In the century since its introduction, the theatre organ has seen dizzying success as a partner to silent movies and devastating loss as its guts were ripped out and its homes demolished across the country.
At the Capitol Theatre in York, however, the tradition sings in the pipes of a restored Mighty Wurlitzer. On Sunday, June 2, the Susquehanna Valley Theatre Organ Society will present its annual concert.
This year's event, titled "Music From the Movies: A Salute to the Golden Age of Movie Musicals," will feature organist Mark Herman, the 2012 Theatre Organist of the Year of the American Theatre Organ Society.
"Mark is a young organist and very, very talented," says Barry Howard of Lebanon, president of the Susquehanna Valley chapter. "It'll be the first time he'll be in York. We're excited to have him."
The sound: Howard's love of theatre organ music goes back to his boyhood in the 1950s. Attending movies at the Hershey Community Theatre, he'd listen to the music of the concert organ - an instrument between the church organ and the theatre organ - after the show.
"I would always stay for the extra half-hour to hear that organ," he says. "You actually felt it because the bass pipes were so big. It vibrated. Something about it just gave me chills."
As an enterprising teen, he bought a used church organ for $100 and convinced his parents to let him set it up in the house.
"While I was going to college, I was putting this thing together and had maybe 300 or 400 pipes in our basement," he says.
A theatre organ like the one at the Capitol is much more complex, as it's designed to replace an entire orchestra and special effects sounds for movies besides.
"The theatre organ is so much more versatile than a church organ," Howard says. "This organ was designed to accompany a movie back in the silent days, so in addition to pipes, it had instruments like drums, cymbals, horns, train whistles, bird whistles, horses' hooves" and other sounds.
The concert: For the June 2 concert, Herman will perform pieces from famous musicians including the team of Alan Lerner and Frederick Loewe, the men behind "My Fair Lady" and "Brigadoon" among others.
"He plays a lot of music that people will recognize from the movies and Broadway," Howard says. "This is a chance for people who appreciate good music to come and hear good music by good composers that was part of movies and musicals back in the Golden Age."
The concert might awaken nostalgia for older listeners, but Howard hopes it attracts a younger crowd as well. In the society's mission to preserve the theatre organ, every new set of ears belongs to a potential enthusiast.
"Once they hear it for the first time, they may get inspired like I did when I was 17," Howard says. "It's an overwhelming sound."
See the show
"Music From the Movies: A Salute to the Golden Age of Movie Musicals" starts at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 2, at the Capitol Theatre, 50 N. George St., York.
Organist Mark Herman will perform on the Mighty Wurlitzer.
Tickets are $14.
The Susquehanna Valley Theatre Organ Society meets regularly at the Capitol, and new members are welcome.
- Reach Mel Barber at firstname.lastname@example.org.