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Fortieth Anniversary Address
Organ Society of Western Australia

by J.R. Elms
The Organ Society of Western Australia celebrated it’s fortieth year anniversary with a gala concert at Perth Concert Hall and dinner at Mercure Hotel, Perth, on 17th August, 2006.

Bob Elms, OAM, presented an interesting and informative talk to guests at the dinner.  Bob has kindly provided the text of his address and it is produced in full for the benefit of members and friends who were unable to attend the function.

My association with the organ goes back to about 1931 when my parents had me started on music lessons on a Cornish reed organ. By the age of ten I could play hymns and simple voluntaries and I was given the job of playing for services in Beverley Methodist Church where my father was minister and my mother had been playing the organ – a job she hated.

My first contact with a pipe organ was in Wesley Church in Perth pre World War II where I watched fascinated at those ivory stop knobs moving in and out with no evidence that the organist was doing the moving. Marvellous!

When I started work as a monitor  at age 18 I had achieved pretty good expertise on the reed organ (I played the two manual Bell in South Fremantle Methodist Church), and I commenced lessons on the pipe organ with E. S. Craft, a marvellous organist who rejoiced under the nickname “Cheddar”.  I remember Stan Craft telling me of two brilliant young students he had at that time, Dudley Bastian and Yvoenne Rees. 

I remember also being kicked out of Wesley Church so that Dr C. Edgar Ford could practise for a recital. Dr Ford had been isolated in Perth by the War.  He took a position as organist at St Mary’s Cathedral where he remained for some years.  He was a portly gentleman with a strong mind of his own. I remember him in the 1950s playing the opening recital on the Wesley Church organ after the  J E Dodd / Gunstar Organ Co. rebuild in conjunction with the Perth Philharmonic Choir conducted by E. S. Craft. I was rather intrigued to see the conductor valiantly trying to synchronise his conducting with the accompanist, Dr Ford, who, having a mind of his own, set the pace for the choir with little regard for the efforts of the conductor!

Organ tuning and maintenance in the early times were in the hands of two firms – the J E Dodd firm and Mr Frederik Hufner, father of Paul. Frederick Hufner was a brilliant man with marvellous ideas, but unfortunately he had not the skills to put his ideas into practice. He built three organs only one of which was successful – that was the 1929 organ which served in Perth Central Baptist Church until the 1950s when it was rebuilt and enlarged by his son Paul. Incidentally it was the first unit organ built in Western Australia. Frederik’s daughter, Joy, was the organist at the Central Baptist Church until she married and moved to Sydney where I believe she served in the same church as Kelvin Hastie.

Mr Craft told me that if it hadn’t been for the ingenuity of Frederik Hufner Wesley Church organ would not have survived the War. There are stories too of the Dodd representative at the time tuning an organ while smoking his cigarette and listening to the football, but we won’t go into that will we?

There were only a small number of organs in this state at this time, less than 50, and of these most were small organs of English origin or by J E Dodd, with a single one by Fincham. Only three were of three manuals and two of those were originally of two manuals enlarged to three at some time. These were in St. George’s Cathedral, an 1875 Wm Hill enlarged by J E Dodd in 1903,  Wesley Church (1908) enlarged by Roberts in 1926, and the fine Hill, Norman and Beard instrument installed in Trinity Church in 1929.

St. Mary’s Dodd organ was of only two manuals but had the only pedal reed in the city. St. George’s Cathedral organ after the 1903 rebuild had much the same resources and sound as St. Mary’s Cathedral organ, but in an unsympathetic acoustic, and when I was cheeky enough to suggest to the Dean of Perth that it was a pity it was going to be demolished he told me it was none of my business!

Now this celebration is of the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the WA Organ Society. Where did it all start? Well back in the early postwar days – in the 1940’s E. S. Craft started an ad hoc and loose association whereby he used to call together the organists of Perth to meet and socialize with visiting organists. I remember being invited in 1944 to a reception in Wesley Church vestry for Fernando Germani, the Vatican organist. Fernando was an affable gentleman, very friendly. He shook hands all round and then after some speeches wandered into the church and played the Bach Toccata and Fugue D Minor.

In 1966 Dudley Bastian rang round and discussed with some of us  the possibility of starting a WA Organ Society; some impetus for this came from concern on the part of some of us at the impending removal of the fine Norman and Beard organ from Johnston Memorial Church, Fremantle, (now at St. Patrick’s, Mount Lawley) and its proposed electrification, and the Society was born. It grew by the efforts of Dudley and others including one of the early Presidents, Robert Hinkelman.

Since then the Society has  continued with some strength from the present members whom you see here. May it continue to serve the purpose of promoting the organ as a liturgical and concert instrument in this state.

Bob Elms


This page last updated 07 January 2009

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