I was born in 1926 in Salt Lake City, Utah. My childhood and youth were spent twelve miles south in the small town of Sandy, the end of the streetcar line. My parents were both devout Mormons, as were the majority of the town’s residents. I grew up conforming to every standard and requirement of our faith.
Our chapel (ward house) was located just a block away from our modest home. It was the center of both my religious and social life. As I was musically talented, it was the means of furthering my keyboard skill, as I served as the organist for our weekly church services.
My musical development continued during my school days as I played in bands and orchestras. In fact, I began saving for my future university studies with my income as a jazz band pianist. I was also fortunate to be accepted as the only scholarship student of famed Tabernacle organist Alexander Schreiner.
World War II began during my high school years. Upon graduation I enlisted in the Merchant Marines. After my release I immediately enrolled as a freshman music major at the University of Utah. I married my organ student, Charlotte (Cholly) Clark, who lived in my Sandy ward. We moved to a modest house on Douglas Street just west of the “U” campus, which we were able to purchase because of my combined income from teaching organ and piano students and serving as organist for the First Unitarian Church and Temple B’nai Israel. These positions were my first direct exposure to religions that were different from my own. This experience strengthened, rather than weakened, my belief in the validity of Mormonism, despite my failure to serve a mission because of my marriage and resultant young family.
Since my Merchant Marine service was not covered by the G.I. Bill of Rights, I paid for my entire university education without scholarship aid. Thus, of necessity, I remained at the University of Utah to gain my B.F.A., M.F.A., and eventual Ph.D. in musical composition under the tutelage of internationally famous composer Leroy J. Robertson. As a result, my ability to compose has remained an important part of my life to this day.
My minor subject was philosophy. The staff of that department included several liberal Mormons. They made every effort to make me question my heretofore strong testimony. After ridiculing my belief in Joseph Smith’s story of the First Vision and resultant Restoration of the Gospel, including my Temple endowments, one even denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. I was aghast.
I found immediate reassurance of the validity of my life-guiding faith in the Restoration from close friends Lowell Bennion, at the U. of U. Institute of Religion, and Hugh Nibley, at BYU. In response to my query concerning the validity of the Book of Mormon, Nibley replied: “I considered every possible explanation of this fantastic story, only to find one and only one answer: Joseph Smith’s account is true”! My faith emerged from this profound challenge confirmed and even more certain.
After graduation I joined the music faculty at BYU in 1957. While there, I became a member of the Sunday School General Board, whose members included such superb intellectual luminaries as Henry Eyring, Thomas Parmley, Bertrand Harrison, Victor Cline, and others. Their friendship and professional excellence formed an overpowering counter-balance to my previous experience with the liberal philosophers at the U. of U.
In a faith-centered discussion with Truman Madsen, I remarked that I believed that we were all seekers for a sign. The membership and testimony of outstanding individuals in the Restored Church form a significant part of my own testimony. “That’s right,” he said. I recalled our attendance at a pre-school-year, full faculty devotional in the old Smith Building auditorium at BYU. President Hugh B. Brown was the last speaker. He concluded his address with these never-to-be-forgotten words: “He lives, He lives! To say more would betray a sacred trust.” We all exited the building quietly as we realized the profound implication of what he had fervently proclaimed.
In 1962, my family and I and were called by President David O. McKay to go to London, England, where I served as organist at the new Hyde Park Chapel. This stimulating experience filled the void in my professional credentials, which had previously been limited to the state of Utah. It was most encouraging to find that I could “hold my own” in a musical culture of highest excellence. I appeared in concert at St. Paul’s Cathedral and King’s College, Cambridge, in addition to my daily recitals at Hyde Park Chapel and a BBC broadcast.
At the conclusion of our two year mission in 1964, we returned to Provo, where I resumed my teaching and compositional activity at BYU until I was abruptly called to serve as an organist at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Thus began a twenty-seven-year period of faith promoting experience with the Tabernacle Choir and the central church leadership in music-related activities. While in England I had formed a strong friendship with N. Eldon Tanner, who was serving as President of the West European Mission. He counseled me, saying: “There is no limit to the good that you can accomplish during your life if you are not concerned with who gets the credit.” Thus, with similar friendships of prophets, apostles and others in key positions who called me by my first name, I was able to work quietly behind the scenes to spearhead many much-needed projects of significance during my years at Temple Square. Generally, these activities were not within my area of stewardship or job description. As service to others was and is my goal, I opened every window of opportunity that arose. Following my retirement in 1991, my wife and I were called to serve as Directors of Hosting at the BYU Center in Jerusalem, Israel. My opportunities to spearhead new needed projects of significance continued unabated, and have continued to do so to the present day. I believe that all such opportunities for service are inspired. I was in “the right place at the right time” to receive spiritual guidance.
Now, at age 83, I find that my own testimony grows even stronger through retrospection of my life, starting as a simple, uneducated boy, living in a small Utah town, through a rich life of service and achievement, to the present day when, as a noted professional violinist from New York wistfully remarked, “You’ve had it all!” as he contrasted his world-centered life with my spiritually-centered life.
God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Restored Gospel are as real, natural, and crucial to me as the very air that I breathe. The opportunity to be in His actual presence with my dearest wife and eternal companion, along with our priceless family, to join our loved ones who await us there, is a gift of divine love beyond description and fullest comprehension. I so testify.
Robert Cundick was born in 1926 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is perhaps best known for his twenty-seven years as Mormon Tabernacle organist on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. His principal teacher was Alexander Schreiner. He has composed in choral, orchestral, and chamber genres. Robert Cundick studied composition with the late American composer Leroy Robertson. In 1955, he received his Ph.D. and began teaching at the University of Utah. He later taught at Brigham Young University. As Tabernacle organist emeritus, he continues to devote much of his time to composition and other music-related activities. He is a former National Councilor of the American Guild of Organists.
Posted February 2010