In the Wind: On the Hook

June 24, 2022
Kinsley shield
Inscription by Stephen Kinsley, tonal director, for E. & G. G. Hook and voicer of the Stoneham Organ (photo credit: John Bishop)

On the Hook

When I was a teenager, I had an unofficial job as assistant organist at the First Congregational Church of Woburn, Massachusetts. My mentor and friend George Bozeman was the organist there, and he brought me on to help when he was home and to take over the helm when he was away installing an organ. The organ is E. & G. G. Hook Opus 283 from 1860 with three manuals, thirty-one stops, and thirty-four ranks.1 It was one of about five organs I had played by then. I knew it was mighty special and especially mighty, but fifty years later I know a lot more about how lucky I was to play such an instrument.

Opus 283 is one of the last surviving of a distinctive breed, the three-manual pre-Civil War American pipe organ. There were two such Hooks in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, one of which (Opus 253, 1859) was destroyed by fire with the First Baptist Church in 2005.2 “Mine” was one of three grand Hook organs in Woburn. E. & G. G. Hook Opus 553 (1870) was in the First Unitarian Church and is now in the Heilig Kreuz Kirche in Berlin, Germany, and commonly called Die Berliner Hook;3  and E. & G. G. Hook & Hastings Opus 646 (1872) is in Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church.4 In my first days as director of the Organ Clearing House, I was privileged to speak at a conference about the preservation and relocation of historic organs at the Heilig Kreuz Kirche in Berlin representing the work of the Organ Clearing House. As owner of the Bishop Organ Company, I maintained the organ at Saint Charles for thirty years. That one has two manuals and twenty-three ranks and sits high in the rear gallery of the lofty church with some of the best acoustics one will find in an American parish church. It is a bold, brilliant organ with amazing lungs. I releathered the huge double-rise reservoir in place twenty years ago.

I also maintained E. & G. G. Hook & Hastings Opus 635 (1872) in the First Baptist Church of Wakefield, Massachusetts.5 That was the home church of old friend and colleague John Boody of Taylor & Boody Organ builders—his grandfather had been pastor there. John and I shared a special bond because of that organ, which was sadly destroyed by fire on October 23, 2018.

I grew up in the Boston area, the home of the Hook brothers, and I have serviced, played, restored, and relocated many of their instruments. Admitting this personal bias and remembering that the grand organ in the First Congregational Church of Woburn was one of the first organs I knew, I have long felt that E. & G. G. Hook and its continuation as E. & G. G. Hook & Hastings to be among the very best organ builders in history. I once had the good fortune to hear Dame Gilliam Weir play a recital on the iconic Cavaillé-Coll organ at Saint-Sulpice in Paris and Peter Sykes in recital at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Boston, otherwise known as the Jesuit Urban Center,6 within the same week. I was struck by the comparison of those two grand instruments. The Cavaillé-Coll had the edge with the power and romance of its reeds, but to my ears, the Hook & Hastings took the lead with its variety of principal and flute tone and clarity and beauty of individual voices. The Immaculate Conception organ was originally built in 1863 (and later expanded by Hook & Hastings in 1902), just three years after the Saint-Sulpice organ, and the two beauties have a lot in common.

Long dismantled and languishing in storage, the organ from the Jesuit Urban Center holds a special place in my heart, as my predecessor Alan Laufman’s memorial service was held there in the spring of 2001. There was a huge congregation of “organ people” present, and the congregational singing supported by that heroic organ was beyond belief.

Brothers and partners

Elias Hook (1805–1881) and George Greenleaf Hook (1807–1880) were sons of a cabinet maker in Salem, Massachusetts. In 1822 Elias apprenticed with the Boston organ builder William H. Goodrich, and it is supposed that George followed him. George built a one-manual organ in 1827, and the two brothers built an organ together in 1829 for the Unitarian Church of Danvers, Massachusetts. In the company’s first eighteen years, they built one hundred organs; Opus 100 was finished in 1856. The next hundred organs were built in seven years, and numbers 400 through 500 were built in just three years, between 1866 and 1869.

Frank Hastings (1836–1916) joined the company as a draftsman in 1855 and worked in every department of the factory building windchests, pipes, bellows, cabinets, and mechanical actions—all the thousands of components that make up a pipe organ. In 1870, when George was 63 and Elias was 65 years old, they made Frank Hastings a partner in the firm and changed the name to E. & G. G. Hook & Hastings. After 1881 when both brothers had died, Frank purchased their shares and moved the company from its longtime home in what is now Roxbury, Massachusetts, a neighborhood of Boston, to then farmland, now the suburb of Weston, ten miles west of the city.

The 1880s were a time of increasing labor unrest in the United States. There was a series of violent railroad strikes, and an anarchist exploded a bomb in Chicago’s Haymarket in 1886, the same year that the American Federation of Labor was formed. In 1892 there was a highly publicized, exceedingly violent strike at Andrew Carnegie’s Homestead Steel Mill near Pittsburgh, and there was a violent and costly strike at the Pullman Rail Car factory in Chicago in 1894 that spread to other localities. Aware of these events, Frank Hastings wanted to maintain a harmonious work environment.

Hastings purchased half of his family’s homestead in Weston in 1884. In 1886 he bought the remaining forty-five acres and an adjoining 150-acre farm, and the new factory was opened in 1889. In 1893 the company was reorganized and renamed the Hook & Hastings Company. Frank created a “community of labor,” building homes that he made available to workers with low-interest loans, a community hall, a theater, and a company school. By the end of 1893 the company had completed its Opus 1590.

We know little about Frank Hastings’s first wife. His son Francis Warren Hastings was an officer in the company, but because of failing health he moved to Bermuda in 1895, where he died of consumption in 1903 at the age of 41. After Warren died, Arthur Leslie Coburn (brother of Anna Coburn, the company schoolmistress) became president of the company. Frank Hastings married Anna Coburn in 1899 when he was 62 and she was 46 years old.

Frank Hastings died in 1916 at the age of 80. Arthur Coburn continued as president of the company, and long-time Hastings associates Norman Jacobsen and Alfred Pratt were the other officers. The legendary quality of Hook & Hastings organs continued, but the pace was diminishing. The company produced eighteen organs in 1916 and fifteen in 1917.

Then came the years of the Great Depression, Hollywood introduced “talkies,” and the radio and phonograph were becoming popular. Municipal music programs were dramatically diminished during the Depression. Perhaps more importantly, in those years Ernest Skinner was ensconced in Dorchester, Massachusetts, building organs by the hundred for an increasingly loyal patronage. All these factors contributed to the weakening and ultimate failure of the Hook & Hastings Company.

The company continued for several years after Coburn’s death in 1931, until Anna Hastings felt that the quality of the company’s products was declining sufficiently to close its doors in 1935. Remembering that her husband had always put quality before price, she felt that when organ builders started talking about price first, it was time to stop. A contract was signed with the Mystic Building Wrecking Company of Chelsea, the buildings were demolished, the lumber was salvaged, and the company was dissolved in April of 1937. The final tally was 2,614 organs in 110 years—a remarkable record of longevity, quality, and artistic achievement. Elias and George Hook built the company, and Frank Hastings carried their artistic vision into the twentieth century while creating a model for employee relations in a time of vicious labor disputes.

These details about the history of this great organ company come from the enormous and exhaustive book, Farm Town to Suburb: The History and Architecture of Weston, Massachusetts, by Pamela W. Fox, published by Peter E. Randall, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Pages 196 through 217 include the historical details accompanied by numerous photographs. Pam gave a lecture on this subject at the 2000 convention of the Organ Historical Society in Boston. Later, I developed a lecture on the subject, and Pam welcomed me into her home and shared photos and historical details not included in the book. I admire and commend Pam for her exceptional work and am grateful for her generosity.

I have also relied on The Hook Opus List, compiled by William T. Van Pelt and published by the Organ Historical Society in 1991. The book’s preface written by my predecessor at the Organ Clearing House, Alan Laufman, is a concise history of the Hook companies.

A relocation tale

In 1995, I had a call from the chair of the organ committee at Follen Community Church (Unitarian Universalist Association) in Lexington, Massachusetts, about the church’s organ that had been assembled by a well-meaning parishioner using “parts-n-pieces” from various sources. The resulting hodge-podge was unmusical and unreliable, and the committee was considering options for its repair or replacement. I inspected the organ, and we began a conversation about how the situation could be improved without offending the faithful congregant who had “created” the organ. The process was accelerated when the 48-volt electrical system in the console shorted out and the congregation witnessed smoke emerging from within.

At the same time, the congregation of the First Unitarian Church of Stoneham, Massachusetts, disbanded, and the building was sold to a children’s day care center. A group of volunteers led by organ historian and consultant Barbara Owen dismantled the two-manual Hook organ (Opus 466, 1868)7 and placed it in storage. Barbara, working as an agent for the Unitarian Universalist Association of Boston, advertised the availability of the organ in a UUA newsletter, “Free to a good home.” The chair of the Follen Church committee saw the notice and called me wondering if this might be an option for them. A quick study showed that Follen would be an ideal home for the organ, the church received ownership, and the Bishop Organ Company was engaged to restore and install it.

Volunteers from the church helped with the heavy work of refinishing the case and setting up the organ. They came to my workshop to clean small components and wind new tracker ends while I restored the windchests and releathered the double-rise reservoir and its two feeder bellows. The organ was first played in its new home on Easter Sunday of 1996.

I spent about six months up close and personal with Opus 466, handling every part myself. I dismantled the windchests and decided that the original chest tables could be retained if I routed out a few cracks and filled them with shims. I put new leather on the pallets, cleaned the pipes, reconditioned the actions, and replaced the bushings in the keyboards. Milling a couple pipes from the salvaged 16′ Subbass of another Hook organ into a mile of tracker stock, I noticed that the “virgin” nineteenth-century pine lumber was white, not the rich deep brown we are used to seeing inside historic organs. Could it be that when the organ was new, its interior was bleached-blond-white wood?

I felt as though I got to know the people who built the organ in 1868. When they were working on that organ, Ulysses S. Grant was elected president of the United States. Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama were admitted back into the Union following the Civil War.
E. & G. G. Hook built thirty-six organs that year. I marveled at the precision of the woodworker’s measure markings and the elegant penmanship of their labeling—how did they get their pencils that sharp? I saw the marks of hand tools and milling machines on the thousands of parts. I wondered what a worker in that factory would bring for lunch and how many hours they worked each day. They must have taken pride in their work, or it would not have been so good. Each of the multitude of parts was crafted with exquisite care.

Stephen P. Kinsley was the head voicer in the Hook workshop. In each organ he voiced, he left his mark on the first pipe of the Open Diapason that sat on the Great windchest, a half-step up from the smallest façade pipe. It is a shield drawn in ink, inscribed “Wind, S.P.K. 25⁄8, 1868.”8 When I first picked up a pipe of this organ and blew in it, I was surprised by how much sound was produced with so little effort. Remember that in those days, all organs were hand pumped. Efficiency of tone production was essential to their success.

Mr. Kinsley is the only person I know by name who worked on that organ. Frank Hastings had been working for the Hook brothers for thirteen years and was thirty-two years old. In 1868, Frank was still working his way through all the departments of the company. As thirty-six organs were built there that year by over two-hundred craftsmen, he may or may not have put his hands on any piece of the instrument. Perhaps he admired it when it was complete on the shop floor ready for shipment.

Follow the money.

When Hook Opus 553 was sold by the Unitarian Church of Woburn, Massachusetts, to the church in Berlin, Charley Smith, a longtime church member, became steward of the proceeds of the sale. Since Woburn, Stoneham (the original home of Opus 466), and Lexington (home of the Follen Church, the new home of Opus 466) are all adjoining towns,9 Charley knew that the Stoneham Organ was being preserved by relocation. Since both organs were built within two years of each other, he recognized that they were sisters, and the Woburn organ fund was donated to the Follen Church to be dedicated to the care and use of the newly installed organ. Members of the former Woburn church were present at the dedication of Opus 466 in Lexington, closing the circle that started when their church was closed and their organ was sold overseas.

§

George and Elias Hook sure started something. George was an organist with a musical ear and led the company’s artistic development. Elias was a genius manager who established the strong financial base of the company and enabled the correspondence necessary for contracting, designing, building, and installing as many as fifty-five organs in a single year. Remembering the state of communication and transportation in the second half of the nineteenth century, that alone was a great accomplishment. The factory equipment was powered by a large stationary steam engine, and materials were delivered and finished organs were shipped on horse-drawn rail cars at night, using tracks that carried trollies by day.

E. & G. G. Hook, E & G. G. Hook & Hastings, the Hook & Hastings Company, and Hook-Hastings combine to form a great heritage of artistic development and musical excellence. I was fortunate to practice and perform on one of their masterpieces when I was a pup. Those beautiful tones informed my naïve ears, and I am thrilled anew whenever I encounter one of their organs.

Notes

1. pipeorgandatabase.org/organ/6083.

2. pipeorgandatabase.org/organ/5994.

3. pipeorgandatabase.org/organ/49571.

4. pipeorgandatabase.org/organ/6962.

5. pipeorgandatabase.org/organ/6950.

6. pipeorgandatabase.org/organ/5670.

7. pipeorgandatabase.org/organ/8579.

8. 2-5⁄8′′ was the original wind pressure. When we received the organ from storage there was a note saying the pressure had been measured as 3-1⁄8′′. When commissioning the wind system, we set the pressure according to Mr. Kinsley, and original voicing sang clear.

9. My hometown of Winchester, Massachusetts, adjoins Woburn, Stoneham, and Lexington.

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