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Organist At Temple Square Retires After 40 Years

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — One of the first female organists to perform at a General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is retiring after 40 years of playing with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.

Exactly four decades ago Monday, Bonnie Goodliffe got her dream opportunity — a chance to perform her very first organ recital inside the historic tabernacle on Temple Square.

The deal was only supposed to last for six months. But after those 40 years, the 76-year-old finished her final recital as a tabernacle organist to a standing ovation from family, friends and the public Monday.

“Of course I will miss it, but there is no fooling the calendar. I think I’m still as sharp mentally as I used to be, but there are physical issues that just start to creep in,” she said.

Goodliffe is known for paving the way for other women organists with the famous Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square during her career.

On Jan. 28, 1988, she became the first female organist to perform during a broadcast of “Music and The Spoken Word,” and in April 1992, she was one of two women organist who played for the first time during The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ General Conference.

“That was really huge. People asked me before that time, ‘Yeah, that’s very nice you got to do this or that, but how about General Conference?’ I said I do not expect to live to see that happen and I was sincere. I did not expect to see it happen,” she said. “There had never been some kind of forbidding for women to play; it was just the tradition was very strong of men playing.”

Goodliffe said there is something about playing the organ that gives her the ultimate feeling of accomplishment.

“That’s a real power trip because I’m not very tall and I’m not very strong, but on the organ that doesn’t make any difference. So, I can make the same big sounds and the same big chords as anybody else. That’s not true on the piano,” she said. “When I went to the organ I thought well this is just a better fit for me. I can do things I couldn’t do before.”

But Goodliffe said she isn’t planning on hanging it all up. She is already scheduled to come back on Nov. 5, now as a guest organist.

Goodliffe is the mother of seven children and 20 grandchildren, and many of them were at Monday’s performance.

“It’s just been a fabulous ride, a fabulous experience,” said Goodliffe’s husband Glade. “She’s a performer since the get-go. I’m extremely proud of her as you can imagine. I’m her self-appointed manager, agent, fan and president of her fan club.”

“We try to play to touch the hearts of the people, that’s a wonderful mission, don’t you think?” Goodliffe said. “I feel like I’ve been lucky to be part of that. We sing [and play] to the glory of God. I can’t imagine a nicer assignment. I’ve been very, very lucky.”