Parley Belnap

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Parley L. Belnap is a noted organist. He taught organ and music theory at Brigham Young University from 1965-1998. Following his retirement, Belnap served as the organist for the BYU Jerusalem Center. He has also been an organist at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, UT.


Belnap was raised on his family farm in Hooper, Utah. Before his birth, his mother felt that she would give birth to a son who would be gifted in music. When Belnap contracted rheumatic fever as a child, his physical strength was limited, and working on the farm became more of a difficulty for him; this was a turning point for him where he began to study music more seriously.

In high school, Belnap took private lessons from Mona Smith in Ogden, and then from Frank Asper at the McCune School of Music in Salt Lake City. He attended college at Weber State University, where he accompanied the Dorian Singers music group. He then came to BYU, where he continued to study under Asper and also J. J. Keeler. He received his bachelor’s degree in Theory, with an emphasis in Organ in 1950.

Belnap served in the East German Mission from 1950-1953. During this time, he had the opportunity to play the organ for David O. McKay, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at a mission conference.

When his mission ended in 1953, he wrote to acclaimed French musician Marcel Dupre and asked to be his student. Dupre agreed, and for the next six months he tutored Belnap on the organ in Paris.

Later that year, he received a scholarship to BYU, which was procured for him by Dr. John R. Halliday, then the chair of the BYU Department of Music. He subsequently received his master’s degree in Music with a minor in Organ. During this time, he met his future wife, Bona Belliston, with whom he served on the Sunday School Board.

In January of 1956, Belnap was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Germany, where he served as the supply clerk for the American Dependent School. During his tour of duty, he was impressed to write to Flor Peeters, a prominent Belgium musician, and request to study under him. Peeters agreed, and as often as Belnap could get leave, he traveled to Belgium to take lessons.

When he arrived in the United States, he completed his student teaching at Springville High School. After this, he used a scholarship awarded by the American-Belgium Educational Foundation to return to Belgium in 1958 and complete further study under Peeters. While there, he also studied at the Royal Flemish Conservatory and earned the First Prize Diploma with Honors in Organ.

Afterwards, Belnap returned to the United States to work for the Church, during which time he lived in Canada, Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Las Vegas, and Southern Utah. He married Bona Belliston in December of 1962. The two of them returned to Belgium to study for a third time under Peeters, and then they moved to London with a letter of appointment from the First Presidency to serve as the Hyde Park organist.

When the Belnaps returned to the United States, Brother Belnap taught organ lessons as a member of the General Music Committee. In 1965, he was hired at BYU as a Professor of Organ and Theory. During this time, he received his doctoral degree from the University of Colorado.

At BYU, he developed and published a method of hymn playing for novices; he initiated the creation of a six-level organ certification program, and he founded the annual Church Music Workshop (now called the Workshop on Church Music).


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