John J. McClellan

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John J. McClellan Jr. was a pianist and the chief organist of the Salt Lake Tabernacle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1900 to 1925. In addition to accompanying the Tabernacle Choir, he inaugurated the organ free recitals at the tabernacle.

He composed the music for “Sweet Is the Work” (#147), which was included in the 1985 Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He was born on April 20, 1874, in Payson, Utah Territory. At the age of eight, his maternal grandfather took him to General Conference in Salt Lake City and he remembers his greatest thrill was when he heard the organ. He fell back and hit his head and exclaimed, “If only I could touch that organ.”[1] At the age of ten he started music lessons under his mother’s tutelage. By the age of eleven, he was serving as a Church organist in Payson. He studied in Michigan under Albert W. Platte in 1891 and then studied under Johann Erich Schmaal and Alberto Jones at the Ann Arbor Conservatory. While he studied there, he was the choirmaster and organist of St. Thomas Catholic Church and pianist of the Ann Arbor Choral Union. He also founded the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra. He graduated in 1896 and was offered a position at the university, but preferred to return to Utah.

After he returned to Utah, he taught music at LDS College and at Brigham Young Academy. He was also the chair of music at the University of Utah. He was also the director for the Salt Lake Opera Company. He directed the Salt Lake Choral Society and the Salt Lake Symphony Orchestra. He founded the Utah Conservatory of Music.[2]

He studied organ in 1899 in Berlin, Germany, and while there he edited and published a new edition of the Church hymnal in German.

On December 31, 1900, he persuaded the authorities of the Church to spend $12,000 to have the organ remodeled by the Kimball Company. This remodeling caused the fame of the organ to spread. Often when important persons or groups were passing through Salt Lake they desired to hear the organ. . . . As a result, McClellan was called on at any time of the day or night, at home or at his studio, to play special recitals for the visitors.[3]

McClellan was a member of the inaugural Church Music Committee. Notable organists Alexander Schreiner and J. Spencer Cornwall studied under him.

McClellan and his wife, Mary Douglass, had five children. In 1923, he suffered a collapse and spent ten months in Riverside, California, recovering. In September 1924 he was able to resume some of his former duties, but died on August 2, 1925.