Marilyn Anderson, a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often referred to as “the Mormon Church”), is an 88-year-old violinist. She has been playing the violin since age seven and brings more than eight decades of musicianship to the orchestra stage. However, she is quick to point out that she is not a musician who performs missionary work — she is a missionary who performs music.
Regular viewers of the weekly “Music & the Spoken Word” television broadcast have no doubt spotted Marilyn Anderson with her regal silver hair and vigorous performing style as she plays her one-of-a-kind violin with the Orchestra at Temple Square.
She told the Church News, “The musicians in the orchestra are of professional quality but play without remuneration — and this seems to add to the special spirit of the orchestra. Each one is set apart as a musical missionary … Our greatest desire is to express our testimonies of Christ through music.”
The Orchestra at Temple Square, formed by Church leaders in 1999 to serve as a companion ensemble for the Tabernacle Choir, marked its 20th anniversary in October 2019. The orchestra has performed on every choir recording since 2003. In 2005, the group began traveling with the Tabernacle Choir on tours. Barry Anderson (no relation to Marilyn), an administrator of the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, said, “We have a real sense in the orchestra of the importance of the work that we do.”
Marilyn has been a part of the orchestra from the beginning. She said, “I was very grateful to be accepted into the Orchestra at Temple Square and love playing with the choir. It seems to be a perfect way to conclude a wonderful adventure with music.”
In 1931, an itinerant violin teacher knocked on the front door of Marilyn’s family home in Billings, Montana, and offered his services. A young seven-year-old Marilyn was immediately interested. Her father told her that she could take violin lessons only if she agreed to sign a contract vowing to faithfully practice every day. Marilyn said that she signed the contract, kept her word, and always enjoyed playing.
Marilyn learned the violin quickly, and a year after she started playing, she was playing with a large orchestra of violinists at the San Francisco World’s Fair. And, at the age of 17, she began a 23-year tenure with the Utah Symphony under the masterful baton of Maurice Abravanel. She told the Church News, “This was, in my opinion, the golden age of the Utah Symphony. We recorded and toured extensively. Our travels took us to Greece twice, other parts of Europe several times, a five-week tour to Central and South America and a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City.” She would later perform with the Denver Symphony and Cali (Colombia) Orchestra. Her professional music career was often interrupted by full-time missionary assignments, but she considers those interruptions a happy sacrifice.
Marilyn Anderson (nee Felt) met Mark Anderson, a law student and returned missionary, at an institute dance at the University of Utah. Both were dating other people at the time, but one day Mark showed up at Marilyn’s house and invited her to the ballet, which impressed her. Marilyn and Mark dated for a couple of years before marrying in the Salt Lake Temple in 1954. A few years later, their son Mark was born.
In 1961, Mark Anderson Sr, was called to preside over the Finnish Mission, so the family moved to Helsinki. The couple would later serve full-time missions in Spain, the Canary Islands, Colombia, Ukraine, Texas, and California. At each assignment Marilyn never hesitated to use her musical talents to share her testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Marilyn is a grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of nine. She says that she is grateful for good health and still jogs outside her Centerville, Utah, home. All the while, she is able to simultaneously serve as a mother, a missionary, and a musician. She finds no greater joy than joining her fellow orchestra members each Sunday and making uplifting music. Her husband passed away in 2018 after 63 years of marriage. The violin that she plays was made by her husband and she says that she feels his presence every time she plays it.