Pipe Organ Database

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Donald M. Gillett View Extant Instruments View Instruments

Distinction:

Washington, DC area, 1947-1951; Boston, Massachusetts, 1951-1971; Hagerstown, Maryland, 1972-2010.
Classification: Builder

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November 27, 2015:

From Organ Database Builders editor Stephen Hall, May 6, 2019. —

Donald M. "Don" Gillett was was born April 8, 1919, in Southwick Massachusetts. His father died in 1932 when Don was 13. His mother remarried and they moved to Washington, D.C., where he attended Wilson High School and later the University of Maryland, where he attended for three years before being called for military service in 1941. He was in the Army Air Corps, stationed in Midland, Texas, where he served as a chaplain's assistant, playing organ for services on "folding field organs and the mighty Hammond" (his words).

Gillett's musical interest started at age four when his parents began taking him to organ recitals at the Municipal Auditorium in Springfield Massachusetts. He started piano lessons at six years old with Dorothy Mulroney, organist at the auditorium. After moving to Washington, he studied piano and organ with Lewis Atwater, who was organist at All Souls Unitarian Church and Washington Hebrew Congregation. His interest in organ building also started with the study of the organ.

Gillett's first job was with Lewis & Hitchcock of Washington, D.C. Four years later he was hired at Aeolian-Skinner where he learned the art of voicing and tonal finishing, working under G. Donald Harrison and Herbert Pratt. In later years, he became a vice president and head tonal finisher. When Joseph Whiteford retired in 1968, Gillett was offered the opportunity to buy controlling interest in the firm, he then became president and tonal director. Major projects finished under his tenure included completion of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in New York City, Trinity Episcopal at Wall Street, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Despite the successes, by this point in time, tracker action instruments (the 'Bach organ') had displaced the American Classic electro-pnuematic organ as the ideal at most colleges and conservatories, and many churches were following their lead. A consensus was reached within the company that someone who could build mechanical instruments was needed to lead the company in its next phase, even if electro-pnuematic organs remained their primary business. Robert Sipe of Texas was offered the job, and accepted it. Gillett left the company that he had worked for nearly two decades to make room for the new management, selling his controlling interest.

In March of 1972, Riley Daniels [President of Moller, 1961-1978] offered Gillette a job at M.P. Moller as head flue voicer. He accepted and moved to Hagerstown, Maryland where he worked at Moller for the next 19 years. After the death of John Hose, he became tonal director, and eventually a vice president. Gillette retired from Moller in 1991. He continued to live in Hagerstown after retirement. In addition to his musical pursuits, Don was also an avid art collector and he served on the Board of Directors of the Washington County (Maryland) Museum of Fine Arts. He died in Hagertown on Saturday, April 3, 2010, the day before Easter Sunday.

Sources:

  • Outline from "Donald M. Gillett" Obituary in Herald-Mail Hagerstown, Maryland, published April 5, 2010.
  • Supplemented by information from the OHS Database,
  • U.S. Military Service Records.

We received the most recent update for this note from Database Manager on May 06, 2019.

November 27, 2015:

For more information on the two firms Gillette was primarily associated with, see: M. P. Moller Inc., and Aeolian-Skinner Organ Co.

We received the most recent update for this note from Database Manager on April 09, 2020.

September 20, 2015:

From Organ Database Builders editor Stephen Hall, May 6, 2019. —

Born April 8, 1919, in Southwick Massachusetts; moved to Washington DC around 1933; attended the University of Maryland 1938–1941; in Army Air Corp 1941–1945, stationed in Midland Texas; graduated University of Maryland, 1947; with Lewis & Hitchcock in Washington, D.C. 1947-1951; with Aeolian-Skinner, Boston, Massachusetts, 1951–1972, president and tonal director 1966-1970; with M.P. Moller, Hagerstown, MD, 1972–1991, head flue voicer, later tonal director, then vice-president; retired 1991; died April 3, 2010, Hagerstown, Maryland.

Source:

  • "Donald M. Gillett" obituary in Herald-Mail Hagerstown, Maryland, published April 5, 2010.

We received the most recent update for this note from Database Manager on May 06, 2019.

October 30, 2004:

From the OHS PC Database, derived from A Guide to North American Organbuilders,, rev. ed., by David H. Fox (Organ Historical Society, 1997). -

Born in Southwick, Massachusetts; graduate of the University of Maryland, 1947; apprentice with Lewis & Hitchcock firm of Vienna, Maryland; with Aeolian-Skinner firm of Boston, Massachusetts, 1951, became vice president, 1963, and president/tonal director, 1966; with M. P. Möller firm of Hagerstown, Maryland, 1972, tonal director, 1974; retired 1990.

Sources:

  • David L. Junchen, Encyclopedia of the American Theatre Organ, vol. 1 (Pasadena: Showcase Publications, 1985), 378.
  • Music November 1972, (American Guild of Organists) 25.
  • Elizabeth Towne Schmitt.
  • The American Organist October 1987 (American Guild of Organists), 56.
  • The American Organist March 1990 (American Guild of Organists), 57.

 

We received the most recent update for this note from Database Manager on May 06, 2019.

Database Specs:

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