Robert Cornell

C. B. Fisk, Inc. employee since 1970

Shortly after my arrival at the Fisk shop in 1970, Charles was beginning finish voicing on the Old West organ and took me along as his key-holder — he would have said his “boy,” having not yet quite succumbed to late twentieth century Political Correctness. Working up in the Great, he ran into some mechanical problem that needed fixing and called down to me asking me to go to his tool box, get out a Crescent wrench and hand it up to him. I dutifully went to the toolbox and began rummaging around in it making enough noise that I doubt he could have been unaware of exactly what I was doing. After a while of searching I began to break out into a hot flash and a cold sweat all at once. “There are no two ways about it,” I thought. “Sooner or later I’m going to have to face the fact that I don’t know what a Crescent wrench is!” My head hung in shame, I walked to a place under the walkboard where Charles was working. Meekly, almost inaudibly, I choked out the words “Charlie, what’s a Crescent wrench?” “Oh,” he replied after a pause, “it’s a sort of open end wrench with an adjustable part so it’ll fit different sized nuts.” There was in the tone of his voice not a vestige of criticism and just the slightest hint of wonder, but the effect on me was tremendous, as if a gift had fallen from the skies. Charles had begun to root out a habit of self – deception in me — a process long over-due — and it would be years before he accomplished any detectible change in me, but his efforts would eventually produce profound change indeed.

I have since become convinced that the Crescent wrench incident was no accidental lesson—he had not simply neglected to respond to my embarrassment — for Charles had an uncanny sense of what different kind of help was required by different people at different times under different circumstances. A later lesson proved to be very deliberate indeed. As we were building the Wellesley organ in the shop we realized that it would be wise to lock the doors to the lower case to protect the delicate action parts (all built in the ancient manner) at least from the curious if not from the malicious. Our solution — in keeping with the 17th Century style — was to provide a beam, which could be placed across all the doors at once and held in place with a padlock. In Charles’ absence I took it upon myself to forge a handmade 17th century style padlock out of iron, complete with skeleton keys and a rudimentary tumbler system. As I think about it, this was a pretty brash move on my part! It probably could have been opened without the key by a skilled locksmith but probably not with a hairpin. (This lock was unfortunately later stolen, I presume by a member of the legions of the curious—I hope not out of malice.) When Charles found out what I had done, he picked up the lock, looked at it, looked me right in the eye and said straight out, “You Idiot!” There was certainly criticism in his voice, a touch of anger and perhaps just the slightest hint of admiration — well hidden. But the point was taken. There is a limit to fanaticism, believe it or not, even in organ building.

Roger Martin carving shades for House of Hope, Opus 78

Roger Martin carving shades for House of Hope, Opus 78

Photo: Robert Cornell