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Orpheum Theatre Organ Provides a Show, but Future Players Needed

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Monday, September 22, 2008, at 09:41PM
theater Ed Fuentes

On stage of the Orpheum, Steve Asimow spoke to the audience after a recital. One set of Wurlitzer pipes are in the background, above the balcony seating.

On Saturday, organist Steve Asimow carefully stood next to the Wurlitzer, then sat down to deftly flip the switches that control air flow to leather lungs connected to pipes. With a slight adjustment of a baseball cap, his head made a quick bow to catch a beat, then his hands roamed the keyboards and filled the Orpheum with music.

Asimow's brief recital, with an assist by Orpheum Organ Crew Chief John Koerner, was a highlight of Saturday's "All About the Orpheum" event, put on by the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation (LATHF).

Asimow is a volunteer with the Los Angeles Theater Organ Society (LATOS), an organization dedicated to preserving the old instruments. Organizations like these two have been waiting for a project like Bringing Back Broadway, with its potential to breathe life back into the historic theaters, and will be vital to its success.

Yet, LAHTF Executive Director Hillsman Wright states that many of those who grew up going to movie palaces, and who heard the organs played regularly before becoming 'hooked' for life, are passing away. "There's a real question hanging about the future of theatre organ enthusiasts and the instruments they so lovingly champion and care for," says Wright.

Matching music, whistles and sound effects with images is a fading art, and too many generations removed from being a regular nostalgic experience for most of us. Ironically, the Orpheum never featured silent films. Its organ was installed just before the move to talkies, and the theater didn't make its film transition until after the change.

Still, when you hear the organ in person, you can feel the hair on the back of your neck dance to the vibration of tone and melody, with the occasional sound of a bird for good measure.

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