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THE MOVIES’ MIGHTY MUSIC MACHINE

Extra! Extra! Theater organist extraordinaire Rob Richards is performing in concert at the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard on Monday, June 4 at 7pm. The show is called To Disney With Love and it’s a rare opportunity to hear this modern master for two solid hours, with a guest pianist and vocalist. For tickets and information click HERE.

That isn’t the only theater organ news I have to share. The Music Box Theatre in Chicago has installed a “brand new” organ. Patrons of the Music Box have always enjoyed pre-movie medleys on an electric organ. Now house organist Dennis Scott and his partner Thom Day have unveiled a unique device cobbled together from three Kimball consoles. To quote a press release, “The new organ…includes functionality that fully replicates the magnificent sounds of organs that would’ve been heard in movie palaces across Chicago in the 1920s. 

“The Kimball Pipe Organ factory created the instruments in Chicago’s Southside in 1929, the same year the Music Box opened. These authentic consoles have been combined with digital pipe organ samples and a sound system of 24 audio channels using 200-watt-per-channel Crown amplifiers and Kilpsch speakers, creating an instrument that will delight audiences for years to come.” This sounds like a fortuitous merger of analog and digital technology; I’d call that a win-win.

Many grand-scale theaters in cities around the globe still feature live music on vintage pipe organs like The Mighty Wurlitzer, which have to be seen (and heard) to be believed. As often as not they are played and maintained by members of the American Theater Organ Society, who give new meaning to the phrase “labor of love.”

Rob Richards sitting in front of the Mighty Wurlizter Organ at the El Capitan

For instance, Rob Richards has plied his trade since 1999 at the El Capitan, Disney’s flagship theater in Hollywood. He serenades customers as they find their seats and prepare to watch a movie. Kids are especially curious, sometimes entranced, by the elaborate instrument and the way it sinks from view at the end of Rob’s mini-concerts. What I especially love about Rob (aside from his enthusiasm) is the eclectic nature of his repertoire. Naturally he plays Disney songs and familiar themes from movies like Star Wars, but he also integrates unexpected selections like “Stumbling,” a George M. Cohan medley or “Broadway Rhythm,” (written for The Broadway Melody of 1936 but best remembered for its reuse in Singin’ in the Rain). Rob is more than a fine musician; he is a showman You can learn more about him at the American Theatre Organ Society (https://www.atos.org/artist/rob-richards ) and purchase his CDs at his concert.

The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ at the
El Capitan

Other talented people fill in for Rob when he’s on the road, including my friend Ed Vodicka. If you think being a pianist is essentially the same job, you haven’t watched one of these specialists work the multiple keyboards, cueing aural effects, summoning different instrumental sounds, or giving their legs a workout pumping the pedals below. Theater organs are in a class by themselves, just like the dedicated folks who play them.

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