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Hymnathon 2012

The Centenary of Ballee’s Carnegie Organ (by David Steers)

On Sunday, 24th June 2012 Ballee congregation celebrated the centenary of their two manual pipe organ with a hugely successful twelve hour ‘Hymnathon’ from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm, finishing the day with a special service at 7.00 pm. The organ was officially opened one hundred years and one day earlier on Sunday, 23rd June 1912 and it is a celebration of something that has a remarkable story.

The organ was installed as part of an extensive renovation of the church that significantly modernised what previously must have been a largely untouched early 18th century meeting house and which gives the church its essential appearance to this day. The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine for August 1912 reported that:
On Sunday, 23rd June, successful services were conducted by Rev. H. McLachlan, MA, BD, of the Unitarian Home Missionary college, and sermons appropriate to the re-opening of the renovated church were preached to large and appreciative congregations…An outstanding feature of the day was the fact that two neighbouring rectors of the Episcopal Church held no services, thus leaving their people free to attend…a gracious compliment to minister and people
The report went on that the new manse, which was nearing completion, was much admired by the numerous visitors and nearly one hundred pounds was raised on the day. In addition considerable work had been done to the church:
The building has been thoroughly overhauled, new high-pressure heating apparatus set up…The old graveyard has been mapped and numbered and gravelled paths laid out. The tinted glass windows set in Castlewellan granite jambs are especially noticeable for their reposeful simplicity and strength. The grand old timbered roof, which was raised at the first renovation of the church in 1773, is unique, and showed out beautifully in the favourable light of the summer day. The old rough hewn flagged floor has been replaced by a patterned maple wood block floor, which still adds to the quiet neatness aimed at by the promoters of the scheme…The work which, which gives universal satisfaction, was wholly carried out by members of families belonging to Ballee Non-Subscribing Church.
All this was done under the direction of the Rev J.H. Bibby, himself a considerable benefactor to the Ballee congregation. However, a centrepiece of the day was the opening of the new organ, itself the result of a charitable donation of a very different sort:
…a fine organ, built in solid oak by Dalladay of Hastings, has been erected…The musical part of the service was rendered in a devotional spirit by the Choir, augmented by voluntary helpers. The beautiful instrument was ably handled by Mr R. McCullen, CE, who is honorary organist of the church.
The report doesn’t mention it but the new organ was paid for by a donation from the Carnegie Fund.
The organ came to Ballee just over 100 years after protestant dissenting churches in Ireland, mainly those of a liberal or non-subscribing outlook, first began to use organs in their worship. The first organ seems to have been opened in Cork in about 1801. In 1806 Belfast’s Second Congregation and the Presbyterian church in Dundalk both installed organs. In some places this remained an incredibly controversial topic throughout the 19th century. Almost certainly Ballee will have used a harmonium without any controversy for some time before but in 1912 it moved into a different league with the installation of their Dalladay organ.
The choice of organ builder was an interesting one. It is not known whether Dalladay built any other organs in Ireland, it certainly was a long way for the firm to travel to fulfil the contract. In Organs of Hastings and St. Leonards Julian Rhodes writes of him:
Samuel Frederick Dalladay (1865-1955) built or rebuilt some ten organs in the town [Hastings]. A Londoner, Dalladay was a skilled performer who gave recitals at the Royal Albert Hall and the Crystal Palace in his youth. In 1886 he moved to Folkestone and opened an Academy of Music; he became organist at St. John's Church, Folkestone. His organ-building activities are known to date from as early as 1903, though it was not until just before World War I that he moved to Hastings and opened the Sussex Organ Works, which remained in business until about 1939. From time to time he built instruments for churches throughout England, though most of his work was in the southern counties. His two largest jobs appear to have been a 4-manual 26-stop instrument for St. Bartholomew, Reading in 1910, and a 3-manual 36-stop rebuild at Holy Trinity, Aldershot in 1925.
The organ underwent extensive repairs in 1954 and was rededicated at a service on 12th September 1954 by the Rt Rev John Radcliffe, the then moderator. In 1972 an electric blower was installed. Prior to this date it had to be pumped by hand and it was not unknown, apparently, for the man employed to do the pumping to nod off during the sermon and need a gentle reminder to return to his labours for the final hymn! However, its genesis as an organ paid for by the Carnegie Fund gives it a unique provenance, at least in relation to the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.
Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Scotland on 25th November 1835. The son of a poor domestic hand-loom weaver his early life was not easy and at the age of 12, along with his parents and younger brother, he emigrated to Pittsburg. Here begins a story that encapsulates the American Dream. His first job was as a ‘bobbin boy’ in a cotton mill at $1.25 per week but was soon ‘promoted’ to work as an operative for $2 per week, doing work that was physically hard and dangerous and which daily induced nausea in the 13 year old. But through hard work, ingenuity, resourcefulness, drive and some luck, by the age of 30 he was earning $50,000 per year. Most of his income came from investments he had made during the Civil War and by the time he came to retire at the age of 65 his personal fortune was estimated to be the largest in America. He sold his family holdings in his steel and other companies for $480 million in 1901 and turned his attention, full-time, to philanthropy.
Carnegie draw up a set of priorities as to where he would help. They were in order:

  1. Universities
  2. Free libraries
  3. Hospitals
  4. Parks
  5. Halls suitable for meetings and concerts
  6. Swimming baths
  7. Churches, but only the buildings and accoutrements and not to support religious activities other than music making.

 

Churches were right at the bottom of his list. Although Carnegie was a Scots Presbyterian by birth and was a member of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York his religious views were not conventional and he had little time for church preachers. But he did like church music and thought that churches had an important cultural role in this area. As a result he offered grants for church organs, buying a total of 7,689, including, for instance, 219 in Ireland and 1,005 in Scotland, 4,092 in the United States and one each in India and British Guinea, all to a total cost of over $6,000,000.

Early on funds were provided for half the cost of an organ on the basis that the congregation would find the rest, although later on the Carnegie Fund appears to have supplied the full cost. However, stringent rules existed for the supply of an organ from the fund. Applications for organs alone ran as high as about 3,000 in one year. In the first 20 years there were approximately 40,000 applications, showing that the successful award of a grant was far from a foregone conclusion. All applicants had to provide a detailed financial statement and explain how a new instrument would contribute to their congregational life.
A report commissioned by Andrew Carnegie into the effectiveness of these grants found that the introduction of a new organ had a wholly beneficial effect in business terms as well as every other way:
The pastors of the churches visited were questioned closely as to the effect produced upon the contributions of the members by a gift as large as that made by the Corporation. The unanimous declaration was made that it had been a stimulus to individual giving and in many instances illustrative figures were presented to show that the benefactions of the church had been doubled since the installation of the organ. A part of such increase was usually ascribed to the larger congregations attracted by the better music.
So this is the background to the grant of the Carnegie organ to Ballee Church, one of the 219 in Ireland. None of the correspondence relating to the acquisition of the organ has survived but the organ has remained an integral part of our regular worship ever since.
On 24th June we celebrated one hundred years of the instrument’s use with the special ‘Hymnathon,’ a day of singing hymns chosen for the day. Jayne Caven, our church secretary, has compiled a list of all the church organists since 1912 and we invited some of them back alongside our regular organist John Strain, who has played at Ballee since 1979 and recorded a number of pieces on the organ on vinyl a few years ago.
Andrew Carnegie’s report into the effectiveness of his organ bequests concluded three things:

  1. Churches are contributing instrumentalities in the social and cultural advancement of a community - the aggregate of communities make the Nation.
  2. The efficiency of the services of a church is augmented by the use of a pipe organ, hence, through the church, the organ indirectly contributes to the social and cultural advancement of the community, and
  3. Directly, the organ when used in recitals and by students of music, renders an important cultural service.

 

Although written in a slightly strange jargon no one could argue with these observations as being true in Ballee. The pipe organ has contributed much to our congregational life and consequently to the life of the wider community. We are glad to have it and value it as part of our witness and heritage. It was particularly pleasing that the Hymnathon achieved tremendous support from across the community as members and friends were invited to sponsor hymns to be sung to celebrate the centenary.
The minister, Rev Dr David Steers, started the event at 8.00 am and throughout the day church members introduced each of the hymns with a few well chosen words. Those leading the worship over the whole day included Sue Steers, Allan Chambers, Doreen Chambers, Jayne Caven, Avril Burgess and the organist John Strain. The organ was played by John Strain and also a series of guest organists including Kathleen Gill, Mabel McComisky, Alfie McClelland, Dawn Stocking, Robert Hanna, Joan Gilchrist and Jennifer Newell.
We were delighted to be visited by different choirs during the day including the Choir of St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Downpatrick, conducted by Mary McHugh, the Singing Circle – the Guiders’ Choir – conducted by Fay McMullan and Comber Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church Choir conducted by Jennifer Newell. Valerie Maxwell, daughter of former organist Rathburn Caven, also sang a solo during the afternoon.
The church was beautifully decorated with flowers by Doreen Chambers and in the evening the church was packed for a service at 7.00 pm at which the Comber Choir sang. Clergy taking part included the moderator, Rt Rev Sam Peden, Dunmurry senior minister Very Rev William McMillan, and Church of Ireland rector of Ballee, Bright, Killough and Rathmullen, Rev John Ewart. The minister of Ballee, Rev Dr David Steers preached and thanked everyone who had helped, especially church secretary Jayne Caven who had taken on so much of the organising of the event.
A very enjoyable day concluded with refreshments in the hall. These had also been provided by members for visitors throughout the day. It is very pleasing to report that through sponsorship a total of £4,031 has so far been raised for the Building Fund. The congregation would like to thank everyone who supported the event, either by making a donation or coming along on the day, in many cases travelling a long distance. It was also great to see such support from all local churches of every denomination and from a great many Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches.