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Richard Elliott: Mormon Organist
Richard Elliott is the Principal Tabernacle Organist with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. He plays the 11,623 pipe organ in the Tabernacle and the 7,667 wind-powered pipes of the Conference Center organ.
Elliott was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in May 1980. Before his baptism, he had studied organ with the plan to become a studio musician. He studied at the Peabody Conservatory and the Catholic University of America. He earned his bachelor’s of music degree from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and his master’s and doctoral degrees from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.
He became an assistant professor of organ at Brigham Young University. He was appointed as Tabernacle organist in 1991. He is also a former assistant organist for Philadelphia’s famed Wanamaker organ. He sits on the advisory boards for the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ and the Eccles Organ Festival at Salt Lake City’s Cathedral of the Madeleine.
Elliott loved music as a child and loved to listen to his mother play the piano. As a teenager, he played the organ in a rock band, which included flaming speakers, smoke machines, and flash pots that caused the group to be blacklisted because of the fire hazard. He learned to love gospel music at the church he attended with his family. His background brought a unique voice to his job with the choir.
In 2009, the tendon of his left bicep ruptured and he had two options: leave it to heal and regain mobility, which would lessen the strength in his arm, or undergo surgery to repair it, which might cause nerve damage. He chose surgery and while recovering, he focused on practicing on the organ’s pedal keyboard. That effort has led him to be especially skilled on the pedal keyboard and he often uses his skill in organ solos. He also studied orchestration and has arranged pieces for the choir, as requested by director Mack Wilberg. Several of his arrangements for organ have been published.
In addition to accompanying the choir and giving recitals at Temple Square, Elliott has recorded many organ pieces with various labels and occasionally gives organ recitals at locations across the United States.
Elliott and his wife, pianist Elizabeth Cox Ballantyne, are the parents of two sons.