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 SRU Concert Choir, string players join Mormon Tabernacle organist 



March 23, 2010

CONTACT: K.E. Schwab


SRU Concert Choir, string players join Mormon Tabernacle organist         


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Five Slippery Rock University string students, the 50-member SRU Concert Choir and Richard Elliott, principal organist for the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City will perform with the St. Paul's Episcopal Church Chancel Choir for a concert featuring works by composer Maurice Durufl�.

           The concert is at 7 p.m. April 17 at the Mt. Lebanon church. Admission is free, but a $10 donation is suggested.

           Stephen Barr, assistant professor of music at SRU, has been rehearsing the University's choir since program plans were completed.   

           "The program came about because of a connection Thomas Bechard had with the tabernacle organist," Barr said. Bechard is an assistant professor of social work, criminology and criminal justice at SRU.

            The five SRU violinists, Aaron Blackham of Trafford, Stephanie Franzen of Forest Hills, Greg Kim of Bethesda, Md., Jami Kleinert of Cranberry Township and Sarah Sawders of White Oak, will be joined by professional musicians to complete the concert's chamber orchestra for the performance.

           "The concert, which is part of a continuing performing arts series offered by the church, will be presented in three parts," Barr said. The SRU Concert Choir will open the program with several of Durufl�'s choral pieces - "Quatre Motets sur des th�mes gr�goriens, Op. 10." Elliott will present several of the composer's organ works and the closing segment will offer Durufl�'s 40-minute "Requiem Op 9," which combines the choir, orchestra and organ.

           "Durufl�'s 'Requiem Op 9,' written in 1947, is a segmented piece and quite different than most earlier requiem works." Barr said. "Previous to Durufl�, most requiems, such as those by Mozart or Verdi, were written as bombastic pieces to guide the deceased to their final resting place. Durufl�'s work was written in a much more calmer tone for the living - those left behind - and was meant to provide solace and be more peaceful." The composer grew up in the Rouen Cathedral choir.

           "This Requiem is not an ethereal work which sings of detachment from earthly worries. It reflects, in the immutable form of the Christian prayer, the agony of man faced with the mystery of his ultimate end. It is often dramatic, or filled with resignation, or hope or terror, just as the words of the Scripture themselves which are used in the liturgy. It tends to translate human feelings before their terrifying, unexplainable or consoling destiny. [The work concludes with] the ultimate answer of Faith to all the questions, by the flight of the soul to paradise," Durufl� said about the piece prior to this death in 1986.

            The upcoming concert will feature the 1957 version updated by the computer to make use of organ, choir and an orchestra consisting of strings, trumpets, timpani and harp. The composer only published 13 pieces, but his works are listed among those most often performed in the 20th century.

           "It is a fairly difficult work, but our rehearsals have been coming along nicely," Barr said. The SRU students will have a final dress rehearsal at the church the afternoon of the concert.

            Barr said Durufl�'s work is the one that established his fame worldwide. The work is based on the Gregorian chant, with specific melodies taken from the "Mass for the Dead." 

           French publisher Durand commissioned the piece that makes extensive use of the organ. It premiered on French radio.

           "Compositionally, the 'Requiem' fuses elements of contrasting nature to form a cohesive work that is easy for the listener to follow. Gregorian chant melodies, a harmonic language based on church modes and sensuous harmonies representative of impressionistic French composers such as Debussy and Ravel, combine to create a unique musical work that captures a timeless sense of meditative spirituality," Barr said. 

           In talking about his work at the Mormon Tabernacle on YouTube, Elliott said, "Our primarily responsibilities are playing for the daily organ recitals and then accompanying the tabernacle choir in their performances - the daily organ performances date back almost 100 years."

           Elliott also accompanies the choir for its television performances and recordings.

           "There is nothing like sitting on the organ bench and having 360 voices surrounding you. It is even better than the best stereo system I can imagine with the sound bouncing around you. It is a wonderful experience," he said.

           Elliott, appointed tabernacle's organist in 1991, plays the massive console organ for the 30-minute public recitals. He formerly served as an assistant organist for the world's largest functioning pipe organ in Philadelphia's Lord and Taylor department store. His background is in jazz and popular music.

           He is a former assistant professor at Brigham Young University, where he taught organ and music appreciation courses. His early musical studies were at the Peabody Conservatory and the Catholic University of America. He earned his bachelor of music degree from Curtis Institute of Music and received his master of music and doctor of musical arts degrees from the Eastman School of Music.

           Elliott is an American Guild of Organists fellow and was a featured performer in the guild's national convention in 1992 in Atlanta. 

           He is a published composer and has also written articles for several music journals. He sits on the advisory boards for the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ and for the Eccles Organ Festival at Salt Lake's Cathedral of the Madeleine.

           St. Paul's Episcopal Church is located at 1066 Washington Road, Mount Lebanon.


Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.

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