theater organ

I just saw a piece on the Today Show about the only remaining theater organ in Seattle, which in the 1920s had fifty in silent film and stage theaters. The organ in the piece was a Wurlitzer, which was one of the most common manufacturers of the day.

It reminded me of the Roberson Museum in Binghamton, New York, which housed a Link theater organ, built by the firm of a local family. Edwin Link went on to found Link Flight Simulation, which used the technology of the organ business to craft the first mass-produced flight simulators, the Blue Boxes that trained many pilots in World War II.

When we moved here in the 1980s, I studied organ with M. Searle Wright, who was an enormously talented classical organist, teacher, and composer, and, at an age when most people are retired, then the Link Organ Professor at the State University of New York-Binghamton. He also was one of the few remaining masters of theater organ, able to sit at the console and accompany silent films, bringing to life the sounds of the world and the moods of the characters.  It was an amazing experience to hear him accompany a film!  Talented younger organists would travel up from New York CIty to study theater organ techniques from him.

We more often heard Searle’s theater organ talents when he played a 45 minute prelude of classic American songbook and Broadway tunes before each Binghamton Pops concert on the Morton theater organ at the Forum. On the music stand, he would have only a list of the pieces (perhaps with the key structure, he planned to include that day and would weave those songs together, showing off the fun aspects of theater organs, the literal bells and whistles.

A magical art, which is, thankfully, still being kept alive by those to whom an older generation of organist like Searle Wright passed on to them.

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