Holyoke's Eminent Organist
William Churchill Hammond
The name of William Churchill Hammond stands out in the annals of Holyoke for a full generation.
It is nearly twenty-eight years since he came to Holyoke, the same day, by the way, that Chief John Lynch took up his work as head of Holyoke's fire department. Mr. Hammond came to Holyoke from Rockville, Conn., where he was born, fifty-two years ago. He was the son of Joseph and Katherine Burr Hammond. His father and mother were thoroughly in sympathy with his early desire to give his life to music, and from the first he was well taught.
William Churchill Hammond
With the beginning of the church year in 1885, Mr. Hammond came to fill the position of organist at the Second Congregational Church. He was young, joyous, full of enthusiasm, and running through and standing as a background to the conception he has of music as an art, was a strain of the practical, a gift from his New England forbears. This practical quality has enabled Mr. Hammond to do the important things in his work where other gifted men have yearned for like fulfillment. And there is another angle to Mr. Hammond's many-sidedness that has been of great blessing to Holyoke in his day--his generous, inclusive love of mankind. As a youth he had a vision of bringing music to everybody, opening wide the ways to it, so that every man, woman and child could share it. He wanted it to be a part of his life work that music, in Holyoke, could be had for the asking. So it has been, with the second Congregational Church a center which has gone a far spreading influence in music. The free organ recital in a small New England city was a new thing when Mr. Hammond started in to work out his life plan.
When he has closed the recital season of the spring of 1912 he had given five hundred and fifty free public recitals in the Second Congregational Church. It would probably be putting it too mildly to say that the total attendance at all these recitals had come up to 250,000.
This record of free organ recitals goes ahead of anything else ever done by any one man in one center in the United States. Nor does this work, given for the pleasure and cultural influence upon the people of Holyoke, mean the whole of Mr. Hammond's freely given program. While he was connected with the Smith College school of music he gave fifty free public recitals on the Whiting organ there, the while he has been developing a great school of music in connection with the college, even to a large part in raising the money for the College Hall of Music. Nor is that the total. In the towns around he has given fifty recitals, to dedicate new organs, often as events when music and charity were combined, Mr. Hammond giving of his time and talent.
The full meaning of all this for a city like Holyoke can hardly be estimated. To scores, perhaps it might be better to say to hundreds of these recitals, Mr. Hammond has brought soloists of note, and to Holyoke musicians has been given freely and, indeed, enthusiastically, the chance to take part in them.
One of the annual events for many years now has been the concert given by Professor Cartier's violin pupils, wen a great violin class, very many of them young lads of French Canadian families, gives an excellent program, and never fails to crowd the Second Church to the door.
Besides, for a dozen years, a great annual event has been the Christmas concert by the joint choirs of the Second Church and Mount Holyoke College. The reputation of this annual concert is nation wide, the programs of it having been distributed from coast to coast and is used as models in great musical centers. More recent years Mr. Hammond with his choirs has arranged notable services in his series of the Guild of American Organists, of which organization he is a Fellow.
All this great work has been arranged and put through by Mr. Hammond in connection with his regular duties as church organist and head of a college music department, playing often twice in the Holyoke church and at the Mount Holyoke vesper service on Sunday, besides the routine of teaching, and college and choir administration.
For all the years that he has been in Holyoke, Mr. Hammond has conducted a great chorus choir that has set the pace for other churches in the Connecticut Valley. It must be said that in order to accomplish all of this Mr. Hammond has had to have the backing of the Second Congregational Church. He had to educate the church up to its opportunities to serve the Holyoke Public, as an influence, outside its own membership.
It was a new program for a New England Congregational church, and there were some in the early days who did not wish the public admitted to the pews for which they paid. They even said it would wear out the church, dirty carpets and pew cushions. But there were big, liberal men in the church ready to share in Mr. Hammond's vision and now no man or woman in it but is proud to throw his or her influence to further Mr. Hammond's work.
In the early days Mr. Hammond paid the expenses of out-of-town musicians who came to assist in the recitals. He paid for the programs, that he new had their large value because people who were not trained as musicians got more if they new the composer and the name of the composition. But that time has passed. Now the Second Church pays these expenses connected with the recitals and support any program Mr. Hammond may suggest.
The organ, that was good of its kind when Mr. Hammond came to the Second Church, has since been rebuilt twice. Then to fitly honor the quarter of a century of music that Mr. Hammond had given the church, a double organ was built, the echo organ placed in the rear of the church making superb music possible.
With the completion of the Skinner Memorial Chapel, in the early winter of 1912, the music of the second church rose to higher levels then could possible have been foreseen when Mr. Hammond came to Holyoke in 1885.
The feature that especially makes the beautiful chapel a blessing to Holyoke is the organ, which not only is placed in a setting that ads to the beauty of the music, but which can be played in connection with the big double organ in the church. It was almost by chance that in the first week of the chapel's service to the city a Saturday afternoon organ recital was given. The audience, that could have twice filled the chapel, showed to Mr. Hammond that here was another opportunity to serve Holyoke. Saturday afternoon means an afternoon of leisure to the workers in the great mills of the city, and a free afternoon generally. There followed a series of Saturday afternoon recitals, Mr. Hammond giving his services and Joseph Skinner bearing the incidental expenses. These are to go on with the seasons to come, since Mr. Skinner shares Mr. Hammond's great desire to give Holyoke the blessing of music.
Mr. Hammond could not have done these things if he was a musician only. It is the many-sided man, large-hearted, and far-visioned, working towards an ideal which includes his city and his fellow citizens, who has done so much for Holyoke.
Mr. Hammond's love of his fellowmen reaches beyond organ lofts and church choirs. Among men he is a force for broad friendliness and large charity, using the term in its big sense. Personally one of the happiest and sunniest of men, in church and college he radiates a cheer and force that has made his choirs notable for more than twenty-five years. So in the city he stands in the first rank of Holyokers. Mr. Hammond's high service was clinched for Holyoke when he married Miss Fanny Bliss Reed, only daughter of Rev. Dr. E. A. Reed, whose pastorate of the Second Church has been almost as long as Mr. Hammond's organ mastership. Mr. and Mrs. Hammond have had two interesting sons, William Churchill, Jr., and Lansing.
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