Young, then President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, stopped by the encampment and noticed the young Joseph and being so taken with the music and the positive mood it created for the weary pioneers, proclaimed “There is our organist for the great Tabernacle organ!”  Brigham had often been asked who would play the new organ in the Tabernacle to which he would reply that the Lord would provide men able to do all things that were necessary.

Young Joseph Daynes (1851-1920) was sent to New York to study organ and returned to become the first official Tabernacle Organist.   He was known for his excellent sight-reading, sensitive accompaniment, and compositions as well as being a proficient organist. 

You may even be familiar with his most famous hymn, "As the Dew from Heaven Distilling," which is the closing hymn for the MormonTabernacle Choir's broadcast each Sunday of “Music and the Spoken Word.”