I use the term Theatre Organ or Pipe organ on a regular basis. I have been asked recently what the differences are between the two or if there are differences. There are a occasions that I do performances on both types of organs as well as the new Roland Atelier among others. I hope that this explanation helps you understand the different types of organs on the market and the different types of organs I play on a regular basis around the country.
“theater pipe organ”; “theatre pipe organ”; “theater organ”; “theatre organ”===originally meaning a multi-manual organ powered by bellows powering the organ with leads to large chambers housing various sizes of pipes, usually high up to the right and left of the console. These are connected by relay wires attached to the various rows (ranks) of pipes. The shorter and more slender the pipe, the higher and thinner the pitch. The problem is tremendous maintenance and venue issues. After the “talkies” came in, folks wanted to view movies, not just listen to organ music so the installations…with few exceptions…went silent and neglected for a number of years. However, gradually enthusiasts volunteered to resurrect the organs, even enhancing the tonal variety by combining ranks from different instruments. In other words, those that were in utter disrepair became part of other more sustainable situations.
The bottom line is that today there are some 150 theater organs in working order….many in the Bay area (Redwood City, the Castro, etc.) There is a group of followers who travel for hours to attend an event involving an artist playing a theater pipe organ. Their national association is the ATOS, American Theater Organists Society. These folks are exuberant in their desire and devotion to the theater piped organs still in existence. Nowadays, some of the sound creation is actually retrieved from electronic means. For example, the Fullerton (CA) Theater console has integrated a small Roland bank of sound tablets into the registration area…very unobtrusive, but still it’s there, I’ve played on it. For many years this would be a sacrilege but people are beginning to understand that the life span of these organs is growing near its end and preservation of the sound they love is crucial.
I am going to go on to more information in the following blogs about how I became involved in this industry and how each organ is different.