Over the past four years, associate university carillonneur Amber Dahlberg has enjoyed what she calls “the best view” of BYU. From the carillon inside the top of the bell tower, the BYU student has performed hundreds of the university’s traditional 30-minute noon recitals, providing an inspiring campus soundtrack for students, staff and visitors going about their business.
“It’s been so fun after the Tuesday devotionals, seeing the crowds of people walking by below, and I’m just jamming to whatever I want to play,” said Dahlberg, who completed a BYU undergraduate degree in organ performance in 2020 and is finishing up her master’s degree this year.
Not all of Dahlberg’s work has been so anonymous. She’s also played in the Marriott Center for televised devotionals, as a guest organist in the Salt Lake Tabernacle and as the accompanist for the Sunday services of Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist congregations. But whether she is at the forefront or in the background (or high up in a tower), Dahlberg views all her performances as a way of serving others by sharing the universal beauty of music.
“Music brings the Spirit in ways that words sometimes cannot,” she said. “I feel the Spirit when I’m playing at my church or for people of other faiths. It’s a community-building experience.”
Dahlberg also wants to help others serve their communities through music. Although she considered pursuing a master’s degree at other prestigious music schools like Yale, she chose to remain at BYU because of its intensive focus on teaching. On a typical weekday, Dahlberg can be found in the organ lab of the Harris Fine Arts Center, teaching student pianists how to play the organ.
“I love helping students learn arrangements that they can play as prelude and postlude for church,” she said. “It’s been really special, and I feel like it’s my calling in life to teach.” (She even taught Cosmo the Cougar to play “Carol of the Bells” on the carillon last Christmas!)
Dahlberg recognized her passion for music early. Growing up in Poway, California, she first performed on the organ at age 10 and became an assistant ward organist by age 12. After attending summer music camp at BYU as a teenager, she knew she wanted to come to the university to major in organ performance.
“The organ is so powerful,” Dahlberg said. “Mozart coined it ‘the king of instruments,’ and I completely agree with that. Organs can be extremely versatile. For example, the organ in the Salt Lake Tabernacle has many beautiful soft sounds, like the flute or the oboe, but it can also be incredibly loud and powerful when you want it to be.”
As a BYU student, Dahlberg has had a chance to play on many organs. In famous cathedrals and churches in France on a 2018 study abroad, she tried out some of the most magnificent historical organs in the world; she’s heading to Germany to do the same this spring.
Having experimented playing on so many different organs, Dahlberg believes that a good organist must be adaptable to the instrument at hand, able to choose the sounds and work the mechanics specific to each organ. She also firmly believes that consistent practice is more important than raw talent, a sentiment she puts into action, according to her mentors.
“Amber is a prime example of what a person can accomplish through determination and hard work,” said BYU organ professor Don Cook. “Because she practices very regularly, carefully applying the ideas and suggestions she learns in lessons and classes, she enjoys success every week. She now leaves BYU with skills for a lifetime of music making.”
Dahlberg has amassed several honors that testify to her effort, including her position as associate carillonneur, which she achieved after learning how to play the bells during undergraduate coursework. While at BYU, she also won the Regional Competition for Young Organists, sponsored by the American Guild of Organists, for the entire western U.S. region. Perhaps her culminating achievement was being selected as a lifelong guest organist at the Salt Lake Tabernacle, after an intense audition process for which she had to write her own arrangements.
Following graduation, Dahlberg plans to teach organ and play professionally as a church musician. In doing so, she hopes to continue to bring meaning to others’ lives through her music and find joy in it herself.
“Playing well of course comes with training and knowing the styles of the music, but most of all, it comes from really putting your heart into it and having a love for the music you’re playing.”