Crawford Gates is considered one of the foremost composers in the LDS faith. As of May 2008, Gates has penned 837 compositions, been included on more than fifteen CD’s, been a guest conductor for the Utah Symphony 25 times, and has guest conducted the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on various occasions.
During his tenure at BYU and term as Department Chair for the School of Music, Gates also helped to solidify BYU’s reputation as a leader in musical education.
Gates was born on 29 December 1921 in San Francisco, California. He was named in honor of his father’s champion debate partner and friend, Mr. Crawford. Gates’ family resided in Palo Alto, California for much of his childhood.
Gates’ musical genius manifested itself very early – he completed his first musical composition when he was eight. The piece was performed by his third-grade class. Over the course of the next several years, Gates’ love for music grew. He learned to play the piano, violin, viola, trumpet, clarinet, harp and so forth. By the time he was 12 he had composed ten compositions – a number which only increased throughout his teenage years as he composed pieces for friends – using the violin, cello, flute, horn, etc. – a cappella ensembles, and instrumental groups.
Sensing his own talent, Gates decided to study music. He attended the College of the Pacific, Columbia University, and eventually San Jose State College (now San Jose State University), where he completed his BA in music.
Gates went on to get his MA from Brigham Young University and his PhD from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester.
The piece was eventually played by the San Jose State Symphony Orchestra, which had 100 pieces, with Gates himself conducting. Gates was only seventeen. It was his first time as conductor, which was intimidating for him. However, he soon learned the trade and gained confidence in his ability to lead orchestras and symphonies.
Gates served in the Eastern States Mission from 1940-1942. During his mission he was appointed to conduct nine auditioned elders in the Mormon Male Chorus of Philadelphia for thirteen months. The Chorus went on weekend tours to small radio stations within 100 miles of Philadelphia. The group’s excellent reputation earned them a four month appointment for weekly prime-time performances on WFIL, the largest NBC station in Philadelphia. Gates wrote forty-three arrangements and compositions for the Chorus. In 1990, a history of the Church in Philadelphia was published, which credited the Mormon Male Chorus’ performances on WFIL in 1942 as the means of opening up Philadelphia to successful missionary work and membership growth during that decade.
Shortly after returning from World War II in 1946, Gates applied to be the music director for KSL. Ultimately, the position was granted to Lowell Durham, who hired Gates to do arrangements for the orchestra. Durham also encouraged Gates to attend BYU and study with Leroy J. Robertson, which he eventually did.
Gates continued to compose for the Church, writing two scores, the first written in 1957, for the Hill Cumorah Pageant, which have been used for over fifty years.
In 1950, Gates joined the music faculty at Brigham Young University. He brought with him an impressive resume full of masterful compositions and invaluable experiences. Shortly after gaining his tenure, Gates was appointed to be the Department Chair for the Music Department. He served in that capacity from 1960 to 1966.
During those brief years, Gates focused on establishing BYU’s Music Department, nurturing their reputation of excellence, and constructing a Fine Arts Center on campus, which was completed in 1964 and dedicated in 1965.
In 1963, in a monumental effort to promote the college, Gates took 404 students on tour through Nevada and California, performing Bach’s Magnificat and William Walton’s Belshazzar's Feast, both from memory. The tour, which was the largest of its kind, accomplished its goal, winning acclaim from music critics. The tour included a performance at the Music Educators National Conference in Bakersfield, California. The conference audience of more than 3,300 lept to their feet at the conclusion of the two works, applauding the excellence of the performance.
Later, in 1963, Gates went on sabbatical, conducting the Beloit-Janesville Orchestra in southern Wisconsin for a year. After the year, Gates was offered a permanent position with the Beloit-Janesville Orchestra, which he accepted in 1966, after leaving BYU. In 1969, Gates accepted a position working with the Quincy Symphony, and eventually worked with the Rockford Symphony from 1970-1986.
Gates retired from professional conducting in 1999 and moved back to Utah. Though he no longer stands as the head of an orchestra or symphony, he continues to compose and has even produced a little – re-releasing some of his most popular compositions onto seven CDs, four of which were done with the Utah Symphony and include major orchestral and choral works with full orchestra.
Gates' service to BYU was recognized in 1974, when he received the Distinguished Service Award. In 1995 Gates was invited back to BYU to speak at the convocation of the College of Fine Arts and Communications.
Personal & Family Life
Gates married Georgia Lauper of San Francisco in the Salt Lake Temple. Together they had four children, and are now the grandparents and great-grandparents of many wonderful children.
In addition to his compositions, Gates has served The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by serving a full-time mission in the Eastern States, as well as serving as a bishop in Wisconsin. He also served 17 years as a member of the Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association (YWMIA) General Board and 10 years as a member of the General Music Committee.
Gates served his country during WWII as a Naval Officer in Amphibious Forces of the Pacific Fleet.
- The Mormon Times - Trust turns spotlight on LDS concert music (2 Oct 2010)
- Mormon Times - Ph.D. student honors composer Crawford Gates (4 Apr 2010)
- Deseret News - The Music of Crawford Gates (25 Apr 2008)
- Deseret News - Tuning up:Composer Crawford Gates Pens Music for Brighton High Orchestra (25 Apr 2008)
- Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship: Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. Vol. 13 No. 1-2 (2004)
- Wadley, Carma. “The Music of Crawford Gates.” Deseret News. 2006. Archives. 27 Dec. 2007.
- “Biography for Crawford Gates.” IMDb. 2007. Internet Movie Database. 27 Dec. 2007. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1370749/bio>.
- “Crawford Gates.” Today’s Pioneers. 2006. Sons of Utah Pioneers. 27 Dec. 2007. < http://sonsofutahpioneers.org/pdf/gates.pdf>.
- Geilman, Katie. “BYU Recounts Belshazzar’s Feast.” Belshazzar’s Feast (Production Program). Provo: Brigham Young University. Nov. 2007.