I am here to see and hear the magnificent Fox Studio Wurlitzer at at Bandrika, the studio of Nathan Barr, which he named for the Alfred Hitchcock film The Lady Vanishes.
There is a full write up on Nathan and his studio in the last Theatre Organ magazine, so I will share some quick highlights of what I saw and heard (and remembered).
The studio in in a nondescript building in a semi-residential neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. Inside, the halls are lined with a collection of instruments including a Tangly Calliope, a small band organ and other mechanical instruments.
This place is quiet. No, it is silent.
Inside the studio you can see there are almost no flat opposing surfaces other than the columns. As a result, there are no sound reflections. Even the ceiling has mixed sloping and perforated surfaces to eliminate reflections from the floor.
Around the room are a collection of instruments ranging from an Array Nail Organ to a Hammond organ, a harpsichord, a Wurlitzer Piano, and other instruments.
As for the organ, it’s the original Fox Studio Wurlitzer, built n 1928 and used for many key pieces of music in Hollywood Cinema. Nathan hired Ken Crome, from whom he purchased the organ, to restore it to mint condition — a process that took 4 years. Meanwhile, he built a custom recording studio with three floating floors to house this amazing instrument. The HVAC and wind supply are located adjacent to the building so that the organ is absolutely silent unless it is playing. In fact, he had is listen while he turned on the tremulants — still silent. Amazing! It is so silent, that you can hear the decay of the chimes and other percussive instruments.
Nathan explained that his goal is to bring the Theatre Organ back to Hollywood and the main stream (to thunderous applause) and he shared that he is already using it in various scores and that it will be featured in the closing them of an upcoming film.
Next, Mark Herman gave us a musical tour and performance. He explained that this is the first time in over two decades that this organ will be heard. However, it is the organ used to record countless scores at the Fox studios, including Star Trek, Patton, Sound of Music, and so many others.
Be sure to look at the 3D artwork that adorns the organ cave where the console is stored when not in use. You can see the Main, Swell, and independent percussion chambers above the organ cave.
Mark, performed many moving scores including themes from The Robe and, of course, the Fox Fanfare. (The only thing missing would be a few moving spotlights from behind the organ — I can help with that Nathan!)
Next, Mark invited David Marsh to the console; David, who is just 22 and said he was inspired by Pierre Francalanza, performed the main title theme from out of Africa. Side note: David first learned of theater organ music in 2010 at an open console at Plummer auditorium, now he is president of the Orange County ATOS chapter!
Mark performed “I want to go back to my little grass shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii” in the style of George Wright’s Hawaii album.
For his finale, Mark performed pieces from Buddy Cole’s Sound of Music — a piece first performed on this organ so many years ago!
Well done, Nathan! I look forward to hearing many great sounds from this organ. Thank YOU for preserving it for generations to come!
Next stop: the Nethercutt collection in San Sylmar!
UPDATE: I’ve added a few closeup photos of some of the stops, pistons, traps and effects on this beautifully restored console. (It was crowded so I could not take full shots.) Enjoy!