The sights and sounds of a 100 year old Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ

The Mighty Wurlitzer at The Nethercutt Collection, in Sylmar, California

Curator and Master Technician, Kyle Irwin, greeted us and welcomed us unto the “Music Room”, where he told us about this 100 year old instrument.

John Gnocchi performed for us with passion.

The concert was delightful and the sounds and sights of the pipe chambers, colorful!

Oh, there is also a stunning automobile collection downstairs but that’s not why we are here today. 🙂

Thank you to museum curator Kyle Irwin for taking such great care of this magnificent organ!

Cue the Fox Fanfare at Bandrika!

Mark Herman presents the Fox Studio Wurlitzer at Nathan Barr Studios

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!

Music for Magicians

Theatre Organ and Magic together -- two of my favorites!

After this morning’s American Theatre Organ Society concert by David Gray at Disney’s majestic El Capitan Theatre, I returned to the hotel and stopped by the ATOS record shop to see what treasures might await me. As you would expect, there were many classic Theatre Pipe Organ treats in additional to several new ones. These, I knew would be there because I was the LATOS volunteer who recruited the artists to send in their products. Several ATOS members also contributed used LPs to the record shop as well. As a student of magic performance, this title and cover art immediately caught my eye: Music for Magicians, by Verne Langdon.

I wondered why this title would be in the ATOS record shop? Perhaps it was accidentally included in a shipment? Then I turned the dust jacket over to read this line at the bottom “Featuring Verne Langdon at the Palace of Mystery Theatre Organ.” Now, I was really curious. You see, I am a member of The Academy of Magical Arts (AMA) and I currently serve as a Castle Knight at our club house, The Magic Castle, in Hollywood. We do have a “Palace of Mystery” but I was unaware that there ever was a Theater Organ (although it would not surprise me if we did). Seeing our founder’s names, Milt and Bill Larsen, on the album jacket clinched the sale. Fifty cents later I was the proud owner of this LP.

I was unfamiliar with Verne Langdon but found a tribute web site here and this playlist on YouTube.

I will post a link to AMA magic forums to see if I can learn more about the history of this album. Meanwhile, enjoy the dust jacket artwork and description.

Theatre Organ and Magic together — two of my favorites!

David Gray at El Capitan Theatre, Hollywood

Wow. David knocked it out of the park with this concert on the organ from the Fox Theatre in San Francisco.

For his finale, David performed Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture – 14 minutes of intense playing for two hands and two feet complete with the rumble of the 32′ Diaphones and the concussive confetti cannons at the end. I think every theatre organ should have a piston for confetti cannons, just in case… Well done.

Brett Valliant at Wilshire Boulevard Temple

The interior of the Magnin sanctuary is modeled after the Parthenon and my photos cannot begin to do justice to the beauty or significance of this building. The 1929 Kimball organ and console are way up high, hidden by grill and lattice work.

Brett informed us that there is an echo division consisting of flutes some 100 feet above our heads high in the dome.

The domed sanctuary is magnificent, audibly as well as visually…

Brett played many moving pieces including several of my favorites: Finlandia, Bach’s Come Sweet Death (Virgil Fox arrangement) and Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance military march number one.

There is absolutely no fair comparison between the experience of a great organ recording and the experience of listening live in the venue for which the organ was designed.

My thanks to the Wilshire Boulevard Temple for hosting this event.

Dave Wickerham at the Wilshire Ebell Theater

First theatre organ concert of the day. We will get to hear a Barton theatre organ. Looking forward to it.

Dave treated us to a variety of music he even turned the organ into a jazz ensemble and then proceeded to weave in other melodies as themes. He also played pieces in classical style but playfully took advantage of the additional theatre organ extras.

I sat in the third row offset so I could watch Dave’s hands and feet glide across the keys and pedals.

For his finale, he played a Strauss waltz as magestically as and Andre Rieu concert. However, when I closed my eyes and listened I could not tell it was one person playing. Well done!

Organ is the Bacon of Music

I enjoyed a delightful conversation with Jack Moellman on the bus trip over to the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles.

Jack is an amazing theatre organist and he also has a Rodgers 340 which he has greatly enhanced and customized with everything from tuned ducks to tuned bottles and more. Jack was venturing encouraging and he freely offered many tips from his experience.

When we got off the bus, I saw a fellow organ enthusiast wearing a T-shirt that read “organ is the bacon of music”.

I’m not sure my family would agree, but I could wear that shirt.


Safety Last! at the Orpheum with Clark Wilson

Last night, enjoyed a delightful presentation of this fine film with Harold Lloyd at the console. The program began with Clark interviewing Lloyd’s granddaughter who shared stories and tipped us to what to watch for. Clark then talked about the presentation and the fact that he used at least 42 themes within the film. A visual and audible delight!