Features

The Music of Crawford Gates

Carma Wadley

Deseret News | Sunday, October 22, 2006

Mr. Crawford and Mr. Gates were champion debate partners in Southern California during the 1920s. Such was their esteem for each other that they pledged to name their firstborn sons after each other.
That's how Crawford Gates got his name. "Theoretically, there should be a Gates Crawford out there, too," he says. But Mr. Crawford only had daughters.

Crawford Gates has become a well-known name in music circles. Maybe you know it as the composer of the centennial musical "Promised Valley." Maybe you know it as the composer of music for the Hill Cummorah Pageant. Maybe you thought the man who owns it was dead.

"I was gone from Utah for 34 years. A lot of people thought I'd died," he jokes. But at 84 years of age, Gates is alive and well and is adding another title to the credits that follow his name: composer, educator, conductor — and now, record producer.

Since moving back to Utah in 1999, so many people have asked him where they can get copies of his music that he's decided to release a series of CDs of some of his original compositions.

His first release is a newly remastered version of a recording the Utah Symphony did of "Promised Valley." (Available in the ZCMI store at This Is The Place Heritage Park and the Museum of Church History and Art; other outlets soon.)

The story of how a 25-year-old man came to compose the music for "Promised Valley" is just one of many in his long career.

Gates became interested in music early. His first composition, at age 8, was played by his third-grade class. He started on piano, added violin at age 9, then went on to become proficient in trumpet, clarinet and harp. By the time he was 12, he had composed 10 pieces. From 12-16, he started composing for his friends who played cello, flute and sang a cappella. "They all got played."

Still, he could have ended up in physics. In his first year of college, he heard about a composition contest for students sponsored by the Stockton Symphony. First prize was $25. "That was a month's rent in those days," so he spent six months writing "Camelot" — long before that subject became a Broadway play.

He made a critical mistake with that work. "I'd read that the Boston Symphony had 104 pieces, so I wrote my work for a 104-piece orchestra. The Stockton Symphony only had 57 members." So even though he won first prize, they couldn't play it.

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