Ned Spain enjoys playing all kinds of organ music, but he promises to keep things light and breezy when Proctors begins its 2018-2019 Free Organ Concert Series Tuesday at noon on the MainStage.
"Back in the days of the silent movies, organs were everywhere," said Spain, who is anxious to once again get his hands on Goldie, Proctors' Mighty Wurlitzer, which boasts 32 pedals, 250 stops and 1,400 pipes. "They were developed strictly to accompany silent movies, so they're much different from church organs. I have drums and symbols, all kinds of instruments that I can play from the console.
"The tone is different and it's much more of a dramatic sound," continued Spain. "They call it orchestral as opposed to classical, like a church organ. The sound you get is for entertaining, not praying."
A Cohoes native, Spain, 85, grew up in Troy not far from Emma Willard School and was a faithful churchgoer on Sunday mornings, even if it was only to listen to the music.
"I would always sit in the balcony so I could sit next to the organ player," he said. "I never took a lesson, but I know what perfect pitch is. I'm self-taught. I sat there, I listened and I learned."
Spain didn't become that familiar with the organ until joining the U.S. Marine Corps.
"I was in the Marines in Great Lake, Illinois, and they brought a Hammond organ onto the base and I got permission to practice on it," remembered Spain. "I had played the piano in high school so I knew the keyboard pretty well. But I had it all in my head. Within two weeks I was playing with the movies we were showing there."
Goldie, Proctors' Wurlitzer, was being built in 1931 as talking movies were replacing silent films. It's original home was in North Tonawanda near Buffalo, and it didn't show up in Schenectady until 1983 after considerable renovation had been done to Proctors. A gift of the Golub Foundation, Goldie spent time at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, Illinois, and in Minnesota before coming to Proctors.
"Gosh, I think I was at Proctors the day they installed it," said Spain. "It's a great instrument and Proctors is a great place to play it. Of course, the Troy Music Hall is the finest in the country, but the sound at Proctors is a close second."
Spain has been playing the organ in public venues around the country for more than 60 years. He has accompanied such greats as Gordon MacRae, Johnny Ray and Jerry Vale, and has also performed on local television, including "Pitfall" with David Allen.
When he got out of the Marines, Spain spent time as an encyclopedia salesman, founded an organ dealership and also sold helicopters.
"My big interests were flying, business and music," he said. "I've made my living my whole life by having my own business. I also owned a flying school after having learned how to fly a helicopter in the military. I wasn't a pilot in the Marines, but I was a radio technician and I was around planes and helicopters all the time. I learned."
For his performance at Proctors on Tuesday, Spain will be joined by vocalist Patti Melita, a Shaker High grad, and cellist Ann Henderson Gabriels, president of the Delmar Symphony. Also, Spain hopes to play one duet with Carl Hackert, who will be joining him on the Steinway piano located next to Goldie.
Spain says he plays the kind of music he loves to listen to.
"I love opera, classical and of course Broadway show tunes," he said. "When I perform I do a lot of show tunes, but I always include a hymn and an operatic aria. And when I open the season at Proctors, I open it every year with the 'Star Spangled Banner.'"
Free Organ Concert Series
Sept. 11 - Ned Spain and Guests
Oct. 6 - Al Moser and Ed Goodemote
Nov. 10 (Saturday) - Albany Symphony Orchestra, Albany Pro Musica Chorus and Goldie in Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem"
Nov. 13 - Carl Hackert and guests
Dec. 18 - Greg Klingler plays Christmas music
Jan. 15 - Bill Hubert and silent film
Feb. 19 - Nixon McMillan and Claudia Bracaliello
March 26 - Pamela Sharpe and Helen Maksymicz
April 16 - Ben Reavis
May 7 - Bill Gaillard and Sandy Johnson
June 18 - Malcom Kogut