David McElderry unexpectedly died after an illness in February 2021 at the age of 64. David was a greatly respected organ builder and church musician whose work was highly regarded throughout Great Britain and Ireland.
David will be a great loss to the Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmasters, which he supported selflessly, not least as president for two years from 2000 onwards.
He was a gentlemanly and modest man. In a niche corner of the business world where bows and arrows are often used with almost reckless abandon, he let his workmanship and craft speak for themselves.
He was at heart a thoroughly nice person and one whose motive in life was to help others who asked for his advice or support.
David, the son of a GP, was born at Whitehouse in 1956, but instead of studying medicine like his father, he chose a career in Organ Building.
As a pupil at Campbell College, Belfast, his interest in the instrument was sparked by repairs being made to the organ in the school hall after water leaking from the roof damaged its pipework.
After leaving school, David became a management trainee with Well-Kennedy Partnership in Lisburn, one of Northern Ireland’s most notable organ building companies of the past 50 years.
He rose steadily within the firm, becoming a partner in 1980. He became the managing director in 2007 after the death of Christopher Gordon Wells, his senior colleague and mentor.
David’s legacy will survive for many years. He and his company built many new organs and rebuilt numerous others in churches across Northern Ireland. His firm also carried out significant restorations and rebuilds at cathedrals in Newry, Armagh and Londonderry.
It also maintained the organs in Londonderry’s Guildhall, the Mulholland Grand Organ in the Ulster Hall and the organs at Queen’s and Ulster University.
One of David’s more recent projects was creating a virtually new organ for the Portico Arts Centre in Portaferry, opened by the Prince of Wales.
David was also involved in building and caring for very small house organs for local clients and in Edinburgh, where his business built two outstanding instruments for the Church of Scotland.
David was a talented male alto and long-time member of the choir at St George’s Church in Belfast, which maintained a high level of organ and choir musicianship.
As a younger man, David was a member of the choir at Donegall Square Methodist Church in the city centre, which after its closure became the head office of Ulster Bank.
It was David’s interest in music, either in attending choral recitals or orchestral concerts in the Ulster HALL, that informed his vision when it came to creating musical instruments of true calibre. He will be greatly missed as a person and as an individual who possessed vast practical knowledge and irreplaceable manual skills.
David never married and is survived by his sister, Norah.
Dr Joe McKee