Mormon Tabernacle Choir Blog

Richard Elliott: A Christmas Organ Tradition

During the past decade, Richard Elliott’s organ solos have become an eagerly anticipated part of the annual Christmas concerts. The audience is never disappointed! The organ selections are audience favorites, almost always generating a standing ovation. This year’s Choir, Orchestra, and Bells concert featuring Broadway singer Sutton Foster and British actor Hugh Bonneville will provide yet another opportunity for continuing this tradition.

It was during the 2006 Christmas concert with renowned Norwegian soprano Sissel that Choir music director Craig Jessop realized he needed a gap-filler while performer and set changes were made. Richard Elliott was asked to prepare a two-minute Christmas “organ moment” to fit the bill. He did and it worked well, so the next year specific time was programmed for the organ piece. That original two-minute “moment” has now expanded to become a much-loved tradition.

For each concert piece, Richard Elliott plans music that will be familiar to the audience but with creative arrangements, each with a unique flair. 

Watch these videos to see what audiences loved about these past performances:

  • Go Tell It on the Mountain” from the 2008 Christmas concert. To the audience’s delighted gasps and chuckles, Richard Elliott plays most of the song with his feet—the right foot playing rapid melody with his left foot playing the bass line. Also, read the Choir blog about this video’s nearly 1.5 million views!
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas” from the 2014 Christmas concert performed with the delightful, ever-counting Count von Count from Sesame Street. As you listen to the music, see if you can identify the additional melodies that Richard Elliott arranged for each of the 12 days. Here’s a hint: The “five gold rings” portion has the melodies from Mendelssohn’s and Wagner’s wedding marches! This is guaranteed to make your day brighter and happier. 
  • “We Three Kings” from the 2016 Christmas concert was arranged by Richard Elliott and performed by three organists—of course! Richard Elliott was joined by his Tabernacle organist colleagues Clay Christiansen and Andrew Unsworth. While occasionally one can find two organists playing on one organ, accommodating three organists playing at the same time required an amazing music arrangement with complicated—and sometimes amusing—choreography. Watch this wonderful version with six hands playing the same organ. They didn’t miss a note!

Richard Elliott has commented many times over the years that he “always wanted to win friends for the organ.” With Elliott’s flair for performance and his musical talent, he has won the respect and hearts of both his peers and audiences around the world—not just during the Christmas season, but all year long!

The Salt Lake Tribune recently ran a feature story on Richard Elliott and the five elements he includes in each Christmas organ solo. You can read it for additional insights into this wonderful annual tradition.