The theater organ is a large, little-known musical instrument made out of a series of pipes, pedals, and keys. Each set of pipes produce sounds that are similar in pitch and timbre. The theater organ can be a complicated instrument to learn, but there are many helpful instructional books on the subject that are sure to help any aspiring organist. The theater organ was a very important instrument between 1910 and 1930, when silent films were popular. Nowadays, there are only around 40 organs left in their original historic theaters.
The theater organ has a rich history dating back to the early 20th century. Created by Robert Hope-Jones, the theater organ was originally known as a "unit orchestra" and was picked up by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of New York for distribution. The organ became popular very quickly and was copied by many other manufacturers. The theater organ was used to compose the score of most films during the golden age of silent movies. After silent movies fell out of favor with audiences, some organs remained in their original theaters, but many were given to churches, museums, and other venues. In the 1950s, the theater organ enjoyed a brief resurgence in popularity, and the American Theatre Organ Society (ATOS) was formed. The ATOS brings many organ enthusiasts together while working to preserve the remaining organs left in the country
Over the years, the theater organ has found a home in many venues. Restaurants, ice skating rinks, and sports stadiums have discovered that the theater organ adds an element of fun to their events. Large churches are another great place for the instrument because the acoustics in those types of buildings are often perfect for organ music. There are still many great organists in the world who regularly perform live.
Theater Organ Use Today
There are still many historic theater organs in use today all over the world. Radio City Music Hall houses one of the most popular Wurlitzer organs in the country. As the largest theater organ in the United States, it boasts 58 sets of pipes and four keyboards. The organ is so large that it spans over four rooms! Some other notable theater organs can be found at the Weinberg Center, the Rialto Square Theatre, and the Paramount Theatre. Great Britain is home to nine theater organs, and they are also used in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Germany.
For those interested in the history and current use of theater organs, there are many regional societies and groups to check out. For example, the historic Redford Theatre's organ is owned and maintained by the Motor City Theatre Organ Society, which uses it regularly for classic movie presentations and special events. Anyone interested in learning about how theater organs are put together will be interested to know that every organ is unique. Organs can easily be customized based on the number of pipes that are used. Swell shades are also used to amplify the sound of the organ and can be customized to fit the instrument. The console is the part of the instrument that houses the knobs, pedals, buttons, and keys. It is freestanding and can be moved around with the organist.