Author: A Society Formed
Alasdair & Wendy MacLaughlin on a USOC Trip in Salisbury.
Alasdair MacLaughlin trained as an economist, but from an early age gained a passion for music. His earliest memory of church music was at the age of 5, being escorted through the organ. This was in Carlisle Methodist Church, at a wedding, and Tim Turner was accompanying a hymn on the substantial 3mn organ there. The sound and feel of the organ and its vibrations, and the wonderful singing have never been forgotten – being a Methodist Church this was of course performed at full pelt with full organ in this cavernous space!
This awakening was compounded when ‘Uncle Joe’ Clokey turned up on the doorstep from America in 1952. Alasdair’s mother was a Clokey, and ‘Uncle Joe’ was in Europe to find his ancesters and to attend the International Congress of Organists based on Westminster Abbey, and organised by Sir William McKie.
Joseph Waddell Clokey, it turned out, was a Professor of Organ at the University of California, was a well known composer and recitalist of his day and an organ consultant. This distant cousin plied Alasdair with his organ and choral music. This included his Festal Symphony on St Patrick’s Breastplate, which was dedicated to Alasdair. He also wrote a choral work on ‘The Battle of Ballynahinch’ based on a balad he had been given by Richard Hayward when in Northern Ireland. Some years ago this was given a performance by Elizabeth Bicker MBE and her singers at her home near Ballynahinch.
Later, Alasdair took up the oboe, piano, singing and organ at his boarding school in Scotland, known then as Trinity College, but now Glenalmond College. This is an Anglican foundation in the heart of Scottish Presbyterianism, set up by Gladstone and the Dean of Edinburgh and others in 1847. As such, there was chapel twice a day every day with the psalm(s) of the day chanted, along with two hymns; on a Sunday there were sung services. Chapel Music was very busy here. For almost two years, he was organ scholar and much enjoyed the challenging 3mn Foster & Andrews instrument possessed by the College. This was where he learned how to accompany – something which has stood by him throughout his life as an amateur organist.
He always wanted to specialise on the organ, but his parents were adamant that he continue with the oboe and piano as well. This effectively spread his limited musical talents too thinly. However, he became ‘first oboe’ in the school orchestra, and ‘second oboe’ in the Perth Symphony Orchestra, whose conductor was Hungarian-born Dr Béla de Csillery, his piano teacher and a member of staff at the College. Dr Csillery was married to the renowned Romanian violinist Johanna Martzi, whom he had taught. Dr Csillery went on to form the famed Kent & County Youth Orchestra.Along with five years in the School Choir, these experiences provided a proper appreciation of music making in a group. He won a place in the National Youth Orchestra as the cor anglais player, but was sadly unable to take up the position.
Academically, Alasdair was what might best and most flatteringly be called ‘a late developer’. However, eventually a good honours degree was squeezed out of him at Queen’s University and he found employment in industry in what is now known as Human Resources for 25 years. This included 14 years in management consultancy. Later he was appointed Director, Northern Ireland for the Confederation of British Industry for 10 years, Director General of the Ulster Famers’ Union for 9 years, and then rounded off with a number of roles in the Justice Sector including ombudsman work overseeing the Solicitors’ Profession and the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland for a further 14. He was a member of tribunals and the Probation Board. He has also been a Government Advisor in Whitehall, in Edinburgh, and to the Polish Government. He retired in 2017 at the age of 75.
Alongside his day work, Alasdair took up organists posts in a number of churches and for fifty years was honorary sub-organist at his home Parish of Drumbeg. During this time, he held the post of honorary organist there as well for ten years, and at other churches, was organist at Carryduff Parish Church, St Thomas’ Parish Church and Dromore Cathedral. More recently, when he was no longer required at Drumbeg consequent on the appointment of a new rector, he has been a sub-organist at a number of churches in the Belfast area.
His involvement in the Ulster Society of Organists & Choirmasters extends over 45 years. Although not the most frequent attender in the early years he gradually became more involved and was made Hon Treasurer in 1996, Hon Secretary in 2003, and President in 2010/2011. He represented the Society on the Council of the IAO for several years. He is a current member of the USOC Committee, and also chairs the sub-committee administering the Arthur Beggs Travel Fund.
He lives in South Belfast with his wife Wendy. They both play golf although usually not together (she is too good at it), gardening and walking together. They much enjoy the close proximity of their son Graeme, his wife Caroline and their two little boys, Cameron and Charlie, and travelling to spend time with their daughter Fiona and her husband Tim, in Hampshire and London.
Having been the guardian of the records of the Society since first becoming Hon Secretary, he has more or less fallen into the role of recording the first Century of the activities of the Ulster Society of Organists & Choirmasters. Researching and preparing the book has occupied much of the past 15 months. It has been a true ‘labour of love’, as the President has noted in his Foreword resulting in A Society Formed. What a great privilege it is to have been able to complete the task.