Thursday, May 7th 2009

Yikes has it been busy!

Greetings from St. Petersburg, FL where we have not had rain in three weeks or more.  Mrs. O’Leary’s cow won’t have nuthin’ on the guy who drops an ill-timed, still-burning cigarette butt on the side of the road down here!

I am off to Atlanta Thursday, May 7th for more visits with officials at the Atlanta Fox on some interesting business brewing down there.  They now have two theatre organs playing regularly for the public.  You will read all about Larry-Douglas Embury at the Atlanta Fox Mighty Mo in the next issue of the journal.  In suburban Marietta, John McCall’s Allen organ is on loan to the Strand Theatre, and word is the audiences are crazy for the pre-show music, sing-a-longs, silent comedies and more.  That Atlanta Chapter has got it cookin’!  Congrats to Ron Carter for his great work at the Strand.  The Allen is there ‘til the Wurli/Morton gets finished.

Congratulations to our election winners, Donna Parker, Jack Moelmann and Doug Powers.  We say good-bye and thanks to Don Near, whose term will end at the convention, and who will get a short respite from national affairs before finding that time gobbled up by planning for the 2012 Annual Convention.  We also offer sincere thanks to Susan Cole-Shaw, Bill Mollema, Don Phipps and John Ledwon for running for the board.  Most often, it is too easy for people to simply say “No” when asked to run or to serve.  But these individuals stepped up, and at a very important time.  A year ago, there was no real election because we did not have enough candidates.  This year, we had an abundance of very good candidates, and we thank them for participating in the leadership process for ATOS.

We remind you about the upcoming convention.  It is going to be fun.  Remember how it used to be? We could go to Detroit, or Chicago, or New York or LA or pretty much anywhere in the 1960’s and 70’s, and most of the concerts would be staged at wonderful old theatres.  In recent years, converted warehouse space, high schools, and who knows where else has provided the home for many of our convention concerts.  But this year in Cleveland, it’s like a throwback to the old days.  One great theatre after another…the Akron Civic, the Canton Palace, the Mansfield Renaissance, the Ohio Theatre in Columbus, the Palace at Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland (plus its three neighbors), and the handsome Masonic Auditorium…we know you’ve got to leave the recorders at home, BUT BRING YOUR CAMERAS!!!!  It will be a great convention.

Judging by the feedback so far, many of you are really enjoying ATOS Theatre Organ Radio on our website.  It is really exciting.  The idea was reinforced by a comment made by my friend Ray Compton (who was at last year’s convention and a guest speaker at a seminar – he kept calling me “Kenny” – my former boss, he is one of the very FEW who can do that and get away with it!!) who stated that we really needed to move in this direction.
But we really should have been paying closer attention long before Ray’s comments.  Our Webmaster and web guru Tom Blackwell works very hard for ATOS, almost daily.  His input in keeping our information updated regularly, and his monumental efforts (along with four others on his team) at creating what we will soon experience as our brand new website, make Tom an invaluable member of our team.

Knowing the website business as he does, and knowing that we are in the music business, he had championed this idea for some time.  The question was, how best to achieve it?

The answer came in the form of member Steve Worthington, and his five-year web/radio program Theatre Organ Replay.  Steve had been webcasting, paying for the space on the internet out of his own pocket, and airing selections from his vast collection of vintage theatre organ recordings.  Steve was willing to marry with ATOS to create a new format, thus, instead of reinventing the wheel, ATOS partnered with Steve to create our new program, ATOS Theatre Organ Radio.  With Steve’s experience and Tom’s expertise, ATOS has accomplished a major goal in terms of marketing its name and its music to a potential vast new audience.

The early returns in terms of Time Spent Listening, and total listeners has been astounding, even more than double our expectations.  And we have been heard in no fewer than 22 different countries.

This highlights what happens when creative, dedicated people tackle a new project with a great sense of purpose.  A lot more people know about ATOS and the music of the theatre organ today because Steve Worthington was willing to share his ideas and efforts, and Tom Blackwell was relentless in his push that this was the right thing for ATOS to do.  It was Tom who finally approached the Board at our meeting last January with the cost figures and put forth the formal proposal to get this started. And who benefits?  Our members, who with a “click of the computer mouse,” can have their own radio station playing theatre organ music all day long.  Thank you, Steve.  And a big thanks to Tom!

Finally, I want to thank our friends at the St. Louis Chapter of ATOS.  First, I finally had a chance to visit that most distinctive installation at Jack Moelmann’s house.  “Wow” might be one adjective.  It is certainly distinctive!  I also had a chance to visit the City Museum, which not only houses a thrilling Wurlitzer organ heard daily by people visiting, but also houses an equally thrilling three-story slide that is as heart-stopping as any roller coaster ride.  (Hint: if you plan on riding your behind all the way down the three stories, wear dress pants.  They really slide fast!!!)

Most importantly, I was provided a singular honor.  Since the death of the wonderful Stan Kann, Fox Theatre owner Mary Strauss just could barely stand the thought of someone else playing that wonderful organ.  So, for more than six months, it sat in silent tribute to its most famous player, save an occasional “peep” by curator Al Hacker.  For the annual “Party on the Pipes” last month, I was honored to play a concert at the Lincoln Theatre in Belleville, and I was asked to open the Monday morning “open console” time at the Fox by playing two of Stan’s signature selections, It’s Today by Jerry Herman, and Join the Circus by Cy Coleman.  It marked the first time the organ had been played in public since Stan’s untimely passing, and it was indeed an honor and a privilege to be asked to handle this occasion.  I was genuinely moved by the reaction of the locals from St. Louis and the staff members of the Fox Theatre who were so emotional when hearing the organ played again, and hearing tunes so closely associated with Stan.  It was a thrill and an honor.

I also met the inimitable Kay McAbee for the first time, if you can imagine, and what a joy.  He got on that Fox console, and my guess is that seats just under the chambers needed complete vacuuming (Stan Kann style) after Kay blew the dust out of the chambers!!  It was great fun in St. Louis.

We had our first ever ATOS Touring Show staged at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda, NY, and although not a financial success, it was an artistic success, with talk of what can be done in the future to make it better.  We will continue with this – very patiently – to do all we can to make this new idea successful, both in terms of the finances, but more importantly, in terms of introducing the theatre organ to new audiences across the country.  Discussions are ongoing in five different cities for the touring show idea.

The phone grew out of my ear all day.  This exercise has been cathartic.  I’m off to the ‘fridge.  I need more ice.  ☺  Take care until next time.

Ken Double