A Society Formed

Author’s Notes

This book records how the Ulster Society of Organists & Choirmasters (USOC) has evolved over its first one hundred years.

It is only right and proper to celebrate the efforts of the very many people who have been centrally involved in making USOC happen. Like any ‘club’ there are people who become active, some prominently, and some in a more modest way, and there are the majority who support its work by simply being a member and paying a subscription. All of these members are important to any organisation. And USOC is no exception.

The book may suggest that in the early years, USOC was somewhat ‘fusty and formal’, as most of the personalities are by now outside the memory of even the oldest living USOC members. Anecdotes, if any, are second hand and less animated than when the subject is known. Hopefully as the century unfolds, readers will find the people of the Society become more vividly portrayed as the book progresses to more recent times as they remember the personalities concerned and they may even read about themselves!


The book is divided into four parts.

Part I deals with the Developing Decades in a broad perspective; how the Society emerged, changed and met the challenges of the musical, political, and social environment over the years. It tells the tale of how the Society came to be and how it changed and moved forward through the efforts of its members. There are inevitably elements of the author’s own judgement and opinions which emerge and where interpretations are largely subjective.

Part II of the book is a Catalogue & Commentary on the events organised by the Society over the years, as well as those by others with which it was involved, and the contribution of many individuals is noted. There may well be omissions which hopefully another generation can make good, but many members have told the author that this will be of value in understanding and recording the genesis of the Society. But this also means that there should be no loss of continuity if Part II is merely ‘dipped into’ rather than studied. Never­theless, an attempt has been made to make it palatable and interesting for those who wish to read it all.

Part III focuses on the matter of Governance. Many may well think this boring enough to avoid. But no organisation can exist without the methodology of how it orders and organises itself and how this has been modified to suit changing circumstances. Again, USOC is no exception, and it is important to record what has happened over the century.

Part IV of the book is a compendium of Facts & Figures about the Society, with a focus on the people of interest. The facts are not intended to be exhaustive, but hopefully those recorded will provide a sufficient and interesting record of various aspects of USOC and its development.


Readers will note that for several reasons made clear in the book, there are two principal gaps in minute books available to the Society. The first omission is for the period 1918 (and earlier for any documents that may have existed prior to the formation of the Society in 1918) until 1935. For this period, there is virtually no other record than the Hon Treasurers’ Book, of which more later. There are no correspondence records, photographs or other papers for this period in the possession of the Society.

Similarly, no minute books are in the possession of the Society for the period 2008 to 2015. There are however plenty of papers for those years, and other ad hoc documents, that have been harvested from personal files belonging to the author and others who have been most helpful in making their material available.

The Hon Treasurers’ Book covering the period from 1918 to 1948 thankfully survives in the possession of the Society. This real treasure has been preserved carefully over many years by Mr Billy Adair.

Well thumbed! - Hon Treasurer’s Book 1918-1947

Well thumbed! – Hon Treasurer’s Book 1918-1947

There are in the possession of the Society thorough and excellent minute books for all the other periods of the history of USOC, as well as files of a broad range of material in photographs, brochures, newsletters and bulletins issued by USOC and other organisations. The clarity of these records is a tribute to the respective Hon Secretaries concerned.

Access to the British Museum National Newspapers Archives has been most helpful in piecing together events in the early years of the Society. For his assistance in this, the author thanks Mr David Rutherford.

Reprise, an important book by the late Dr Harry Grindle has been a valuable source of colour and material for earlier and middle years which is gratefully acknowledged, as was the extensive advice and information he made available to the author.

Copies of Soundboard, Organists’ Review, and the publications of the Friends of Cathedral Music have all provided relevant and valuable material; and of course no-one these days can afford to ignore the world-wide web. What a mine of information it is, although not all of it is wholly accurate.

The author is pleased to acknowledge all these sources mentioned and others not recorded here. They have all helped to produce what hopefully may be regarded as a reasonably comprehensive picture of 100 years of the Ulster Society of Organists & Choirmasters.


The author has had much help from many to help shape and complete this book, which he wholeheartedly acknowledges.

Thanks are due to the current President of Ulster Society of Organists & Choirmasters, the office bearers and the committee for their encouragement in completing this work. The Centenary President, Professor Desmond Hunter has been kind enough to provide the foreword for the book. It is important to note that while the publication has enjoyed the ready co-operation and support of the Society, its office bearers and committee, it is not an official expression in any way of their views and opinions; any of these are merely the author’s interpretations and choice of emphasis.

Many individual members have been most helpful with anecdotes and memories which provide interest and extra colour as well as authenticating the personalities involved. Particular thanks in this context go to Mr Billy Adair, Dr Joe McKee OBE, Baron George Minne, Miss Hilda Trueman BEM, Mr Neale Agnew, Mr James Little, the late Mr Albert Martin, the late Dr Harry Grindle MBE, the late Dr Donald Davison MBE, the late Mr Rodney Bambrick, along with many others.

In particular, the author thanks Mr Billy Adair for allowing the inclusion in the book of his talk given in 2003 to the Society which gave so much colour to its work from his joining USOC in 1942. He also thanks Dr Joe McKee OBE for contributing Chapter 12. This is focussed on USOC and the Organ Builders. Over the years their work and contribution to the Society, has been of very great importance to members.

Mr David McElderry has a fund of knowledge about the Society and its people; the depths of his encyclopaedic memory have not yet been fully plumbed. Dr Stephen Timpany and Mr James Little have made many helpful comments and suggestions. Mrs Libby Gill provided the title of the book as well as much reader-friendly advice. Mr John McDonald has lent his formidable memory from time to time, as well as his photographic expertise.

Professor Gerard Gillen, a long-standing and good friend of the Society has been characteristically most generous with his time and his hospitality; his guidance in relation to the ‘doings’ of the Leinster Society of Organists & Choirmasters and his recollections of the Joint Meetings with USOC and other events have been of particular value.

The help of my friends Mr Michael Hughes, Mr Stephen Cullen and Ms Marie Maguire in publishing this book cannot be measured or overstated. They have also helped me over many years in my public work. I can only say how grateful I am for all they have done to assist me in making this project a reality. I thank Mr Stephen Cullen for his creativity and practical help in designing the covers for the book. I would also extend my thanks to the staff in McGrath’s Office Supplies, Lisburn Road, Belfast for their assistance in preparing drafts.

All this help has been essential in putting the work forward for publication, but when all is said and done, the responsibility for any errors, poor choice of emphasis, and more importantly perhaps omissions, are mine. Amongst these may be people who have helped and whom I have neglected to acknowledge by name; I ask forgiveness from anyone affected.

Finally, I thank my wife Wendy. Her support, perception and critical comment, constant fund of ideas and proof-reading could never be overstated. Her contribution is characteristic of her commitment and devotion to me and the things that I do, during our long and happy marriage for over fifty years.

Alasdair MacLaughlin
Belfast, September 2018.