Clay Christiansen, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gives regular organ recitals in both the Tabernacle and the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, and accompanies the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir at home in Salt Lake City in all of their concerts, rehearsals, and broadcasts, as well as on their tours. He is often featured as an organ soloist on the Music and the Spoken Word broadcast which is performed live each Sunday morning.
Clay was born in the small city of Emery, Utah, in 1949 and became fascinated with music at an early age. He would play the piano for hours on end. Even when the neighborhood children would come over to play, he would often choose to stay inside and practice the piano. At the young age of six, he played his first piano solo, “We Thank Thee, Oh God, for a Prophet” (hymn no. 19) at Church. He played by ear until the age of eight when he took his first piano lessons. By the age of 11, he had become the accompanist for Sunday School and Priesthood services, and the substitute ward organist. At age 13, he began taking weekly lessons from J. J. Keeler, who started the organ program at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah.
He graduated from BYU in 1971 with a Bachelor’s degree in music. He later earned a Masters and PhD degree in Music Composition from the University of Utah where he studied with Vladimir Ussachevsky, Ramiro Cortes, and Bruce Reich. For his doctoral dissertation he created a cantata for chorus, orchestra, soprano, and tenor soloists titled “Isaiah, the Prophet.” He also has degrees in organ performance from the University of Utah and BYU where he studied with Alexander Schreiner and J. J. Keeler. His post graduate studies were with Robert Noehren, long-time University of Michigan Organist.
Clay was organist and choirmaster of Salt Lake City’s St. Mark Episcopal Cathedral for ten years (1972-1982), and organist of Congregation Kol Ami, Salt Lake City’s Jewish synagogue, for five years. While at St. Mark’s, he became well known for his weekly radio broadcasts and popular New Year’s Eve Bach recitals. He was appointed as Tabernacle Organist on the famous 5-manual, 206-rank Æolian-Skinner organ at the historic Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1982. His solo performances have taken him throughout the United States, Canada, and England. Touring with the Choir, he has performed across North America, Europe, and Israel, and he plays the organ for most of their recordings.
He recorded an organ solo CD titled “Organ of the Mormon Tabernacle” on the Klavier label. His solo performances can also be heard on “Now Let Us Rejoice: Organ Hymns for the Sabbath” Mormon Tabernacle Choir label and solo/duo performances on “The Organ at the Mission Inn” (Riverside, California).
Clay is also a composer. He wrote the music to the hymn “In Fasting We Approach Thee” (hymn no. 139). He has written a broad variety of choral, piano and organ compositions and transcriptions. His works appear in the catalogs of MorningStar Music Publishers, Shawnee Press, Jackman Music Press and SDG Press.
Clay Christiansen is married to Diane Francom. They are the happy parents of 13 children, and grandparents of over 50 grandchildren.
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After 36 years of playing the organ at general conference, Clay Christiansen will officially retire later this month. His last performance, which ended with a standing ovation by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and others present in the Conference Center, was during the...