Pipe dreams: Antique organ plays final notes before renovation

Well preserved: Joe Amato sits in front of the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre’s 1928 Wurlitzer organ, which he has helped maintain since the 1980s.
Joe Amato

This show is all organ-ic!

An enormous, antique organ will play one more show on Oct. 8 before a two-year silence imposed by the restoration of its iconic Downtown home. The Wurlitzer theater organ has been at the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre since 1928, and the Los Angeles performer who will tickle its keys during the final show says that it will produce sounds that audiences many have never heard before.

“This isn’t your grandmother’s church organ,” said Mark Herman “It’s the most unique sonic experience in Brooklyn, frankly. It tries to be an entire symphony orchestra, so by playing it, you get to be a one-man band and have a full orchestra at your fingertips.”

The organ, which is maintained by a volunteer crew from the New York Theatre Organ Society, apes a full symphony orchestra with the help of many musical mechanisms, including 32 foot pedals, 244 keys spread across four keyboards, nearly 2,000 pipes, and various wires, cables, bells, cymbals, and drums. All those parts will allow Herman to play Broadway ballads as well as classical tunes typically performed by orchestras, he said.

“It’s more powerful than a symphony orchestra and extremely versatile in the music it can play,” he said.

Herman plans to play tunes from the 1920s through the ’40s, including compositions from Richard Rogers and George Gershwin.

The Paramount’s Wurlitzer is one of only two still functioning in New York City — the other is at Radio City Music Hall, on the distant isle of Manhattan. The Paramount’s organ was specially built for the theater, which was the first in the country built to show “talkies,” according to Joe Amato, the volunteer crew chief and curator who has helped take care of the instrument since the 1980s.

The organ will undergo routine restoration while the Art Deco auditorium, which is currently being used as a gymnasium for Long Island University, is restored to its former glory.

Herman said that even Brooklynites who are not yet organ fans should come out to listen to some new notes, which he is sure will get them hooked.

“Something that drives people to the theater organ is that they hear the sound and there’s nothing else in the world like it,” Herman said. “You get the bug for the sound and you have to seek it out.”

Mark Herman in Concert at the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre (1 University Plaza at DeKalb Avenue in Fort Greene, www.nytos.org). Oct. 8 at 3 pm. $15 ($10 students and seniors).

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Swan song: The Brooklyn Paramount Theatre’s 1928 Wurlitzer organ will play one more concert song before it goes silent during a two-year theater restoration.
Joe Amato

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