By Alasdair MacLaughlin

A Society Formed

Marking the Centenary of the Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmasters 1918-2017

With tales from:

  • The days of John Brook and the formation of organists’ societies
  • Joint Meetings with the Leinster Society formed in 1917
  • International organists and choir directors visiting USOC
  • ‘May Tours’ all over Britain, and to Europe
  • Account of the work of USOC year by year
  • USOC & the Organ Builders – by Dr Joe McKee OBE
  • An Octogenarian Organist looks back – by Billy Adair
  • Accomplishments of members
  • USOC and the IAO, including Congress in Ireland
  • Issues facing church musicians today, and into the next 100 years
This Book will make a Great Present for yourself and other enthusiasts of Church Music.

This Book Tells it all!

A Society Formed provides an absorbing venture into one aspect of the development of music in the 20th and 21st centuries.  The emphasis is on the people who were involved, and so at every stage there is a strong seam of anecdotal material which the author has gathered from records and the memories of senior USOC Members. The book provides a socio-historic commentary on diverse developments in church, organ and choral music, and discloses some of the fashions and musical tastes of the century from 1918 to 2017.

If you have ever connected with the programmes, work and people of USOC, the chances are you should find a mention in the pages.  Whatever else, members, former members, and fellow travellers in church, organ and choral music will be certain to find nostalgia amongst the pages of A Society Formed.

The Book may also be purchased from The Book Well, 27 Belmont Road, Belfast, BT4 2AA, and at USOC Events.

Note: the Book is not intended to be a commercial enterprise. However, any surplus will be shared by two charitable enterprises – the ON Organ Fund which makes modest grants towards the costs of work on pipe organs in the British Isles (see, and the USOC Arthur Beggs Travel Fund, which makes modest grants to musicians travelling to organ, choral and conducting training courses (see


Alasdair MacLaughlin

He has been an organ enthusiast and a singer for as long as he can remember. As such his membership of the Ulster Society of Organists & Choirmasters has always been important to him since he joined in the 1960s. He is a former Hon Treasurer, Hon Secretary and President of the Society, and a former member of the IAO Advisory Council representing first USOC, and later in a personal capacity. He remains a USOC Committee member and chairs the USOC Arthur Beggs Travel Fund Sub-Committee.

John Norman. Former Chairman, British Institute of Organ Studies

This fascinating history of the Ulster Society of Organists & Choirmasters is notable for its independent, realistic and complete view of the place of Church Music in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Eschewing a mere listing of facts, the emphasis on individual personalities and their various backgrounds is of special interest.

The extensive evaluation of the work of the various organ builders who have practiced in Northern Ireland over the last century is particularly useful, yielding information not available elsewhere in such a readable form.

Professor Emeritus Gerard Gillen, Maynooth

This absorbingly written and meticulously researched history of the 100-year old Ulster Society of Organists & Choirmasters offers an insight into the social and cultural history of a period of great change in Ireland’s political evolution, North and South. The insights are fascinating and are sure to be of as much interest to the general reader as to church music aficionados.

The author’s style is light and eminently readable, and we find interesting and remarkable personalities coming to life in unexpected ways, as their contributions to important elements of musical and cultural life are remembered, explored and analyzed.

The terrain covered is primarily Ulster, yet the connections with the not so resilient Leinster Society of Organists & Choirmasters is carefully chronicled, as sincere and important friendships developed in what must surely be among the very earliest and most enduring examples of cross border co-operation.

Dr Alan Thurlow, Organist Emeritus – Chichester Cathedral

Congratulations on this fascinating and excellent book!

It recounts the movement to establish local associations of organists in our country. This began in 1889 with the founding by John Brook of the Wakefield and District Association. In 1913, when similar associations were appearing in other parts of the country, the same John Brook initiated the National Union of Organist’ Associations – later to become the Incorporated Association of Organists.  The Ulster Society of Organists & Choirmasters (USOC) was founded in 1918, but it is not clear how soon after that it became affiliated to the National Union.  The minute book recording that decision belongs to what the Author describes as the ‘missing years’ from 1918-36; that is an intriguing story in itself!

However, what we do know is that since its affiliation, USOC has become a greatly valued member of the IAO. It has become noted for its many activities and unified strength of purpose; these are all recorded in the book. Alasdair MacLaughlin describes how, with continuing inspired leadership, and the enthusiasm of its members, USOC has continued to develop and become the vibrant organisation it is today.

In 2011, it was my privilege, as then President of IAO, to bring the Annual Congress to Northern Ireland and to the Republic of Ireland – the only occasion on which Congress had ever assembled in Ireland.  The large numbers who attended were grateful for the typically warm welcome they were given, and enormously impressed by what they discovered about USOC and the quality of church music in the Province.  These events are recorded in the book.

We welcome this substantial, interesting and well researched history, which records how, from its earliest beginnings to its Centenary Year, the Society has become what it is today.A substantial history it certainly is, but with anecdotes, photographs and interesting people from all over the UK and beyond, it makes for an entertaining read.

Professor Emeritus Brian M Walker, The Queen’s University of Belfast

‘What an impressive book this is! This important volume reflects much dedicated research by Alasdair MacLaughlin. The author provides an invaluable insight into our music and church heritage. At the same time, he highlights the good work still being done by the Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmasters’.

Professor Desmond Hunter, Centenary President of the Ulster Society of Organists & Choirmasters

This account of the Society’s first 100 years is richly informative and provides a lively and engaging read. What is offered is a detailed narrative of the progress and achievements of a provincial society that punches well above its weight, with vivid portraits of personalities, places, encounters and experiences; and it is not confined to Northern Ireland alone. The Society has travelled far and wide. This is an important history, documenting a century of activity that has provided educational opportunities, enrichment and enjoyment for its member’.