From Mending to Mastering: Mr. Wall’s Journey With the Organ


Photo courtesy of Lawrence Wall

Written By Connor Little, Mia Zottoli, and Hailey Kim

From the time he was a young boy, Mr. Lawrence Wall has never been able to walk by a keyboard without feeling compelled to tap the keys. This trait got Wall into his fair share of trouble over the years, but it also led him to one of his life’s greatest passions: the organ. 

Wall’s first acquaintance with this complex instrument was his grandparents’ Hammond home organ which his aunt often played. “I was always drawn to this organ, like a magnet,” Wall said. While it was incomparable to the monumental organs he would have the opportunity to play later on in his life, everyone starts somewhere, and this little organ in Selma, Alabama was Wall’s somewhere.

Prior to his playing days, Mr. Lawrence Wall spent time becoming adept at tuning the instrument, giving him a strong base for when he actually got into the organ. Photo courtesy of Lawrence Wall

Selma itself also played a part in Wall’s musical journey as, every Sunday, Wall sat in awe with his family as the church organist dazzled the congregation with their otherworldly skills. However, because the organist was hidden from the congregants’ view, most of the churchgoers were oblivious to how the magnificent music was filling the sanctuary. Wall was the exception.  “I loved the remote, ethereal, and yet still thundering power that could make the whole building shake and I knew it was for me,” Wall said. It was this childhood fascination with the organ’s powerful influence and a growing curiosity with being able to wield something with such incredible influence that set Wall on his path to playing the organ for the rest of his life.

“The organ is certainly the most complex musical instrument for a number of reasons and so the whole business of how they’re made and the whole engineering that goes into building one has always fascinated me,” Wall said. Since Wall never had the opportunity to play an organ as a boy (other than the occasional keyboard tap on his aunt’s Hammond in Selma), he did not truly take advantage of this passion for music until his twenties. However, during this time, he devoted himself to understanding the ins and outs of the organ and became astute at fixing and tuning these glorious instruments. When Wall was teaching at St. Timothy’s-Hale School, their current organist left for seminary to study for the priesthood. Because of Wall’s unique technical skills with the organ, the school’s Head asked him to fill in. Wall was hesitant since he had never actually learned how to play, but the offer of an additional $2,000 to his salary (and the opportunity to quit his night job at the drug store where he worked to make ends meet) was one he could not turn down.

As a teenager, while many of his peers were listening to The Eagles or Billy Joel, Wall instead filled his ear with the great composers of the organ like Johann Sebastian Bach and César Franck and soaking it all in. “I was learning through my ear constantly and I had the concept before I had the technique so when I finally started getting some technique, I could actually make music and that was a tremendous thrill for me,” Wall said. As he grew more and more adept with the organ and his passion for the instrument grew, Wall developed a bucket list of organs around the world that he wanted to play, including the monolithic Wanamaker Grand Court Organ in Philadelphia and the Harrison and Harrison Organ in Westminster Abbey in London, both of which he has since been able to check off his list.

When the opportunity came at St. Timothy-Hale’s school, Mr. Lawrence Wall dove right in and never looked back.
Photo courtesy of Lawrence Wall

“Learning to play the organ confirmed in me two things that I instinctively believed: something that is worthwhile is likely to be hard and memory is an incredibly powerful thing,” Wall said. When he begins a new piece on the organ, he spends a whole week on the first fifteen measures until he perfects them. But, during that time, there is a breakthrough point. “The organ, like Latin and Greek, actually taught me how to learn,” Wall said. Whether it is playing the organ or studying one of the classical languages as Wall did or simply studying for a math test or taking notes in history as all Charlotte Latin School students do, one does not have to understand something right away. Take it from the man in charge himself: put in the time, immerse in what you love and what brings you joy, and success in those skills will follow.