By Michael Fitzgerald, December 2014
Within downtown Stockton’s Masonic Temple, in a second-floor room called the Commandery, a former spy plays a most unusual instrument for degrees and installations. Richard Merrittstein-Timmins, 83, played the organ and piano for seven U.S. presidents. He once played the magnificent organ in Notre Dame in Paris for John. F. Kennedy. But he extols the 1921 Hope-Jones pipe organ in the Commandery. “It’s the jewel of the Valley,” Merrittstein-Timmins said.
It’s a hidden jewel, since the Masonic Temple is unknown to many. The pipe organ was installed during building construction. Much of its wiring and pipes are built into the wall. It is one with the old building, and probably can never be removed.
When Merrittstein-Timmins plays, an electric signal hits a relay behind an ornate screen. The relay routes the signal to pneumatic pistons. The pistons control the wind pressure in the pipes — bringing to life a cylindrical chorale of parallel pipes: tall, fat pipes and short, teeny pipes and all pipes in between, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in tiers in the wall, all with a mouth-like slit where the sound blows out. The organ shakes the room with symphonic power. Strings, vox humana, oboe — all the instruments, ranging across multiple octaves and pitches, each sound resonating in the room for upwards of two seconds.
Merrittstein-Timmins is as remarkable as the instruments he plays. He served in Military intelligence and the CIA. In those years he possessed a photographic memory. During the Korean War, his handlers arranged for his capture so that he could identify enemy officers and gather military intelligence. Today he keeps a busy schedule playing organ for services of numerous faiths. And the Masons.
Their pipe organ is a historic treasure because, unlike the rebuilt organ in the Bob Hope Theatre, it has never been altered, he says. Merrittstein-Timmins harnesses the magnificent old codger of an instrument and rattles the room with Bach’s Arioso.
“It’s the king of instruments,” he said.
(I have posted Michael Fitzgerald’s article here because recordnet.com has been unreliable lately.)