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Freemasonry in organ building


David Coram
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Several things have led me to wonder about this - a few wry remarks elsewhere on the board, a couple of significant masonic funerals at my own parish (in particular a noteworthy FRCO and former St Paul's countertenor lay clerk). We know about masonry amongst composers; we know about masonry in lots of places, but has anyone paused to give serious thought as to whether masonry has been influential in the building of organs and the selection of contractors?

 

A quick NPOR search for Freemasons and Masonic Temple yielded a good 80 or so results, which appear to be about 60% populated by Willis and G&D, only one Walker and rather a lot of other (presumably local) names, many of which I'm not familiar with. There are very few geographic surprises.

 

But considering that, for example, St Paul's Cathedral had (or has) its own lodge, one supposes there is a degree of influence somewhere.

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For a number of years I was very involved with Freemasonry and I have been through the Chair in a number of Degrees - including two Christian degrees. Domestic circumstances - sick and elderly parents needing constant attention - from about 1997 precluded attendance and when those circumstances changed again I never went back, never particularly wanted to, and really couldn't afford to. About 10 or 11 years ago I resigned from it completely although several people, even quite recently, have asked me to go back because they need organists.

 

My experience is that the sort of dark, underhand dealing implied here is extremely rare. Indeed, it is strongly discouraged within the organisation and those who have been guilty of such behaviour have been, at best, given a good telling off and, at worst, excluded from the organisation. If you are guilty of a crimial offence you are chucked out. Of course, some people give it a bad name but that applies to every organisation and group of people - notably including the church.

 

I belonged to my school old boys' lodge. Here, there is a local church that has a lodge named after it but I have never been aware of any member of that church being a member of that lodge. Most people, frankly, belong to it for the social side of it - eating and drinking, including - so I'm told - visiting a fine and sympathetic hotel very near Heckelphone's church. Learning and taking part in the ritual has given a lot of very ordinary and humble people a confidence in themselves that they would never have acquired elsewhere. It is just good fun. Whatever justifiable criticisms may be aimed at it, deviousness, the underhand and the sinister are not, in my experience, among them.

 

Malcolm

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My experience is that the sort of dark, underhand dealing implied here is extremely rare.

 

There wasn't meant to be any implication of dark, underhand dealing - it's a fact of life that people buy from people. If you already know people who offer particular goods or services, it's as natural as drawing breath to make the connection. If, in particular, you are engaged in charitable activities with a philanthropic bent, it's merely a legitimate extension of your stated aims to help someone get on as well as to give them financial support.

 

Masonic funds help a lot of people, for instance through music college, and when there are masonic concerts locally you will often find they have hired a cellist or pianist who has recently been supported by them. I therefore wondered if a young Henry Willis or Arthur Harrison, say, might have had some sort of boost to their early steps.

 

Organ building contracts very seldom begin with a flick through Yellow Pages; it's usually word of mouth, and at that sort of expense it needs to be the word of someone you trust. That brotherly trust appears to be a significant strength of the organisation.

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My post immediately above was typed roughly at the same time as your reply, hence our both making the same point about charity money. I take your point entirely. I am personally unaware of any organ builders who are members although it is possible that some are; I am more aware of organ players who are members and several well known names - including the person whose funeral you mention - have been Grand Organist.

 

In my Civil Service days I was involved with recruiting staff and that involved sifting job applications and interviewing candidates. It was one of the more enjoyable aspects of my job so far as I was concerned and certainy infinitely more enjoyable than chasing late Self Assessment payments! Of course relations and friends of colleagues applied for vacancies but we were duty bound to create a water-tight, auditable, trail showing that everything had been done fairly and that everyone had been given an equal chance. As much as anything this was to protect ourselves against complaints from unsuccessful candidates. One would hope that when churches and cathedrals get estimates for new or rebuilt organs they act likewise. In the present parlous economic state of the C-of-E, where paid curates are virtually a thing of the past in this diocese, it would be a foolish church or cathedral that did not take all reasonable precautions to ensure they got the best value for money. There will always, of course, be exceptions!

 

I think you will agree with the point I am making but, whilst members are now encouraged to be more open about their membership than was the case at one time, it is up to individual organ builders to decide whether or not to reveal their membership and even if I did know of any it would be my place to reveal their identities.

 

Malcolm

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This is an interesting topic which starts out with an in-between-the-lines implication that organ builders who may have been freemasons have been unduly favoured with contracts. I'm not aware if any of our present or past organ builders are/were freemasons. It's none of my business. The only organ building company I suspect that may have had Masonic connections is in America; that is the long-established Austin Organ Company. It's trade mark incorporates a set of compasses. And there is a website (I cannot remember the name but it concentrates on New York) which shows that the Austin company built quite a considerable number of organs for Masonic halls in that city. That is not to say that they were unduly favoured.

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... we were duty bound to create a water-tight, auditable, trail showing that everything had been done fairly and that everyone had been given an equal chance.

 

I confess to being slightly tickled by the notion of creating a watertight audit trail, rather than merely keeping one. Very civil service! Meant in the nicest possible way.

 

I'll get my coat, and tin hat, and pay my self-assessment bill pronto...

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I confess to being slightly tickled by the notion of creating a watertight audit trail, rather than merely keeping one. Very civil service! Meant in the nicest possible way.

 

I'll get my coat, and tin hat, and pay my self-assessment bill pronto...

 

 

====================

 

 

I'm even more amused at the prospect of organ-builders rolling-up a trouser-leg and baring their chests. When I worked in organ-building, (briefly), we used to roll up our sleeves and install chests.

 

Why did they ever need organs anyway?

 

I think I want to be a Mason....how do I apply? Do they accept credit-cards, gifts or cash bribes? :o

 

MM

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====================

Why did they ever need organs anyway?

 

Well, there's the many Masonic Halls. I was more getting at day-to-day life rather than what goes on behind closed doors. Since part of the Masonic code is belief in a supernal being, most congregations have a fair sprinkling; many gravitate to posts of office such as Churchwarden because of an inherent willingness to give freely and patiently of time, skills and frequently money.

 

Therefore, there is already good grounds to suppose that a large but generally local firm, such as Hele, might have found advantage by becoming members of an organisation where they can network with representatives of most churches on their 'patch'. This is a more subtle question than talking about dodgy deals done whilst prancing round in aprons.

 

A study of Mozart's masonic connections results in unembarassed discussion of patronage, support for opera and the arts and so on; I was rather hoping this could go the same way.

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...the C-of-E, where paid curates are virtually a thing of the past in this diocese...

 

Off topic, but (locally here at any rate) Lichfield has had a fair sprinkling in the last few years... quite encouraging.

 

On topic, there's also a Snetzler in a masonic hall in Edinburgh, IIRC from a recent 'Choir and Organ'

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I suppose I will just "chip in" with my tuppence worth.

As a mason, and knowing 3 "grand organists" personally, all I can say is about the fundraising bit. My dad organises a recital in Durham cathedral once a year, and raises about £ 5 - 600 for his chosen charity, and this year will be his last, as his health is failing now, and I asked him if one of the board members could give said recital. And that has now been put down in the diaries for October.

There has been a couple of programmes recently, that looked at the building of places of worship, and the strong masonic presense. And as far as organs been built there, well, I can only echo what has been said, people buy from people they know, and whose work is respected

Peter

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I suppose I will just "chip in" with my tuppence worth.

As a mason, and knowing 3 "grand organists" personally, all I can say is about the fundraising bit. My dad organises a recital in Durham cathedral once a year, and raises about £ 5 - 600 for his chosen charity, and this year will be his last, as his health is failing now, and I asked him if one of the board members could give said recital. And that has now been put down in the diaries for October.

There has been a couple of programmes recently, that looked at the building of places of worship, and the strong masonic presense. And as far as organs been built there, well, I can only echo what has been said, people buy from people they know, and whose work is respected

Peter

 

Quite. So, now we have an example of the breed in the flesh, as it were, are there any records which might be consulted to see who might have been a member - Snetzler, HC Lincoln, Hill, G&D, Greene?

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Quite. So, now we have an example of the breed in the flesh, as it were, are there any records which might be consulted to see who might have been a member - Snetzler, HC Lincoln, Hill, G&D, Greene?

 

 

If you write to the following and quoting the above names you may get an answer.

 

The Grand Secretary,

Freemasons' Hall,

Great Queen Street,

London.

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