Hellmuth Wolff has been part of the organ reform in North America since the movement came to this continent in the early 1960s. While still a teenager, Wolff began his apprenticeship in his native Switzerland with the firm of Metzler und Sohne, where he acquired a solid foundation in the techniques of his craft. Later, as a journeyman, he perfected his skills, working with several builders in Holland, Austria, and the United States. He gained valuable experience in design at the Rieger firm in Austria, under the guidance of Josef von Glatter-Gotz. A stage with Otto Hoffman in Austin, TX, and another with Charles Fisk in Gloucester, MA, introduced Wolff to the North American organ scene. Besides playing the piano and singing in choirs wherever he went, Wolff completed his musical language training by taking organ lessons with Wim Dalm in Amsterdam and later with Bernard Lagace in Montreal.
Wolff moved to Canada in 1963 to work for Casavant Freres, Inc., of St.-Hyacinthe, Quebec, bringing his knowledge and skills to the newly established mechanical action department. The organs of the parish church of Saint-Pascal de Kamouraska, Quebec, Our Lady of Sorrows in Toronto, and Marie-Reine-des-Coeurs in Montreal were built after his designs. Subsequently he worked as a designer and voicer in Geneva, returning to Canada in 1966 to renew his collaboration with Karl Wilhelm, who had also worked at Casavant. Wolf founded his own firm in 1968 in Laval, Quebec, a city bordering Montreal.
In the 25 years of its existence, the firm of Wolff has built a large variety of organs throughout North America, ranging from a one-manual positif organ to a four-manual organ for a cathedral. With this range of sizes has come a range of styles as well. Some instruments have been built in strict historic style, notably a French Classic organ for McGill University and a Nordic organ for the University of Toronto. These instruments, each the first of its kind in Canada, set new standards for this kind of work.
The work of Wolff and Associates is by no means confined to historic organs. Most of the firm's work has been devoted to eclectic organs, truly modern instruments for a modern organ culture, as expressed in both sacred and secular performance. Wolff and Associates are proud to be at the forefront of this field, where the lessons learned from the old masters inform, but do not tyrannize, genuinely creative organ building.
James Louder, born in Johnstown, PA, was the son of a Navy man and first came to Canada at the age of 12, when his father was transferred to Newfoundland. He has made Montreal his permanent home since his student days at McGill University.
Louder's passion for the organ began with a teenager's astonishment at the music of Bach, played by E. Power Biggs on the famous Flentrop tracker organ at Harvard. His musings over the stoplist on the jacket of Bach Organ Favorites led him to the article on the organ in the last edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, arguably the most opaque piece of writing ever to have been published on the subject. The confusion it sowed in his mind seems to have proved fruitful in ways that he could not have predicted, since by the time he had sorted out all the new questions raised by this article, he was truly "hooked".
Louder did his musical studies, such as they were, on the flute and later, the classical guitar. Like many another musician turned instrument maker, he eventually realized that his hands were better suited to making things than to playing things. In 1974 the guitar gave way to the organ for good, as he began his apprenticeship under Hellmuth Wolff, the only man he has ever called Master. In over 20 years with the Wolff firm, Louder has set his hand to almost every facet of the craft. Currently, Mr. Louder owns his own organ business Montreal, Canada.