This transcript has been used with the kind permission of John Tyrrell,
former president of the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Co. In its original form,
was a speech made at the 1995 AIO Convention in San Jose, California, and
this version was copied from an
updated transcript supplied by the author.
It is an honor to be asked to share some reminiscences - and these are indeed my own personal recollections - about Aeolian-Skinner during the twenty year period before their closing in the early 1970s. Actually, I was associated with the firm for eighteen years, from January 1952 to August, 1970, minus a few months spent on sabbatical in Macungie, Pennsylvania.
Since then, times have changed. In the late 1940s and early '50s, the entire world was adjusting to the end of a long, economic depression, as well as the end of World War II. People were elated with the thought of peace and prosperity ahead. The GI Bill of Rights gave opportunity to veterans to get an education. Businesses of all kinds began to thrive, and new technologies opened new doors. These were the days before overt racial tension or worldwide fears of terrorism. It was a wonderfully rosy time - there was hope, the future looked bright, and there was the new experience of having a little money to spend. Families were still accustomed to being together as families, and the act of worship was a normal part of life.
Church congregations, with long dreamed of construction and renewal programs, could finally see hope for new or improved sanctuaries, modern equipment and increased professionalism in their staffs. Seminary training of clergy was broadening to include an appreciation of the arts in religion. Schools of music were graduating gifted and dedicated young artists who needed instruments capable of handling the wonderful and complex music programs being developed. Church choirs were becoming proficient, artistic ensembles, adding greatly to the worship experience. Organ building was an important part of this religious renaissance, and organ builders were busy.
It was 1951 that I found myself wanting to make a change, not necessarily away from the field of architecture for which I had been trained after World War II, but rather to a more interesting situation that might also have a future, and perhaps make use of my interest in music. Being a four year Navy veteran, I was eager to get going with my life, and my present draftsman's job didn't seem very promising. Besides, I found that the detailing of stairwells and men's rest rooms was becoming pretty boring.
As one of my options, I answered an ad that appeared in The Diapason. Like other organ builders of that era, Aeolian-Skinner needed experienced factory help to ease the pressures created by having a profusion of post-war organ contracts. I was hardly experienced, but was willing to learn, thinking that my combined training as an organist and as an architect ought to be of some value to someone. As it turned out, they thought so too.
While vacationing that fall, I flew to Boston - at my expense - for an interview. No offer was made to pay my airfare, and I was too shy to ask for it. (I've learned better in my later years.) The interview with Joseph S. Whiteford, Vice President, went well. Trained as a lawyer, he was an outgoing, sophisticated man, not quite a year younger that I. He spoke well and had a sharp sense of humor; his background was obviously one of wealth and culture, yet he was comfortable to be with. I liked him immediately. He told me of their intention to prepare me for an eventual position as head of engineering, when the day might come for Chief Engineer Tony Malfa to retire. To do this I should expect to work as a trainee in the factory and on the road for a year or so, then go into the engineering department.
That all sounded good. Even the starting wage of $1.25 an hour didn't daunt me. I was told that overtime on Saturday mornings and long hours on the road should help this out, and for the most part, it did. Remember that in 1952 wage rates and living costs were very different from those of today.
Joe then took me in to meet "The Boss:" the highly respected G. Donald Harrison. Very few people addressed this distinguished gentleman by his first name - only those who were his dearest friends and associates, or those who yearned to be. I never had the nerve to do so. He was quiet and dignified, yet he possessed a marvelously dry, sparkling sense of humor. He loved off-color stories. I remember that after a few pleasantries he offered me a cigarette, which I accepted, and thus passed his crucial test. He knew that I had been the organist in a Christian Science Church, and he wanted to determine if this might also be my faith of choice. My response made him realize it was not. The company's current magnum opus was the 237 rank instrument being installed in The Extension of the First Church of Christ, Scientist (The Mother Church), Boston. Like any other monumental organ, this one had its share of construction headaches, and after so many wearying months of working on it, I think that Mr. Harrison had had it. He wanted no reminders in the way of his staff personnel.
I actually started work in the Sydney Street factory in Dorchester the day after New Year's Day in 1952, and was assigned to the console department by factory superintendent Al Ledwak. The four-story building itself, like so many occupied by old-time companies, was a dusty and drafty loft building, built years before by Ernest Skinner when he moved to Dorchester from his first shop in South Boston. I can still hear the clatter of the antiquated machinery, the slapping of the power belts driven from long rotating shafts, and the continuous whine of the air humidifiers, which were important items in a woodworking shop. Much of this equipment was typical of early industry, and was gradually replaced as funds became available. Rows of work benches lined the outside walls, under the windows, where the workers had the benefit of natural light. Dark days were brightened by metal shaded, single bulb lamps on drop cords. There was always the smell of hot glue, or orange shellac, or the pungency of acid used in the soldering of galvanized iron wind trunking. And in the mill in the basement, there was the special odor of freshly cut lumber: California sugar pine, red and white oaks, walnut, mahogany - all the exotic woods used in woodworking businesses. In the distance you could hear the repeated squeals of pipes being voiced. Organ shops have an ambiance all of their own.
Arthur Carlson was the foreman of the console department, and he put me under the wing of Frances Brown, a dear lady who had come to Skinner in 1932 from the Aeolian Company in Garwood, New Jersey. She taught me how to make cables that were intended for installation crews doing wiring on the job. Violet Gustis, a tough but hard-working regular in magnets and leathering, had a vocabulary you wouldn't believe. She taught me how to swear most effectively, primarily at Al Ledwak. And there were numerous Petries. I particularly remember Jessie and Isabel; Isabel eventually became the wife of John Hendrikson.
Organs weren't pre-wired then. The company had stopped setting them up in the shop after World War II in the belief that they were saving time. With careful engineering and some pre-fitting of structure, this appeared to be an effective economy in operation. Also, I have suspected, it may have allowed for earlier delivery so that the next payment might be billed. Money was always tight.
I enjoyed wiring, and was learning quickly enough to do much of the internal wiring of the huge Mother Church console later on that spring [opus 1203]. It is my impression that this console was originally conceived as a five manual, but because Ruth Barrett Phelps, the Mother Church organist, was concerned with being able to reach the top keyboard, it was reduced to four. She was a fine player and a lovely person who was always well dressed. I recall her visit to the shop one spring afternoon with husband Larry, when the console was far enough along that keys and stop jambs could be set in place for her to try. Wearing hat, furs, and high heals, she was elegant. It was like a visit from royalty.
At one point when the pressure was on to make the instrument playable by the church's annual meeting in June, I spent several weeks in the church wiring wind chests, 40 feet up, at the top of the front pipe display. Veteran organ builder Larry Mogue and I used to take our cigarette breaks out in the fresh air, climbing high up on the roof of the church dome, where the view of Boston was spectacular. Larry's sage advice on any roadwork was to "make it last!" I remember, too, how important it was that the church interior be absolutely meticulous for Wednesday night and Sunday morning services. To cover all evidence of the organ work in progress at the front of the church, an enormous tarpaulin was hoisted into place late each Wednesday and Friday afternoon, and then removed on Thursday and Monday mornings so that the work might resume.
That was the year Virgil Fox played his first recital on the Symphony Hall organ [opus 1134]. In Dulci Jubilo was on his program, and he wanted to have a cymbelstern tinkling in the background during a part of that piece. Since there wasn't one in the organ and we had none in the shop, it was Joe's ideal to "borrow" the one from Mr. Biggs' Germanic Museum instrument, which we did. (There was a real irony in this, given the well known rivalry between Dr. Fox and Mr. Biggs.) It was intended that I would wait in the Symphony Hall chamber and plug in the cymbelstern at the appropriate moment. When we rehearsed it everything went well, but unfortunately, the tuner's lights were off during the actual performance and there was no power in the plug. With some quick thinking on my part, the cymbelstern was turned by hand. I never did know if it got back to the museum.
I helped Henry Sieberg, Herb Pratt, and Don Gillett on Boston's St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral installation as well [opus 1207], and have sometimes felt that I must have spent more time on that job than any other one person from the shop. It went on for months. Otherwise when in Boston, which was most of the time, I did various odd jobs in the factory, mostly in the console department, but also preparing pipes for the flue voicers, racking pipes, and soldering seams of wind lines.
At that time the company procedure was to send a crew to the site to receive initial shipment of organ structure, set up the organ, measure for cables, and then do the wind-trunking on the job, since only preliminary soldering of seams and elbows and the fabricating of more complicated joints was accomplished in the shop. When this work was completed, the cables had usually arrived and the crew could set about wiring. Blowing out the chests, checking for leaks, and testing of the mechanisms was part of the setup crew's job. If pipes were there, they'd put them in and maybe even rough tune before leaving. These were the days when the cables were made up of cotton covered wire, taped together neatly inside the organ, and lashed tightly to the structure with wire loops. Neoprene cable coverings, color coding, and plastic fasteners didn't come until later.
Depending on production within the shop, the intention was that the console and pipes would be sent on a later truck load, and a new crew dispatched to complete installation and finish the organ. This didn't always work out, and occasionally there was a delay of several weeks or even months before pipes, console, and finishers might arrive. For those congregations who had already waited two or three years for an organ, this didn't set well. I can remember thinking that it was fortunate that clients usually forgot their annoyances when they finally heard the first beautiful sounds come from their new instrument.
My first installation gig was as Marty Carlson's helper, putting in pipes, connecting the console, and tonal finishing the organ in Memorial Methodist Church, Thomasville, North Carolina [opus 1190]. Marty, brother of Arthur, was a native of Boston, and enjoyed doing tonal finishing because it gave him a chance to see other parts of the country. One memorable weekend we drove to Durham to attend Sunday afternoon vespers in the magnificent Duke University Chapel. Marty realized that hearing this grand Aeolian organ and seeing this elegant building would be a great treat for me. I got to sit on the bench and turn pages for Duke organist Mildred Hendrix as she played "Marcel Dupre, the Hell you say," all the while muttering in North Carolinian about how hawd the piece was. Mrs. Hendrix was a character, a friend of Mary Biddle Duke, and had held this organist's job for many years. I'm told that at another time when The Boss and Don Gillett were meeting with her in the Chapel, she was called away for a few minutes, and as she was leaving, she apologized, and told them "ya can pray if ya wanna." She is supposed to have bribed Mr. Harrison with a bottle of Scotch if he'd give her a new Crescendo Pedal - an offer he couldn't refuse, I'd guess.
Joe Whiteford was looking ahead when he arranged for me to attend a week-long course in architectural acoustics at MIT in Cambridge in June of 1952. Designed and taught by staff members of Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, it gave wonderful insight into some of the basics of musical acoustics. Leo Beranek and Bob Newman were both sympathetic to the special needs of organs, choirs and instruments in churches, and the acoustic response required by much of the historic repertoire. It was about this time that I first encountered David Klepper, and I believe it was also about this same time that Ray Berry, editor of The American Organist and Bertraim Kinzey, University of Florida architect and acoustician, published some of the first meaningful studies on organ and music space planning for churches. As a architect-turned-organ builder, this phase of the business has always held special interest for me.
I'll never forget the very special 50" winding arrangements necessary for Oscar Pearson to voice St. John the Divine's State Trumpet [opus 150a]. And especially the blast of it in the voicing room - you'd think the New Haven Railroad, just outside, was now going straight through our building. Had you realized that the lower twelve pipes are actually dummy 16' resonators, used to give a sense of scale in this huge cathedral building?
My time in the engineering department turned out to be fairly short, but I did learn something about organ layouts, console design and mechanisms that stood me in good stead later on when we wanted to modify wind chests and consoles. In 1955 when Vice President William Zeuch retired (he was then in his late eighties and had been with the firm since 1917), Joe and the Boss felt the need of help in the office: one more person to answer the telephone, write letters, and in general, try to appease irate customers who were tired of waiting for their organ.
So I was moved upstairs. Delivery quotations had been vaguely stated as being two years, but they were actually closer to three or even more. Once I was a part of the team, my first long-range project was putting together a viable schedule of production and delivery. This took many weeks to complete, and after all that work, I was adamant that it be followed closely. When I discovered that The Boss had told Harold Gleason that he thought we could work the Rollins College rebuild into the schedule, I was mad, and I told him so. I've forgotten what his response was, but at least I didn't get fired.
I began to be sent out on sales work, and on occasional trips representing Mr. Harrison or Joe. My introduction to Robert Baker came on one of these, when he substituted for ailing Clarence Dickinson as the Organ Dedication recitalist at Mount Lebanon Methodist Church, Pittsburgh [opus 1253]. This was my first experience of seeing a completed installation on which I had actually done some of the engineering drawings. It also provided my first acquaintance with the eminent Philadelphia architect, Harold Wagoner, with whom we worked on many subsequent jobs. He became a good friend over the years, as did Bob Baker. In fact, one of the nicest perks of working at Aeolian-Skinner was being given the opportunity of meeting some very fine and often very distinguished people from all over the United States. To this day I cherish these many acquaintances.
We had occasional staff meetings to discuss progress of construction, scheduling, and always, when we might be able to send out a bill. Mae (Mary) McGaffigan, Joe Whiteford, Al Ledwak, Mr. Harrison and I were usually present. Al Ledwak's stock reply regarding progress of a job was a rather obtuse, "it's in the works." I've always remembered The Boss's remark at the end of one of these meetings, to the effect that he hoped that when he died the company would not grind to a halt. A premonition, perhaps. And another of his comments: that the key to success was to work like hell and keep out of print. I've wondered if this might be his response to Ernest Skinner's obsession with writing letters to various periodicals.
Mae McGaffigan, who was then the treasurer, had started out right from high school as a secretary, and was the long-time head of the office contingent. The included Margaret O'Keefe Lynch, secretary; Anne Ryan, bookkeeper and occasional secretary; and Paul Lowe, cost accounting and payroll. They were all good people to work with. (One of my hardest jobs at a later time when the going was getting rough, was to tell Anne Ryan that we were going to have to phase out one position as an economy measure, and that since she had only been with the company for seventeen years, she was the junior staff member that would have to go.)
Joe Whiteford was an individual. Outwardly, he was perfectly comfortable with anyone, enjoying formal evenings at the stately mansion of Governor Fuller one night, and sprawling on the grass in our backyard the next. On the other hand, he seemed not to like being the center of attention in a large group, as might be the case when he was to be an evening's featured speaker. On one occasion when he was scheduled to appear at an AGO meeting - in Baltimore, I think - he canceled at the last minute, pleading illness. But he had already arranged with the telephone company to provide special loudspeakers at the place of the meeting, thus allowing him to deliver his address in absentia. This probably caused some consternation, but nonetheless made an impression, and the next day he was told that his disembodied voice was "like the voice of God." Another time when I was still damp behind the organ building ears, Joe sent me to Worcester, Massachusetts in his place to talk to the AGO about acoustical and spatial planning for an organ installation. William Self, then the musician at All Saints Church, was in the audience, and when I had finished my presentation, he asked how long I had been in the organ business. My reply of "two years" sent him into gales of laughter, because he realized that some members of the audience knew more about my topic than I.
Joe was a great teller of stories, many of which were on himself or on The Boss. There was the tale of his riding up on the rickety Winter Street subway escalator, and noting that the rubber handrail ran faster than the moving steps, he gleefully remarked that "somebody fouled up in the drafting room!" (that's not an exact quote: he actually used the other "F-word", but in the interest of propriety, it seems best to censor his phrasing).
And the time that Joe and the Boss were in Atlantic City with Senator Emerson Richards when the Senator was showing them the mammoth Midmer-Losh instrument in the Auditorium. At this age the Senator had become enormously fat, and every time he reached up to the sixth manual to play a solo, his stomach landed on the first manual, which in turn let out a deafening roar.
Mr. Harrison had a mind of his own, I think, and while seeming to agree with church committee members about some detail in the planning of an organ, he would always end up doing as he thought best. Probably just as well; as we all know, there are plenty of organ experts out there. There was no doubt that his reputation and his record of successes brought many of the most distinguished clients to Aeolian-Skinner. In truth, the firm built some remarkable beautiful organs. But still he reveled in being awarded every contract that came in, large or small. I can remember meeting him on the stairs one morning just after he returned from Independence, Missouri. When inquired about his trip, he delighted in telling me that he'd just sold an organ costing "a hundred thou'" - the large four manual instrument for the Auditorium of the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints.
Alas, he didn't live to see the completion of this instrument, nor the rebuilding of the Rollins College organ. Nor was he able to enjoy the new building in South Boston where offices, pipe shop, and voicing rooms were relocated when Boston's new Southeast Expressway cut through our Dorchester plant, and which we occupied for the next twelve years. Originally the intention had been for this to be a temporary arrangement until the Dorchester buildings could be rebuilt. But the South Boston structure, built as an industrial workplace for Perkins Institute for the Blind students, was in good shape and was available for an affordable price. There aren't many organ building shops that can boast having floor level indicators in the elevator or on stairwell newel posts written in Braille! The move had been planned for months, but actually took place during the annual vacation period just a few weeks after Mr. Harrison died.
After Mr. Harrison's death in June of 1956, Joe became president and I was made vice-president the following February. In spite of predictions to the contrary, some beautiful organs were built under the aegis of Joseph Whiteford, and later, Donald Gillett: Caruth Auditorium, SMU, Dallas; National Presbyterian and Kennedy Center in Washington; Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis; St. John's Cathedral, Spokane; First Methodist, Orlando; Cathedral of St. Philip, Atlanta; and Alice Millar Chapel, Northwestern University, to name a few. And there were some awfully good ones on the West Coast.
Those of us who knew him have always felt Joe's leaving the organ business was a great loss to Aeolian-Skinner and to the organ building world. He was sharp, he was a good musician, he was multi-talented, and he was imaginative, though he was not always practical. Joe was a lover of opera and of orchestra, and was therefore especially interested in the accompaniment aspects of the organ.
The "King of Instruments" series of recordings was his creation, and for their time, they were the best. I was given a little bonus for designing the record jackets of the first several records, and if you can believe it, Joe thought it might look more artistic if I were to hand-letter the LP disk label design. Take a look sometime - if you still have Volume I - and you'll notice how wiggly the lettering is! Much of the narrative of this record was taped over cocktails at Joe's beach house in Seabrook, New Hampshire.
Like all of us, Joe was an advocate of reverberant room acoustics, and because of the many buildings lacking adequate response, he worked out an ingenious electronic reverberation system. With the help of electronics and recording experts Bob Bred and John Kellner, he actually installed several with moderate success, even though by today's standards they were pretty gimmicky. We had a good many visitors come to the shop for demonstrations of the system. If you can imagine the effect of Queen Elizabeth's coronation recording in Westminster Abbey of "Zadok the Priest," with added Whiteford reverberation...it was mind boggling! Ned Gammons came away with tears in his eyes. Even the Durufles paid us a visit. I couldn't resist asking Madame if it was true that when viewing the Riverside Church console for the first time, Monsieur put his hand to his head and said, "Mon Dieu!", while all Madame could say was "Oo la la!" She laughed and said she didn't remember. (It certainly made a good story.)
Joe wanted to make auditorium installations possible where existing spaces rendered them impossible. Taking a tip from the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, he planned a number of movable organs: the Portativ Division of the Henry and Edsel Ford Auditorium in Detroit [opus 1324]; the new Metropolitan Opera in New York; Arizona State University in Tempe; and the Philadelphia Academy of Music. While they resolved the space problem and were reasonably successful musically, they were expensive to build and difficult for stage crews to move. They were also heavy enough to ruin the floors on which they rested. Milwaukee Center [opus 1477], which was my brainchild, was not movable in the usual sense, but was completely mounted on an oversized stage lift - 32' principal and all (although the bottom few notes are Haskellized to fit under the stage). I've heard that moisture from the neighboring Wisconsin River has given some problems, however. Otherwise, the Metropolitan Opera instrument is the only one still functioning in its original condition. It has twelve speaking stops plus a few pedal extensions and a half-length 32' reed, all enclosed in a single swell box with sheet metal walls. It weighs five tons and moves around on eight inch iron wheels - at least one or twice anyhow, before the Met stage hands decided it was too much bother. For almost thirty years it has rested comfortably on stage left. So much for mobility! It has been used many times each season, and that's the important thing.
During the period which Bill Bunch was our factory superintendent, he was continually having to put up with Joe's latest fantasies, including pipe-racking by means of magnets, curved shallots for reed pipes, and three-quarter length reed resonators. By 1960 Joe had decided to spend more of his time in the west, concentrating, he said, on real estate development. I was elected president that fall, and the best explanation is that I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Fortunately, there were very capable staff people to help: Arthur Birchall, Bill Bunch, Tony Bufano, Al Gariepy, Don Gillett, John Kellner, and Allen Kinzey. And some marvelous old-time craftsmen in the factory: Fred Goodman, who had been head flue voicer since early Skinner days had already retired, but Herb Pratt, long-time expert tonal finisher, was still in flute voicing, and Oscar Pearson, still head of reeds. No doubt you've heard most of these names before.
Bill Bunch was a whiz on things mechanical, and when he and I were in positions where we could, we collaborated on modernizations to the pitman chests. I had always puzzled over the need for so-called "wind boxes" (stop-action boxes) and decided they were an outmoded feature of the older pre-Skinner ventil chests with key-channeling in the bottom boards. When channeling was relocated to the table top, special provision for wind entrance was no longer necessary. The ports in the internal wooden supporting bars were enlarged to facilitate wind transference, and the stop actions ultimately landed in the key action primary board. Wind could enter the chest anywhere, therefore; we considered it a neat improvement. This was before "flexible wind" became a catch phrase, and we were giving much thought to wind steadiness, and experimenting with various forms of schwimmers and internal winkers. Also at that time, under John Kellner's guidance and the help of Damon Engineering, we were beginning to incorporate solid state combination action in consoles.
There were continuing financial worries, however; every year's results were as disappointing as the last, and we felt it important to engage professional help. I recall with dismay a kindly old gentleman who was a distinguished member of the Boston bar, and who had been a long-time director of Aeolian-Skinner, raising the question whether the company was worth saving! Being sure that it was, we hired consultants with Harvard Business School backgrounds who spent quite a lot of time with us, and quite a lot of our money, with only slightly recognizable improvements in conditions. There were deaths and retirements of some of our leading factory personnel, bringing production in some departments to a temporary halt. Several instruments of the late 1960's actually contain pitman chests built by Casavant, and for a time it seemed as if every major installation had English ivory manual keys that warped. Talk about headaches!
Donald Gillett was gradually acquiring principal ownership of the firm, and in 1966 our consultants recommended that he become the company's president. With his special abilities in things tonal, it was natural, and also his wish, to become tonal director. I served as chairman of the board until I left the company for the first time in the fall of 1968, to dabble in electronic organs.
Meanwhile, the Organ Reform Movement was taking hold, and the American Classic concept appeared to be losing favor. European-made tracker organs were being imported to the United States, and a few domestic firms were beginning to build some rather beautiful mechanical-action instruments. But they had a "new" sound that seemed limited to the playing of the early organ repertoire. The architectural aspect of accommodating these instruments in American buildings also was a concern.
At Aeolian-Skinner, we believed that there would always be a demand for our work; most organs were being built for church use, and this meant that they had to be capable of playing a wide variety of literature. Most especially, they had to accompany well. I can remember several of us making special pilgrimages to the surrounding areas - Wellesley, Cambridge, and the North Shore, to check out the new trackers. Aside from the beauty of the craftsmanship, and the handsome case designs, we were unimpressed. But we recognized that if we were to continue to appeal to the musically sophisticated, we would have to adjust our thinking, and make mechanical action available as an option where it was functionally viable.
Organ building was entering a new era. Quality leather for valve pouches and pneumatics was difficult to obtain. Treatments to prolong leather life seemed to be one possible answer; the use of leather substitutes was another, but neither was satisfactory. It appeared that the continued use of pitman chests as we knew them was doomed. Slider chests of modern design were a definite possibility, and even electric actions were gaining acceptance, provided they could be used without detriment to pipe speech. Solid-state combination actions were beginning to be reliable enough to be practical, but solid-state switching and relaying was in its infancy. The future looked bright but, we realized, would require many changes. A few mechanical-action organs were built, and some were very good, but there was much to be learned about them.
All these things had to be pondered, as well as continuing financial worries - maintenance and the operation of two older buildings, losses of major proportions on several big instruments, and a search for new money. Questions were being raised by outsiders concerning the direction the company might take, particularly in view of the several recent changes in leadership.
At the same time it was decided that setting up organs would really be an economizing measure and that at all costs we should reinstate this procedure. But our erecting room had been lost to the Southeast Expressway in 1957. A giant step was taken when the decision was reached to build a new, modern plant, of somewhat smaller size, but all under one roof: one that provided the spaces that were needed. An industrial park being developed in Randolph, south of Boston, and next to the Route 128 beltway, seemed a good choice of location. The building was built and the move was made in late 1968, but though the dream of a more economical operation in one building was indeed realized, there was not sufficient time for it to prove itself. The national economy of the early 1970's was sluggish; churches were seeing drop-offs both in attendance and in giving. Money for organs was tight, and sales for everyone were slow. Even as they were building some very distinctive organs, Aeolian-Skinner was experiencing the disastrous result of customer confusion and concern over their operation. Positive changes in direction were too late to be effective, and the point of no return seemed to have already been reached.
But all that took place more than twenty years ago. Looking back at the picture, it would seem that Robert Coleberd's long-standing organ-economics observations were providential. Had there been any kind of financial cushion, and time to weather the storm of confusion, Aeolian-Skinner might still be a going concern today. There are a lot of us who would have liked that. It was a special company, doing special work that even today is recognized for its worth. I'm happy to have had the privilege of being a part of it.
Today's world is different. As keynote speaker Carol Childress commenced at last year's Interfaith Forum Conference, we are already into the 21st century, and concepts of worship are changing. We have to be prepared for it. It is possible that future church leadership may rest in the lay person rather than the minister. The importance of "sacred spaces" may be a thing of the past. While there may still be occasional major instruments planned for major buildings, it's possible that the greater percentage will be smaller, and, like it or not, will have to be suited to every conceivable style of music to match new concepts of worship. Flexibility will be the key, and only those with the necessary resiliency will be able to keep up.
I wish you well - the coming years are going to be interesting, but challenging. Again, thank you for inviting me to be with you. It has been a great pleasure and a singular honor.