Mormon Tabernacle Choir Blog

Organist Richard Elliott Featured on KUTV’s Person 2 Person

Principal organist Richard Elliott was the subject of Person 2 Person, a KUTV News special. 

The piece covered many aspects of Elliott’s life, from his rock star past to his conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a troublesome injury to his arm, which caused him to rethink the way he played.  

The show’s host, Shauna Lake, introduced the segment saying, “From fiery rock shows to the Tabernacle, Richard has had many interesting experiences. But he has found sacred music makes him happiest, and hopes to use it to touch people’s hearts.”

In Elliott’s earlier years, he played several instruments in a rock band. He admitted, “We were especially known for our fire shows, and so we would almost literally set the place on fire. I had flaming tambourines—I had a flaming theremin—it shot flames out of the end.”

Regarding his conversion, Elliott recounted, “I became a convert to the Church when I was 23 years old. That changed everything, really—it changed my perspective. I already felt before that that I didn’t really think I wanted to go into rock music because I saw what it did to the people that did it full-time. It was a hard, hard lifestyle. I just felt like I wanted something that was intellectually more satisfying to me, but also something that maybe helped other people.”

When Elliott completed his Church mission in Argentina, he went to school and received a doctoral degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Following his graduation, he taught at Brigham Young University for three years before landing a job as Tabernacle organist in 1991.

Elliott touched on a major trial in his life that occurred in 2008, when he sustained a possibly career-threatening injury to his left arm, requiring surgery to reattach a tendon. “That was the scariest thing that had happened to me up to that point,” recalled Elliott. He also spoke about a dark time shortly afterward, when he went into the Tabernacle after hours with his left arm in a sling, sat at the bench, and played “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” “The tears just came rolling down my face. Those are the things that you never forget, that really build your testimony, but also build your internal strength and your commitment to what you’re doing there.”

While preparing for his Christmas concert organ solo, which had become an annual tradition, Elliott decided to study pedal technique to make better use of his feet at the organ pedals while recovering from his injury. One day during practice, he had a sudden realization while playing “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” He started snapping his fingers with his right hand while playing the bass line and melody with his feet and thought, “Well, I could do that if my left arm isn’t ready.” And just like that, his feet gave him hope—and brought audiences to their feet during the many ovations that would follow his new discovery.

In the past Elliott has said, “I have always wanted to win friends for the organ.” He described the massive instrument this way: “It’s almost like having an orchestra at your fingertips. You have so many sounds there—the power is intoxicating.”

Watch the entire KUTV News Person 2 Person segment:


Watch more videos featuring Richard Elliott: