Hell & Reason

Sunday, May 21, 2:30 p.m.

Free will donation at the door. 


Biographer Laura Sewell Matter and organist Christa Rakich present a program entitled “Hell and Reason" at Boston’s Old West Church on Sunday, May 21, at 2:30 p.m.

 Crista Rakich

Crista Rakich

Charles Fisk was a renowned builder of pipe organs who died in 1983. As a teenager, he also worked as a technician on the Manhattan Project, unknowingly helping to create the world’s first nuclear weapons. Matter will read from an essay, also entitled "Hell and Reason," that examines Fisk’s early work building bombs and his later transition to organ building. Rakich will perform music by J.S. Bach and Nicolas de Grigny on Fisk Op. 55, one of the builder’s most beloved and influential instruments.

 Laura Sewell Matter

Laura Sewell Matter

Matter's essay was published in the Spring 2017 issue of The Georgia Review (a National Magazine Award-winning literary journal based in Athens, GA). The essay’s title comes from a 1945 editorial written by Albert Camus in response to the bombing of Hiroshima. “Peace is the only fight worth engaging in. This isn’t a plea any more, but an order that has to rise up from peoples to governments, the order to choose once and for all between hell and reason,” Camus wrote.

"Hell and Reason" reports on the broader history of the bomb’s development, and how Fisk and other participants in the Manhattan Project reacted to the use of the atomic bombs on Japanese targets in 1945. The essay is a spin-off of a book-length biography of Fisk, on which Matter is working. "Recent events in Washington and North Korea, and the renewed threat of nuclear confrontation, make it feel particularly urgent to share this essay now," Matter says.

The company Fisk founded, C.B. Fisk Inc., still operates in Gloucester. Organs built by Fisk and his successors can be found in the Boston area at King’s Chapel, Harvard University’s Memorial Church, and Wellesley College’s Houghton Chapel, in addition to Old West Church. Over 100 Fisk organs are used in churches, concert halls, and universities across the U.S., and in Switzerland, Japan, and Korea.

Old West Church is located at 131 Cambridge St, Boston, MA 02114.