Quentin Regestein, M. D.
Organ culture wars raged in the in the 1970’s. “Tracker backers” exalted Charles Fisk, ranking him somewhere between King Solomon and The Savior of the Heathens. “Charlie” generously shared his wisdom with them and patiently bore the burdens of Sainthood.
A dilemma arose during the final hours of installing a new Bozeman-Gibson organ at St. Paul’s Church, Brookline. The meager time left before the dedication recital would only be enough either to install the shawm or else to secure other important details.
Hanging around like a gadfly, I favored installing the shawm. George Bozeman said he would do whatever Charlie advised. I knew Charlie felt that the dedication program should be planned only after a new organ been installed. Nevertheless, I phoned The Master. His advice was clear: “No organ should be shawmed before its time!”
The lowly offices of a hero are too little acknowledged. Near our house one Saturday morning, Charlie and crew removed an organ from the one-time St. Phillip’s Church, Roxbury, which had become a boarded-up aviary. Having extricated the dormant organ, the sweaty, dirt-caked crew repaired to our house to clean up. Trailing pigeon-guano behind them, they made their way over a path of newspapers Lois had arranged from the front door to the bathrooms.
After he bathed, Charlie meticulously scrubbed out the old tin bathtub. When he asked for more scouring powder, I assured him the tub was scrubbed more than enough for the next scruffy person. Charlie’s travails had evidenced relentless standards for cleanliness or politeness or both.
Referring to the Hook brothers, Charlie would often say, “Those old boys really knew what they were doing.” Hook opus #538 was moved to the Congregational Church, Auburndale, MA. After the rededication recital, Charlie marveling at the instrument’s large, clear, confident tones, exclaimed, “And without an ounce of chiff!”
Charlie’s good will and quiet demeanor camouflaged the inner costs of compromising and passionate caring. In the dark days of the mid-1970’s recession, C.B. Fisk, Inc. found work building a cheerful little one-manual organ, at SS. Peter & Andrews’ Church, Providence. At the intermission of Frank Taylor’s dedicatory recital, Charlie was livid. “He’s outside smoking! I should go out and tear the cigarette right out of his hand!”
Within a decade, Frank, seated where he had learned of Melville Smith’s death, learned that Charlie had died. Not long thereafter, Frank died of chronic lung disease.
Frank Taylor and Charles Fisk in front of the Pedal Case, Opus 70, Cazenovia, NY
Photo: Robert Cornell