Features

The Music of Crawford Gates

Carma Wadley

Deseret News | Sunday, October 22, 2006

It also led to an association between Gates and Maurice Abravanel . "He asked me to conduct excerpts from it at one of his first concerts. He also asked me to be an assistant conductor of the symphony, but that was the very same week that I had been accepted into the doctoral program at the Rochester School of Music." Over the next 32 years Gates served as guest conductor for the Utah Symphony 25 times.
The symphony also commissioned three major works. "That was Abravanel's gift to my career." Just before Abravanel retired, he also requested that the Utah Symphony do the recording of "Promised Valley" that Gates has now released.

In 1957, Gates was asked to compose an original score for the Hill Cummorah Pageant. His "Symphony No. 2: Scenes from the Book of Mormon" was used through 1987. Then, when the pageant was updated and changed, he again provided the score.

Gates joined the music faculty at BYU in 1950, and from 1960 to 1966 he was chairman of the department. His proudest accomplishments from that tenure were helping with the design of the Fine Arts Center on campus and pulling off a wowie-zowie student performance at a national music educators' conference that demonstrated the "high quality of instruction" of which BYU was capable. Not only did the performance get a standing ovation, it "impacted a new generation of support, encouraging students to come to BYU."

In 1963, Gates took a sabbatical from BYU and went to conduct an orchestra in southern Wisconsin. He returned to BYU, but officials of the Beloit-Janesville Orchestra knew a good thing when they heard it and offered him a permanent job as conductor. "I still had a year to go in my chairmanship at BYU so I turned them down. But they came back and said they would hold the position, bringing in guest conductors for a year. That was a high compliment. I couldn't pass it up. I felt I had done all I could in Utah and that it was time to try something new."

After three years at Beloit he got a second job with the Quincy, Ill., Symphony, which meant traveling 600 miles back and forth each week. Then he was offered a job with the Rockford (Illinois) Symphony, so he switched to that for a number of years, still taking care of two orchestras.

During those years, Gates also found time to compose, including his "Symphony No. 5, Perelandra," based on works by C.S. Lewis, which was performed for Beloit-Janesville's 25th anniversary. "I never had an ovation like I got for that one."

In all, since age 8, there have been 859 compositions, says Gates. And so, while people still remember his name, he decided it was time to put some of them out on CD. Next up is his Book of Mormon music. Then he'd like to do some of his other symphonies, including "Perelandra," and maybe even his "Camelot."

"I'm on a roll," he says. "It's another exciting part of my life."

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