Ruth Josephine Barton Gatrell was part of the Salt Lake City music community for decades, beginning as a young child and continuing into her 90’s. She was a gifted violinist and pianist, composer and arranger, lyricist, choral conductor, dancer, and teacher. The daughter of Lloyd McArthur Barton and Edna Augusta Cottrell, she was born in Farmington, Utah, 23 December 1921. The family moved to Mount Pleasant, Sanpete County when she was an infant. Shortly before her third birthday, they relocated to Salt Lake City, where she attended Longfellow Elementary, Bryant Junior High, and graduated from East High School and the University of Utah. She married Wallace Bassett Gatrell in July 1945, when he returned from wartime service in the Pacific. During Wallace’s military career, they lived in Utah, Washington, Colorado, Alaska, Virginia, Japan, and Germany, before returning to settle in Farmington in 1969. They raised 8 children, and had 45 grandchildren. As of February 2021, they had 100 great-grandchildren.
Ruth provided prelude music for the Primary Conference at age 5. She played her first professional engagement as a violinist at age 11. With her cellist sister, Helen, she did trios with Grant Johannesen. She was Concertmistress of the University of Utah Symphony for three years. A charter member of the Utah Symphony, she was the highest seated local violinist during the early Abravanel years. As a young woman, she taught dance (tap and ballet). Her musical compositions included original road show music; vocal, violin, and piano solos; popular songs; children’s songs; Christmas numbers; and numerous other choral works. Her original works celebrated pioneer heritage, local folklore and tradition, Christmas, family, and of course, her love for the Savior. She did arrangements of hymns from both the traditional Christian and Latter-day Saint repertoires.
She directed numerous choirs throughout the family’s time with the military. In her later years, she organized and directed The Ruth Gatrell Singers from 1991 through 2012. That chorale performed at church, civic, and patriotic events throughout the Wasatch Front, including at Temple Square each Christmas; and in Farmington’s Concerts in the Park each summer, and annual Christmas programs. She was a mainstay of the Utah Composers Guild, serving as its President 1986-2012. She organized classes, workshops, seminars, concerts, and showcases to help composers. The annual Composers Guild Composition Contest received hundreds of entries from most states, and from Australia, France, Canada, and England.
Ruth’s highest selling piece was “Circles of Influence” (1977). Her most widely circulated composition was “I Like to Listen to the Prophet,” published in the August 1997 issue of The Friend, a print run of about a quarter million copies. She was a four-time prize winner in the Relief Society Songwriting Contest. “Love Grows As We Serve One Another” won first prize in 1978, as did “Daughters of Destiny” in 1981. Several of her numbers were included in the Three Prize-Winning Songs for Relief Society Choruses series published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She also won first place in the National League of Women music contest and Composers Guild contests; and received recognition in contests sponsored by LDS Music, Jackman Music, Southern Songwriters, lntermountain Songwriters, National League of American Pen Women Inc, and Music City Festival.
Wallace and Ruth filled a Member Locator Service Mission from 1997 to 2017. Although a stroke in 2012 cut back her activities, she was still teaching piano until a few weeks before her death, September 15, 2017, at age 95.
Programs from Ruth Gatrell’s time with the Utah Symphony