Learn About Theater Organs

Theater organs were designed to accompany silent films in the early 1900’s. Unlike a church pipe organ, theater pipe organs are set up like a small orchestra with trumpets, violins, flutes, oboe, clarinet and marimba harp. They also have percussion and sound effects such as car horns, doorbells, whistles, bells, drums, wood blocks, cymbals and tuned sleigh bells. No other instrument provides these real sounds from mechanical and electrical action. There are no recorded or sampled sounds here!

Behold the Theatre Organ!

During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021 our Chapter member Lynn Vera created four videos for the Lexington Chapter of the American Guild of Organists and the Bluegrass Chapter of the American Theatre Organ SocietyThe purpose of these videos was to replace in-person events, as required by state-mandated social distancing health and safety guidelines. The video at right is the first of the four. It is an introduction to the theatre organ, featuring local, national and international theatre organists.

How does it work?

 Robert Wolfe explains!

How to play the pedals.

 This is Dr. Carol Williams playing “Flight of the Bumblebee”…. with her feet!
(Note: this is the Möller theatre organ at the West Point Academy Chapel. The pedals can be played the same way on a Wurlitzer.) 

How to play “Star Wars” on a Wurlitzer.

 Featuring Jelani Eddington at the Sanfilippo Wurlitzer.

Inside the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ

 The world’s largest operating musical instrument is located within a seven-story Grand Court at Macy’s Center City (formerly Wanamaker’s department store) in Philadelphia. This organ was built by the Los Angeles Art Organ Company for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. John Wanamaker purchased it for his store in 1909.

Play the Wurlitzer!

Imagine you are sitting at the organ console. This is what you’d be doing! Click on the arrow to begin.