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Center is 'ready'
But temporary organ will provide music

Seating. Check.

Acoustics. Check.Amenities. Check.

Landscaping. Check.

Organ. Well, no check. But the music will be top-rate nonetheless.

The 21,000 people lucky enough to get tickets to attend General Conference in the LDS Church's new Conference Center this weekend will witness several historic firsts in the gigantic, city-block-size building. However, the world's largest "organ" transplant will not be taking place there in time for the inaugural meeting.

Although the original plan was to pipe organ music into the Conference Center from the Tabernacle across the street, that process was found to be too complex.

A three-keyboard electronic organ has been temporarily installed in the Conference Center and will provide the music.

According to John Longhurst, Tabernacle organist, piping music from the Tabernacle to the Conference Center involved too many complexities and there were too many possibilities that things might go wrong.

"It was doable, but people were nervous about it and didn't want to run the risk of something going wrong," he said. "We'll get by. It will meet our needs."

Although a live broadcast of "Music and the Spoken Word" is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Sunday in the Conference Center, the same program was pre-recorded last Sunday in the Tabernacle for emergency use if needed.

According to Rod Arquette, KSL Radio vice president for news and programming, the prerecorded backup version likely won't be needed because a dry run readiness test of the facility's equipment Tuesday was successful.

Longhurst said the plan is that the 7,667-pipe, permanent Conference Center organ will be installed and ready for use by the October General Conference.

The massive cherry-wood casing for the building's new organ rises 42 feet high and 75 feet wide behind the pulpit and choir seats, with 143 pipes to be visible on the front display at completion.

While it's astounding how much concrete was used in the construction of the Conference Center -- enough to pave a 500-mile-long sidewalk -- there's also considerable woodwork in the new facility.

In fact, the amount of wood in the center likely qualifies it as the largest single woodworking project ever in Utah. It took the manpower and talents of three companies to do the work.

The woodworking for the organ casing and surrounding areas borrowed techniques from the boat-building world.

Fetzers Inc. of Salt Lake City was one of two local woodworking companies that spent months on the project. Paul B. Fetzer, company president, said it took boat-building technology to bend the 11/4-inch thick cherrywood around the organ space to create acoustical reflectors forming a roof over the organ.

"If the organ had no roof over it, the sound would be lost," Fetzer said, referring to the huge air space in the auditorium.

Fetzers is a 90-year-old company, located at 1436 S. West Temple and specializing in architectural woodwork. It is no stranger to LDS Church projects.

In 1915, the company extended the wooden sides of the original Tabernacle organ and in 1976 applied the decorative millwork and carvings to the new organ for the Assembly Hall.

Because the woodworking has been such a large and tricky project in the Conference Center, Fetzers hasn't been the only company involved in the project. Granite Mill and Fixture, another veteran, 93-year-old Salt Lake company, also has been instrumental in the work.

"This was a very high-profile project," said Gary Sandburg, president of Granite Mill. He believes it may be the largest millwork project ever undertaken in Utah.

He said a third Utah woodworking company, the Anderson Mill, also worked on the Conference Center.

Sandburg said even the halls of the center are primarily wood, which will aid the acoustics.

"The Conference Center is made to absorb the ambient (background) noise. They've done a remarkable job," he said.

Schoenstein & Co. of San Francisco is building and installing the Conference Center organ.

"A job like this comes to an organ builder just once in a lifetime," Jack M. Bethards, Schoenstein president, said earlier this year. "It's not only the size of the instrument but the versatility required for the wide-ranging musical demands it will be expected to meet."

The San Francisco company undertook some restorative work of the old Tabernacle organ in the 1980s.