Boston, Massachusetts, 1924–1964.
Youth and Early Career
Martin Roy Carlson was born on November 27, 1903, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a first-generation American, the son of Swedish immigrants. The Carlsons were a musical family; Carlson’s mother encouraged music, and all the siblings played at least one instrument. Martin studied classical piano, but he loved all types of music, from classical to ragtime. Although he learned to play the organ, this activity remained a part of the job for him; he never became a church organist.
Martin spent most of his life in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The young Carlson lived on Spring Garden St., one street over from the Skinner factory, which was located on the corner of Crescent Avenue and Sydney Street in Dorchester. Carlson would have walked by the area often and possibly have talked with workers there. Many of the workers were immigrants from Sweden, Belgium, and France. He may have known some of them from the neighborhood and from church. His earliest occupation, however, was not musical; at age 17 he was working in a button factory. Carlson started with the Skinner Organ Co. around 1924 at about age 21 and remained with the company after its merger with Aeolian until retirement in 1964.
World War II
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II, the federal government directed all manufacturing toward the war effort. The Aeolian-Skinner factory turned out ammo crates, and some of the staff either became active in one of the uniformed services or worked in other areas of manufacturing. Because of his background in electrical equipment and experience in manufacturing, Carlson was enlisted to work at Harvard University as manager of the Underwater Sound Laboratory, developing the tools needed to detect submarines. He also had some involvement with the MIT Radiation Laboratory during this period.
Return to Organbuilding
Carlson was a largely self-taught craftsman, equally skilled in working with wood, wiring, assembling, tuning, and voicing. His multiple skills led to his becoming part of the installation crew, traveling around the country to many major installations, including those at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah; Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center; the Riverside Church in New York; and the Church of the Advent (Episcopal) and the Mother Church, Christ of Christ Scientist, in Boston. His skills as a voicer eventually led to his becoming a tonal finisher. As a voicer, he had worked under the direction of the tonal director, but because of his abilities, he was sent out on his own to make the final adjustments to installed organs. At his death, Aeolian-Skinner provided the family with information for his obituary, in which he was said to have been one of twelve people in the country capable of doing such work.
He was also part of the tuning and service crew for many installations, traveling the country to tune and make small repairs to hundreds of instruments. Some of the Skinner installations that he serviced had been among the same instruments he had been part of building and /or installing 30 or more years before.
Carlson retired in 1964 and passed away on February 5 of that year. One of his granddaughters described him as “a self-made man with many talents. He was well read, a skilled carpenter & metal smith, also a wizard at wiring & electronics.” He was a respected member of the team at Aeolian-Skinner, playing many roles and being entrusted with the final regulation of the voicing of the firm’s instruments. His job titles included draftsman/engineer, design engineer, and tonal finisher. His obituary also states that he was a consultant to the Organist Guild of America [sic], presumably meaning the American Guild of Organists.
Martin Carlson was born November 27, 1903 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was with the Aeolian-Skinner firm of Boston, Massachusetts, by 1947. Martin Carlson died February 5, 1964 in Braintree, Massachusetts.
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