Calling all theater organ enthusiasts: On Tuesday, “Goldie” — Proctors’ famous organ — celebrates her 35th anniversary with a special two-hour concert, door prizes, drawings and even a birthday cake.
“She’s a remarkable piece of machinery,” said Carl Hackert.
He should know.
Hackert has been playing the theater organ since soon after it was installed at Proctors in the early 1980s. In those days, Proctors was undergoing a renovation and Dennis Madden, then-executive director, wanted an organ for the house. Proctors had opened in 1926 and had had a pipe organ to accompany vaudeville shows, silent films, stage productions and background music at intermissions. On a trip to Minneapolis, Madden heard Goldie, which was at the time installed at Claude Newman’s mansion.
“Dennis loved organ and when he heard Goldie, he fell in love with it and knew he had to have it,” Hackert said.
Goldie had been built in 1931 for the Paramount Theater in Aurora, Illinois, and was so named because she had an all-gold finish. But buying the organ and getting her to Schenectady would be expensive.
“The Golub family and Golub Foundation purchased her for more than $100,000,” Hackert said.
That was in July 1983. Once she got to Proctors, volunteers and members of the national American Theater Organ Society spent thousands of hours to get the organ installed and voiced to the theater’s acoustics. The then-Capital District Organ Society also joined ATOS and renamed itself to become its Hudson-Mohawk chapter.
The monthly noontime, 60-minute organ concerts started in 1985 from September through June.
“We have about 85 members; the ATOS has 5,000 members. About one third of our members play,” Hackert said.
But a theater organ is not the same as a classical organ that people hear in church.
Besides the theater organ’s sound, which uses a stop called a tremulant similar to vibrato, it has hundreds of other stops for sound effects that a classical organ does not have. They range from horse clops, car horns and bird whistles or surf, to musical instruments such as xylophone and all types of percussion that sound just like the actual instrument. They can play in stereo, do Latin numbers or sound like an orchestra with a heavier push to a button. Even the foot pedals have 10 times more stop controls.
“Theater organs had to play for silent films, so we had to replace a pit orchestra,” Hackert said. “We can blend and do orchestrations, and we sound terrific on the big-band stuff.”
For the noontime series, which this year is sponsored by United HealthCare, much of the repertoire is show tunes or transcriptions of classical pieces from the group’s huge library. On average, Hackert said, they get up to 400 people each month, and for the holiday shows about 550. This fall, when Proctors does theater renovations, the series moves into the GE Theatre and will experiment with a “digital Goldie.”
A few years ago, a classical Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) capability and elaborate speaker system were added to the organ so she could be used with organizations such as the Octavo Singers and the Albany Symphony Orchestra. For the Oct. 8 and Nov. 12 concerts, Goldie’s console will be wheeled into the smaller theater and hooked up to a computer to bring her sound alive.
The Tuesday event will begin with veteran organist Ned Spain and friends performing for about an hour. A presentation will be given to Madden for his remarkable vision to save Proctors and acquire Goldie, followed by the group’s newest organist, Susan Hale, who will lead a sing-along. Audience members can come onstage for a piece of birthday cake.
That evening at 5:30 p.m. also onstage, the chapter’s annual banquet will be held. Even if you’re not a member, Hackert said, everyone is welcome for a $25 fee to cover the concert and buffet catered by Chef Al Pollock.
Goldie’s 35th anniversary
WHEN: Noon, Tuesday, Sept. 3
WHERE: Proctors main theater
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 518 469-5718