News and notes from the President and Chief Executive (CE) of the American Theatre Organ Society, Ken Double.
We dubbed it A HALLOWEEN HANGOVER
This time, the travels took me to Lafayette, IN, a town I called home on two different occasions in my professional life, and a place where I jumped in with both feet into the world of theatre organ. I call it “my musical home.”
As I turn 61 this week, it is hard to imagine I moved to Lafayette in 1976 for my first job in TV, and in 1979 began working toward installing a theatre organ at the old Mars Theatre, now Long Center. Gads, does time indeed fly by. We premiered the organ in 1982.
So, last Friday night, I was at the Wurlitzer to play for The Phantom of the Opera and leading up to the performance, everybody was worried.
Through the 80’s and 90’s, our concert series was a spectacular success. We had 550 season ticket holders, averaged 750 a concert, and my performances sold out regularly. The power of the TV exposure my sportscasting career provided well in evidence and reflected in those attendance numbers.
But that was a long time ago. That audience has dwindled. And my recent concerts and our recent efforts have met with tough times, like so many in our chapters around the country.
What to do?
Through the efforts of Jay Mermoud, a good friend and HARD WORKER, and our Long Center Theatre Organ Society board, we did some soul-searching and worked on a few things differently.
New management at Long Center (we are two distinct, individual organizations) was much more open to partnering with us (LCTOS) to put on this show. This helped in terms of overall expenses and budgeting, not to mention marketing and outreach.
Then, Jay called a friend who happens to be the sales manager at a local radio conglomerate. This step was huge, and paves the way for future partnerships and a LOT of exposure and promotion for our concert efforts.
Ski Anderson at WAZY-FM agreed to a promotional package. There was no charge to LCTOS or Long Center. We provided the station tickets for give-away and for staff use. (Very easily done as unused tickets we had PLENTY of.) For two weeks leading up to the event, not only did WAZY 96.5 FM run promos, Ski agreed to run promos on their “sister stations” which played rock and also country.
For the first time in a very long time, we ran out of programs and had to hold the show to get the lines of folks at the box office in the doors. It was a very exciting night.
This promotional opportunity is available to all of us if we work professionally to approach a radio partner. And it can help immensely if you partner with the right station.
In this case, WAZY-FM targets an audience that is 18-45…rock n roll for sure, but not too “far out.” I spent an hour on the morning show the day of the performance. And we had an audience that was made up of a lot of faces I had never seen before.
Ski Anderson from the station brought his family to the event; was blown away by the Wurlitzer as were his young kids (both under 10); and we are set with this station to do more.
The station was happy. Long Center management was happy. LCTOS was ecstatic. We drew nearly 400 where before we were hoping for 200 and a break-even event.
We are not alone. In Seattle, the Paramount runs its silent film series with major sponsorship from the Trader Joe’s chain, that sponsorship not only helping the bottom line budget, but also providing a ticketing outlet that helps put “butts in seats.”
I’m sure there are others who are having some level of success with promotion, sponsorship or both. And we all need to “go to school” on these successes, learn from them, and put them in place in our own efforts to draw new crowds to theatre organ events.
So, while we focus on the new marketing opportunities that Facebook, Twitter, and email “blasts” and more provide, traditional “good ol’” radio can also have its place in helping promote our events.
I can guarantee you it makes it a lot easier on the organist when there is a big crowd responding to the music (or in this case, the movie). And even better when most of the faces in that crowd are new ones.
More next week! By the way, travels next will take me to Southern California, New Zealand and back home. Puttin’ in the miles!!
November. 4, 2013
Yup, I was on the road again, and delighted that Dunkin Donuts coffee tastes good and kept me awake. (This coming from an avowed tea drinker!) I pulled into Atlanta Sunday night/Monday morning about a quarter-to-one.
And was promptly awakened early with the pounding of hammers and the voices of the work crew re-siding our condo’s. Now, I was gone four days. The foreman knew I was going to be gone four days. They were scheduled to start on my unit BEFORE I left town. And when did they start?? The day I got back. Murphy of Law’s fame is laughing hysterically someplace.
Meanwhile, something popped up in the last couple of days that has got me on my “high horse” or “soap box” or whatever.
If an individual, a company, a hotel playing host, a group doing a fund-raiser, a wedding planner planning a reception – whatever – hired a pianist, a DJ, a jazz combo, a singer, a violinist, whatever - those musicians would be paid.
WHY ARE THE THEATRE ORGANISTS SO OFTEN EXPECTED TO PLAY FOR NOTHING?
I fully understand the nature of our organization. I completely understand our need to promote the instrument we love.
But I took lessons for ten years. There are theatre organists who have their degrees in music. Doctoral degrees in some instance. Just like the ones that play the violin, the piano, and WAY MORE than the DJ who hauls in his glorified boom box.
Why is it that it is OK to take the organist for granted? It happens all the time.
I had the privilege of playing a chapter meeting for the Manasota chapter in Sarasota, and that chapter is generous. Noting this is a chapter meeting, NOT an open-to-the-public concert, there was a small fee involved, and it was fine. And this is the case for most of our chapters. My complaint is not there.
But earlier today, I was notified that a group is looking for a theatre organist, and they want a volunteer.
WE ARE PROFESSIONAL MUSICIANS!!
And let me add, that the best of us are the finest keyboard musicians in the world.
There is NO ONE ON EARTH that can produce what Simon Gledhill, Jelani Eddington, Richard Hills, Donna Parker, Jonas Nordwall, Walt Strony, Charlie Balogh, Lew Williams, Ron Rhode, Jim Riggs, Clark Wilson and the list goes on and on and on…can produce at the keyboard.
Beyond that, fine musicians like Len Beyersdorfer in Eastern Massachusetts and dozens of others play wonderful theatre organ as “walk-in” music for audiences who have paid $60 or $80 or would you believe $300 a ticket for a performance by some performer…and are often either paid very little or are asked to do it “for the love of the organ.”
While I am all for the “love of the organ,” I am all for acknowledging the immense talents of our best players, and wondering why – so often – there is budgeted money for everything except the organist.
Again…cocktail party in the lobby? Need a pianist? $250 - no problem.
Pre-show music on the mighty theatre organ? Well, of course, you’ll volunteer won’t you?
At times, we are our own worst enemies. Our love for the music and instrument has moved us to present it to the public in any way possible…including far too often for free.
What we have done in some circles is put a value on our instrument, and a value on our providers of the music of that instrument. What value?? Zero. Nada. Zilch. Nothing. It’s value is FAR beyond that.
Touring classical organists get fees of $2500, $3000 and more.
Their theatre organ counterparts, the best of whom can play rings around many of our classical players (who cannot handle “second touch” very well but wish they had it!!!!), can barely get half.
Yeah, yeah, yeah…supply and demand. I understand.
But “perform for free?” or, “Sorry, there’s no money in the budget? I thought you wanted to expose the organ to the public, and you want to be paid?”
After a while, it gets insulting.
I am all for exposure of the instrument and the art form. I am all for supporting our chapters and our “sister” organizations who provide great programs on great instruments.
But it is time for an attitude adjustment for those who think the organists should be volunteering. These are the finest musicians in the world, and they deserve proper compensation when asked to perform.
OK – the rant’s over.
I DID play at Grace Baptist Church Sunday afternoon, and had a wonderful time. I am reminded what an absolutely fantastic instrument that Wurlitzer is.
A good crowd of over 60 was there for the chapter meeting, which included an invitation for some from Central Florida Chapter to attend.
Following the meeting, there was a very good, very frank discussion with the Manasota chapter board members about their concerts (attendance is still strong), membership (declining slowly – what do to?), and the future of that wonderful organ with the church leadership undergoing some changes.
Manasota chapter president John Fischer walked away with three good ideas to pursue that might be helpful, and I walked away with one major task that could help all of our chapters. More on that soon. First, I gotta raise the money!!
If my rant above kicks up some dust or rubs somebody the wrong way, so be it. It doesn’t change my growing frustration about how what our best musicians do gets too often taken for granted. Til next week…and I promise, NO RANT!
I’m off and running again Wednesday (Oct 17, '13), including a stop with the Manasota chapter down in the Sarasota, FL area. It will be good to see John Fischer, Norm Arnold, Chuck et. al. that have focused their chapter’s energies around the great Wurlitzer at Grace Baptist Church.
Meanwhile, I had a chance to dash over to Birmingham Sunday and play “Big Bertha” for the first time since the final additions and the recent tonal finishing work by Tom Helms and Lyn Larsen. Talk about wonderfully gilding the lily!!! WOW. A great organ is now simply astounding, as convention attendees heard.
While in Birmingham, I had my first two “coaching” sessions with two students. I would be hard-pressed to identify what I do in these sessions as teaching. But in terms of “coaching” someone who can play (including one who is really excellent), and get them to the next level with some tips on arranging and registration, I like to think I can be helpful in making the theatre organ experience more enjoyable for these people.
You will see this message repeated during the coming weeks: Your annual membership renewals now come delivered with the journal. We are hitting on this due to some confusion over the past several months.
ATOS instituted a change in how members were notified it was time to renew. This change, i.e. including the announcement with the journal delivery, saves ATOS thousands in separate mailing costs. But apparently some of you have missed the announcement, haven’t caught the message, and have let your membership lapse.
So look for this reminder in the soon-to-come November-December issue of the journal.
As you can imagine, due to the popularity of Halloween, the theatre organs around the country might get a stronger workout than at any other time besides Christmas. Silent film screenings of Phantom of the Opera, Nosferatu and other spooky favorites abound. And for so many who might not sit through a two-hour concert, the silent film vehicle is a GREAT way to introduce new people to the wonders of the instrument we love.
Support your local chapter efforts. Get out to the Seattle Paramount, or the Alabama in Birmingham, the Strand in Marietta, Long Center in Lafayette, IN or wherever else you might find silent film accompanied by the theatre organ, and bring someone new along with you and introduce them to the distinctive sounds of the mighty theatre pipe organ.
Have a great week.
From now on, either Sunday night or Monday morning is BLOG TIME every week!!
It has been an interesting start to the Fall season.
Today (Sunday, October 6), I am flying home to Atlanta after spending 18 of the past 20 days on the road. I’ve been through Florida, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, Louisiana, and of course, Georgia.
Much of what I’ve been working on involves not only the ongoing fundraising efforts, but finding homes for instruments. As I like to say, “We can’t have our playtoys if we don’t have a playpen!”
Of particular note was the most recent trip to New Orleans. The Saenger Theatre is now open again, operating not as a movie house, but as a home for Broadway, big name entertainers, and more.
On behalf of ATOS, I have been working with Cindy Connick, Executive Director of the Canal Street Development Corporation (the government entity helping to create a new New Orleans theatre district), and David Anderson, president of Ace Theatrical, the Houston/New York-based entity now operating the theatre.
These two are theatre organ fans, and while we faced and then got past the frustration of no initial budget for the organ restoration at the Saenger, the fact is these two worked hard to save the organ, and now begin the campaign to bring it back.
We began more than two years ago when my first visits helped to answer some initial questions they had. We were also impressed by the fact that from Day One, these two told architects, engineers and planners that the chambers were OFF LIMITS to air conditioning ductwork, electrical conduits, and other “stuff” that can ruin a chamber space.
Both Cindy and David are adamant that the old, original console, nearly ruined by Katrina, will be restored. They had no interest in finding a replacement console.
And the rebuilt orchestra pit still features a completely separate lift for the Robert-Morton console. That involved a LOT of money that might have been spent elsewhere, but was steered for the future home for the console.
My Atlanta friend Lee Lanier helped arrange travel, and we had two great events in New Orleans to kick off the fund-raising for the organ. There will be a complete article in the January-February issue of the journal showcasing the great work done here.
We also spent a lot of time with Mike Fitzgerald, who was the late Dr. Barry Henry’s partner. Mike will be directly involved in all efforts toward the Saenger, as he and Barry loved this theatre and the Robert-Morton organ.
What’s more, Ace Theatrical is the entity re-doing Loew’s Kings in Brooklyn, which will eventually house the Paul VanderMolen four-manual Robert-Morton. And in talking with Ace officials, who also operate the San Antonio Majestic, we started dialogue about getting that Robert-Morton back on line.
Our hopes are that Ace Theatrical’s footprint for operating theatres around the country will grow. They like having theatre organs in their historic theatres.
Good for Ace!!! Good for ATOS.
Our organization needs more partnerships like this, with solid theatre people who understand the advantages of having an instrument in their theatres.
Meanwhile, my Florida travels involved working with a new talent. Kristof is the organist at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team and the five-manual Walker organ. I did something I had not done since 1975. I played the organ for a hockey game! CHARGE!!
I sub’d for Kristof one night, then spent some time with this talented keyboard musician showing him the “ropes” around a horseshoe console, and some of the secrets of playing theatre style. He’s a quick learner. After a day at his job with Disney in Orlando, he heads to Tampa on game night in time for a quick rehearsal and then the music for the contest. We have a new fan of theatre organ in this talented church musician and jazz artist, and his efforts will bring the sound of the theatre organ to thousands (the arena seats nearly 21,000 for hockey) every game.
I will be back to the Tampa area to do some follow-up with Kristof, and I will be playing for the Manasota chapter meeting October 20, and see what new chapter President John Fischer is up to.
Future travels include Lafayette, IN for a screening of Phantom of the Opera at Long Center; the LA area (flying on my birthday no less); a one week stop in New Zealand to pinch-hit at the Hollywood Theatre in Auckland; holiday programs December 6 for Dick and Linda Wilcox at the “firehouse Page” in Union City, IN and December 8 for the Central Indiana chapter meeting at the Warren Performing Arts Center.
Keeping my washer and dryer busy and my bags packed, we hope we are having an impact on many levels!
Back next week, I promise, and NO TRAVEL ‘til October 16th. Hooray!!
Greetings all, from a sunny-yet-chilled-Atlanta!
I am back after a second trip to Florida in the past month, this time I was involved in a most successful holiday fund-raiser for the Central Florida Chapter of ATOS. I had the privilege of sharing the bench with young Danny McCollum, who provided a delightful “cameo” appearance at the 3/9 Wurlitzer (nicely augmented by some excellent digital voices) at the Pinellas Park Auditorium.
More than 100 attended this chapter holiday get-together, which included a full dinner with all the trimmings. Newly-elected CFTOS chapter president Vince Morandi cooked nearly 60 POUNDS OF TURKEY for the event, and it was absolutely delicious! I opened the concert welcoming everyone to “Vinnie’s Supper Club,” and it was all of that for sure.
There was other business to attend to during the weekend, and all I can say now is there is one very exciting project just waiting for an official “green light” that I hope to report on very soon.
I will be attending my first-ever “Larry, Carols and Mo” event at the Fabulous Fox in Atlanta. This is billed as the Fox Theatre’s “Thank You” to the City of Atlanta – a free holiday event which features Larry-Douglas Embury, Organist-in-Residence at the Fox, in concert with special guests, and a Christmas-themed movie….and all tickets free to the public. It will be fun to see every one of those near-4600 seats filled with moms and dads, kids of all ages, and a healthy smattering of Atlanta chapter members, all enjoying Mighty Mo!!
I will be taking part in the show, accompanying one very talented young man. If you have a chance, feel free to “Google” Daniel Mata. Daniel is a 16-year-old sophomore at Lassiter High School in Marietta, GA. One of triplets, and born in Venezuela, his family came to the U.S. eight years ago. The three of them (brother Luis and sister Maria) are most talented – piano, violin, music in general – and Daniel also has been given the gift of a most wonderful singing voice. Check out his version of the opera classic Nessun Dorma. It’s just thrilling. Daniel won the first-ever Fox Stars of Tomorrow competition staged last spring, and his career is gaining momentum. It will be a thrill to play “orchestra” to his amazing voice Monday night, and to play a small part in Larry-Douglas’ wonderful show at the Fabulous Fox!
Meanwhile, there are holiday concerts, chapter Christmas gatherings, and other special events all across ATOS-land, and we hope you are attending, participating, performing or helping in one way or the other.
Recording engineer Tim Stephens and I will be recording our next two-hour special on Theatre Organ Radio this coming Sunday night. Tim is a most valued member of the Atlanta Chapter, who will soon become President of the chapter. His value can be measured in his passion….his work ethic…and the fact he is in his early 30’s!!! One of those “young people” we keep looking for!! That, and he owns a 2/6 Wurlitzer he hopes to begin restoring very soon. He works for Cumulus Radio, Atlanta, as an engineer, and was instrumental in getting us studio time for recording our Theatre Organ Radio show Pipes and Pops in the finest broadcast surroundings. Thank you Tim, and Cumulus Radio, Atlanta!!
Meanwhile, the first official look at registration forms and other information for the ATOS 2013 Convention here in Atlanta will be in the upcoming issue of Theatre Organ, and officially on line very soon. We hope you are making your summer plans for a trip to Atlanta. It’s going to be a wonderful convention.
Take care. Get your shopping done and the cards out – or emails written!! Indeed, Santa Claus is coming to town – very soon!!
BUSINESS, BUSINESS, PERSONAL, PERSONAL
And what the heck is that supposed to mean? I’ll explain.
For the second time in a month, I am headed back to Florida, the Tampa area again.
I hope to catch up on some things, including what is happening with the big 5-manual Walker at the Tampa Bay Lightning arena now that hockey is on the brink of cancelling the entire 2012-2013 season. Not sure the organ has been heard in any capacity, so I will chat with the locals and find out.
Playing a holiday fund-raiser for Central Florida Chapter at the Pinellas Park Auditorium near St. Petersburg (where I lived for almost three years). That is this Sunday evening, and I am looking forward to hearing the upgrades to the Wurlitzer there. Also very much looking forward to an update on the chapter’s efforts to find a new home for a new installation. I will not “let the cat out of the bag” yet, but there is an interesting project brewing down there.
On the personal front, I am driving this trip, with a stop to see my brother Rich, who fell and broke his hip a month ago. And the other personal note has to do with CFTOS chapter president Cliff Shafer, who was in a serious accident and is on the mend. Keep him in your thoughts and prayers during this holiday season.
Heard a recent poll quoted on the radio this past week. It stated that 68% of those surveyed preferred “Merry Christmas” as opposed to “Happy Holidays” as the proper greeting of the season.
So, “Merry Christmas” to you all….
….and Happy Holidays, too, because I know many who celebrate the season with holy events other than Christmas.
I turned on Netflix the other night, and there was THE ARTIST. It really is a fun movie, and there is absolutely no question that the score could be easily transcribed for theatre organ, and presented that way. I’ve got an idea…and I have one “connection”…and I am going to at least raise the question.
Mind you, this is not a new idea, and certainly not an original of mine. I must have heard from at least 25 people via email and in person conversation who – upon the film winning the Academy Award – immediately thought about how it would play with live theatre organ accompaniment. It would play well. And my thought is….a major tour of organ-equipped theatres…and screenings across the country.
I have also made an inroad for a major corporate sponsorship that I have been stewing about for months. Again….I won’t let the “cat out of the bag” again, but I have not been able to find the right marketing boss for this product, but I have a contact now, and hope to be able to move forward. Might have a sponsor for our convention “no-host cocktail party.” We shall see.
Finally, ATOS members will soon be seeing two items in the mail. One is a ballot, and will seek your vote on a question regarding board members’ eligibility for voting on issues. The other is the Annual Drive campaign. I hope you will take both of them seriously, and act on both of them.
Theatre Organ Radio continues to get better, including a button listeners can “click” on to make a request. The request won’t get played immediately, but will be added to the playlist, which by the way, is growing rapidly. Steve Worthington has added more than 500 new titles in recent days, with more to come. Jelani Eddington is the interview guest and special guest artist this month on the “Pipes and Pops” segment, with a special tribute to Chris Gorsuch.
I will report back from Florida next week, hopefully with good news on the organ front; the personal front; and the marketing front!
Greetings from a growing-chillier-every-day-Atlanta, GA.
It’s getting’ cold around here!
It’s always great fun to head back to Indiana, and this recent trip involved a concert at the Warren Performing Arts Center in Indianapolis on the former Indiana Theatre 3/18 Barton, along with a silent film – Steamboat Bill, Jr. – at Long Center in Lafayette. It is just GREAT to have that wonderful 3/21 Wurlitzer back on line and singing beautifully once again.