It seems paradoxical that someone as reserved as Parley Belnap would spend a lifetime mastering the instrument that typifies his opposite—the massive and powerful organ. But this fortunate nexus of pipes and personality has benefited thousands of students, colleagues, and listeners alike.
Parley cites an amalgam of events that prompted him to pursue an organ career. “Not only did my parents support me, my teachers encouraged me as well. When money was tight, one teacher let me work for lessons rather than pay. Another, who insisted on my memorizing music, commended the accuracy of my playing from memory.” By the mid-fifties, the young organist’s reputation had spread to Temple Square in Salt Lake City, where officials asked him (and future Tabernacle organist Robert Cundick) to play guest recitals on the famed Tabernacle organ. This honor galvanized Parley’s resolve to pursue an organ career.
One of his first piano teachers encouraged him to study the organ with Tabernacle organist Frank W. Asper. Parley then attended Brigham Young University, where he received his bachelor of arts in 1950. Following an LDS mission to Germany from 1950 to 1953, he obtained permission to remain in Europe and for nearly six months took private lessons from Marcel Dupré, professor of organ and director of the Paris Conservatory. After returning to BYU, he acquired his master of arts in 1956 in music theory and organ and came under the guidance of the venerable J. J. Keeler, professor of organ.
In 1956 the U.S. Army drafted him and he returned to Germany. Capitalizing again on his circumstances, the young draftee sought special arrangements to take organ lessons. On weekends he traveled to Belgium and studied with the distinguished composer/organist Flor Peeters. This tutelage continued for years with further instruction from Professor Peeters at the Royal Flemish Conservatory in Antwerp. Parley received the first prize degree (Erste Prijs) with honors, and in 1964 accepted the highest degree in organ, the Hoger Diplom.
Parley then headed west to London, where he served as organist at the Hyde Park chapel for the summer. A year later he joined the music faculty at his alma mater Brigham Young University. He continued studies with Everett Hilty and Don Vollstedt, professors of organ at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and with Dr. Marilyn Mason at the University of Michigan. With the help of summers off and a sabbatical leave, he completed his doctor of musical arts degree at the University of Colorado in Boulder in 1975.
During his 33 years at Brigham Young University from 1965 to 1998, Dr. Belnap coordinated organ studies, became a valued music theory instructor, was university organist, produced a group organ curriculum, developed an organ certification program, and administered a summer workshop on church music that continues to attract thousands. His book Hymn Studies for Organists provides a pedagogical approach to the art of hymn playing. In several venues throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, he has performed, lectured, and attended master classes. During his university career he frequented professional conferences, particularly those of the American Guild of Organists.
When acclaim comes his way, Dr. Belnap modestly redirects the praise to his students. “As an organ teacher, I’ve enjoyed developing organists that will serve The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I help students learn how to manage the console as they gain a technical mastery of the instrument for their degrees. I stress accuracy and guide students through an understanding of style and form. If I’ve done my job, they will play more than the notes—they will recreate a composer’s music in the hearts and minds of the listeners.” Several of his students have placed first or second in national organ competitions.
Considering his years of preparation, the variety and quality of his instructors, the broad range of his teaching and performing contributions, and the successes of his students, this mild man’s career bespeaks a stature that rises to meet the brilliance and grandeur of the instrument he chose as his life study—the mighty pipe organ.
Parley Belnap enjoys gardening, languages, and keeping tabs on his seven children and ten grandchildren. He and his wife Bona live in American Fork, Utah, where Parley continues to maintain an organ studio.