Stuart Organ Company

Pipe Organ Builders of Distinction

Our History

Richard S. Hedgebeth and the Stuart Organ Company

 or -  How on earth does one become a pipe organ builder ?

I was born in Avon Park, Florida.

At the age of five the family moved to Dickinson, North Dakota. It happened soon afterward that a new school was beginning to be built. The construction process fascinated me, and I followed the progress as the building evolved (frequently sneaking onto the construction site). Recognition that someone actually had to be responsible for bringing all of this together proved to be the spark which kindled my lifelong interest in architecture, merging my aesthetic side with my "nuts and bolts" mechanical aptitude. Classmates wanted to be firemen and policemen - I wanted to be an architect.  

It was also in Dickinson that my interest in the organ began. This occurred when a substitute organist at church one Sunday actually played "real" organ music! It was the E. Power Biggs arrangement of the Walond Introduction and Toccata. This was a revelation. The usual fare of undistinguished trash had never caught my ear or generated the least bit of interest on my part. I then began studying the piano, but quickly became bored with John W. Schaum.

Prior to my first year of middle school, (junior high in those days), we relocated to Bismarck, North Dakota. We all enjoyed Bismarck very much. It was by far the family favorite of the places we lived in our formative years - a vibrant cultural life and a superb school system. In high school I was active in the band, where I played the tuba, and in Playmakers, the theater organization. It was in Bismarck, too, that my interest in the keyboard reawakened, and I learned several piano pieces without the benefit of proper tutelage.

In the middle of my junior year in high school we found ourselves in Medfield, Massachusetts, at that time a rather provincial exurb of Boston. I was a member of the band there, too, this time playing the baritone horn. While at Medfield, I was an exhibitor at the state science fair and was awarded a Letter of Commendation from the National Merit Scholarships. I also lent a bit of assistance to a group of engineers at the local Unitarian Church who were undertaking what proved to be a very credible job of restoring their Estey organ. My first job as an organist was here, at the Episcopal Church, playing their one manual Estey electric reed organ.

Upon graduation from High school I entered Elon College (now University) with the intention of majoring in physics. This, as I saw it, was as a prelude to eventually pursuing a degree and career in architecture. Fate intervened, however. Seeking an interesting elective, I found that I could take organ lessons! I began study with Fred Sahlman, who was professor of piano there at the time. As a double whammy the Ernest Skinner organ was being rebuilt at the time. It wasn't long before I realized that the real passion in my life was going to be the pipe organ, although at the time I thought that it would be as an organist.This newfound passion was found at the expense of my other studies, and I was not to return after my freshman year.

The following year was spent as a special student at the New England Conservatory of Music. I studied piano and theory, and began my study of the organ with Donald Willing, enrolling the next year as a student in the Diploma course, a non-academic curriculum with emphasis on performance. While there, I found myself often to be the "go-to guy" for things like putting the pedal pallet springs back in the Metzler organ when they jumped out, freeing the relay magnets on the Noehren organ when they hung up on their burned off contacts and the like. It was here that I found my appreciation of slider chests and mechanical action. Organs there at the time were by Metzler, Rieger, Hammarberg, Noack, Noehren, Aeolian-Skinner and the large Hutchings-Skinner in Jordan Hall. The latter was at that time so little used that it was necessary to play it for hours when it was called upon to be used to rid it of dead notes.

Out of school, I found myself looking for a job to supplement the income being received from a minor church job. It happened that the Boston Organ Club visited the church's fine organ by George Ryder. It was on this occasion that I met some of the guys from the Andover Organ Company. As fate would have it, Andover found itself shorthanded for the Christmas maintenance season due to installation commitments. They had learned that I could tune and hired me to assist with the Christmas tunings. At the end of this, it seemed that they were sufficiently impressed that I found myself with a job! Thus ensued a very rewarding three-year period in which I received an excellent grounding in woodworking and organ work in general. During that period I worked inboth the old organ and new organ departments, unusual for the company at that time. The large maintenance organization there exposed me to an enormous variety of organs. During my tenure there I did most of the maintenance work at the Methuen Memorial Music Hall.

The next step on my professional path led me to the Philip A. Beaudry Company. My position there became defined as Director of Operations, which included functioning as shop foreman and performing many of the general administration tasks. It was with Phil that I developed my voicing skills, which had begun in a small way at Andover. The company's output from this period included several rebuilds of very high quality.

A brief stay followed this with the Berkshire Organ Company as Managing Director of Mechanical Actioned(sic) Organs.

Upon leaving Berkshire in 1974, I founded the Stuart Organ Company (Stuart being my middle name). Our first project was the rebuild of a Carl Barkhoff organ for the Congregational Church in Hinsdale, Massachusetts. Most of the work was done in the church, the casework being built in Phil Beaudry's shop with the assistance of his employees. At the beginning of our second project, I established a shop in Springfield, Massachusetts. This was soon outgrown and a move was made to the Aldenville section of Chicopee, Massachusetts. From this location the work was accomplished for all of the projects from Opus 7R through 43J. Opus 45R was rebuilt largely on site, with some shop work performed at William Baker's shop in Hatfield, Massachusetts.

We feel very privileged to have always had very interesting projects. The important projects of the Henry Pratt restoration (oldest surviving New England-built organ), the restoration of the 17th century organ for the Old Narragansett Church and the completion work on the large Hook organ at St. Mary's, New Haven must especially be cited.

 In November of 1991 I joined Foley-Baker, Inc. as Tonal Director. At this point in its history the company, to this point known for maintenance and basic rebuild projects, was beginning to be called upon for more comprehensive projects. An in-house voicer was required and I was to fill that need. In time my duties expanded to also include case design, drafting and technical interface with suppliers (specifying and ordering pipework, relays and other custom equipment). I also constructed a fair amount of Skinner replica chestwork. Projects I was involved in with FBI to a greater or lesser extent included installation of the organ in St. John's Church, Stamford, Connecticut, the very high quality installation of a Wurlitzer in a New Jersey residence and the restoration of the organs in the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston.

There then ensued a period of several years as a subcontractor of pipe organ services. Highlights of this period include about two years spent as a contract voicer, of both flues and reeds, for Austin during Bruce Buchanan's tenure and completion of the organ begun by Guilbault-Thérien for Our Lady of Mercy, Potomac, Maryland.

This was followed by a year in Baltimore spent as Shop Manager for David M. Storey, Inc. prior to resuming operations of the Stuart Organ Company.