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"These Cinema Organs – And Organists"

By Frank Newman

(Mr Newman is solo organist at the Leicester Square Theatre, and was a regular broadcast recitalist during 1927-28-29)


Much has been said and written – a great deal of it abusive -- regarding the modern development of the king of instruments, the cinema organ.  The tone of this much-maligned instrument, to give it its full title -- the Unit Orchestra -- has been described as resembling the "bleating of goats", or "a roundabout organ", and many other highly descriptive and venomous epithets, whilst one well-known gentleman has said that his first sight of a Unit Orchestra console put him in mind of an ice-cream barrow. Being myself one of those long-suffering creatures, a cinema organist (long-suffering because rarely have I known a cinema organist to emulate the worm and turn upon his decryers) I have borne my share of the calumny and (almost) stripes meted out in the not far distant past to that band of 'renegade church organists’ who have taken up cinema work. Not long since we were, as a class, regarded as musical pariahs by our brother stop-drawers of the church.

It came, therefore, as somewhat of a shock to me to read the reply given in a recent issue of the "Musical Times". It added several cubits to the stature of all cinema organists who read their "Musical Times". When one has been convinced for so long (judging by report) that one is of a race accursed; that the instrument one plays is not even entitled to the name of 'organ’; that one is a - well, all sorts of nasty things - it is distinctly refreshing to read that 'it is possible to play the cinema organ artistically'! Also, after years of having one's , right foot stuck on the balanced swell pedal of a cinema organ whilst one played with the left foot only (realising all the time that it was helping to spoil what little Bach technique one had left, and also wondering 'What would the R.C.O. say if they could see me now?'), one breathed again and had a feeling of redemption to read 'Pedal with the left foot only' (C. W. Pearce).

Again, it was not long since people used to say (in hushed, shocked voices): ‘Oh! He plays the organ in a Picture Palace!’ (The inflection of voice upon the words 'Picture Palace' seemed to be intended to place such halls of amusement on a level with the 'Gin Palace' - or so it seemed to me.)

On the other hand, however, it may be as well to state (for the defence) that holders of the R.C.O. diploma were not always assured of a welcome when applying for a cinema organ post. I have very vivid recollections of the audition for my first job in a cinema as solo organist. In an unguarded moment I happened to remark that I was a Fellow of the R.C.O. , expecting it to be a sort of 'open Sesame.' I certainly did not expect the outburst which followed. ‘OH!' said the musical director, with utter scorn, so you're an F.R.C.O., are you?' (Pause for effect.) I know you F.R.C.O.'s - you can play a chant or a hymn all right, but you're no earthly ('Earthly’ was not the word he used, however) use for this sort of work.' (I have, of course, given this conversation in the expurgated edition.)  'But you've not heard me play yet,’ I faltered, wondering whether my annual pilgrimages to Kensington Gore [location of the Royal College of organists- IRM] might have been in vain after all. Well, to cut a long story short, five minutes afterwards I was asked ‘when I could start work.' This took place in 1926, when the number of R.C.O. men in the cinema business was fewer than could be counted upon the fingers of one's hands. Now the number has vastly increased. Please do not think from these remarks regarding the R.C.O. diploma that we are the 'salt' of the cinema organ profession -- nowhere is snobbery more fatal than in a profession such as ours, where one is judged entirely by results. It matters not a jot to a cinema proprietor whether his organist has a score of 'letters after his name’ - or none at all - so long as he can play, and play well! One must 'deliver the goods' or get out. I just intend to show that, whereas once upon a time the cinema organist and his work were regarded as being beneath serious notice, now at long last, owing to the attractive salaries paid, many fine players have thrown in their lot with the ‘renegades' whose job it is skilfully to control and manipulate several battalions of goats from an ice-cream barrow. And there is room for more (organists I mean, not goats).

Those who were present at (or who subsequently read the report of) the lecture given at the New Gallery Kinema by Reginald Foort, on January 11, 1927, will remember the list of accomplishments demanded of the would-be cinema organist. (By the way, that lecture marked the beginning of our being 'recognised' by the College, and it was a very praiseworthy and sporting decision on the part of the Council to inaugurate the meeting.) To my mind the most important gift of all is the ability to ‘arrange for the organ at sight’. I remember an admirable lecture given upon this subject before the College, by Dr. P. C. Buck, in 1914. It should be read by every aspirant for cinema organ honours. Whilst I was at Lozells Picture House, Birmingham, I had many cinema organ pupils. Men with R.C.O. , R.A.M., and R.C.M. diplomas passed through my hands, and in the majority of cases these men, though players of a very high standard as regards 'pure organ music,’ proved to be totally unable to arrange a piece of pianoforte music at the organ - artistically, that is. In other words, they could play the notes they saw, but could not play from a pianoforte copy, putting in their own extempore pedal part, or 'lay out' the manual parts clearly. To be able to do this artistically, and at sight, as the cinema organist must be able to do, requires a good sense of balance and of orchestral effect. One must know the right notes to double and what notes to leave out, just as the lightning sketch artist or pen-and-ink cartoonist knows just what lines to put in and what to suggest merely. It is a test of musicianship and not of organ technique. To be a successful cinema organist one I must be a musician first and an organist second.

As to the organ: When, sixteen years ago, as a young organ student I read a lecture given by Dr. Alan Gray, in which, he described very humorously an organ which had recently been built in America, I was enraged that the instrument of Bach and Rheinberger could be so degraded as to possess a steamboat whistle, snare drum, glockenspiel, &c., &c. ‘Never will that sort of thing be tolerated in England,’ I said to myself.

And lo and behold , here am I, a performer upon the xylophone, chrysoglott, snare drum, and glockenspiel, and other kinds of musick! I did not then know, as I do now, that the organ described by Dr Gray was almost certainly in a cinema - I imagined the services of the Church I being ‘brightened’ with these effects. Since then, We have been invaded by the type of organ we heard about in that lecture, and we have not I been swallowed up by an earthquake or struck by lightning for our desecration of the organ. If the diapason tone of a cinema organ is conspicuous by its absence, I retort that diapason tone is not in keeping with the musical atmosphere of the cinema; also that one need not use the effects of the Vox Humana all the while (although some players do) . And now we are told that one can play the cinema organ artistically! At last we are vindicated. The only fly in the musical ointment as set forth in the reply to 'G. L. C.' is that qualifying remark, 'Hard luck!’ Why ‘hard 1uck' that another underpaid church organist has decided to turn for a living to the cinema? We are always being told that the musical profession is overcrowded. Unfortunately it is too true. But the cinema organist profession is not overcrowded. There is always room for the type of man Reginald Foort described in his lecture. To which I add my own dictum - 'But he must be a musician first and an organist second.'

* * *

But perhaps, after all, I can sympathise and understand that 'Hard luck' only too well, especially after I have been to hear a fine organ recital or a cathedral service well played and sung. I remember ambitions and hopes of my 'teens, when I imagined myself (in dreams) wearing the Oxford Mus. D. robes and playing on a large five manual for Evensong in some ancient pile  - far above the noise and bustle and cares of commercialism. When I left the cathedral city, where I was organist of the principal church, to take up cinema work, the cathedral organist wrote me a farewell letter in which he said he was 'only too sorry that the cinema could afford to pay me more than the church.' I treasure that letter, with its pathetic ending.

Yes; I admit that there are times when I sally forth to a friend's church armed with a bag full of Bach and Rheinberger to 'get that Tibia taste out of my mouth!'

"The Musical Times"– Vol 72 No. 1055 – 1 January, 1931, pp.45-6



One has every sympathy with those who, for economic reasons, have been compelled to migrate from the church to the cinema, but Mr. Frank Newman's facetious defence of that glutinous contradiction in terms, the cinema organ, is singularly unconvincing. With an instrument the tonal scheme of which is badly balanced and consistently ugly throughout, musical results are practically impossible, but needless to say the resources of the instrument (such as they are) can be exploited either efficiently or inefficiently, as can those of the Jew's harp, mouth-organ, or tin whistle.

To say, however, that 'to be a successful cinema organist one must be a musician first and an organist second' is sheer nonsense: I have attended all the principal cinemas in London, and have never yet heard anything emanating from the instrument (of torture) that could possibly be described as 'music,' save in the sense that the News of the World might be described as literature.

I suggest that far more suitable qualifications for the manipulators of these machines are 'showmanship first and foremost, and musicianship (of a sort) last -- if at all.'

Every time a new cinema is built we are treated to the same farrago of fatuities : 'Mighty 0rgan -- l5,679 pipes -- l,OOl miles of wire,' &c., ad libitum, ad nauseam.

When, out of curiosity, one is tempted to listen to the contraption, one is then treated to the sight and sound of an individual who gradually materialises from the depths by the aid of an electrically elevated rostrum, thrown into a kaleidoscopic limelight, and proceeds to dole out remorselessly ‘storms’, monastic gardens, so-called ‘theme songs’, and the usual jazz paraphernalia, which have been well summed up, once and for all, by the most trenchant writer on music, Kaikhosru Sorabji, as being ' . . . far below the lowest depths ever reached by the Victorian or Edwardian ballads, which are virile and sturdy in comparison. . . the entire genus is pervaded by a drooling, bibulous snivelling which makes it unspeakably repulsive and disgusting to all those who are not besotted by it, or those who flatter it from interested motives.'  To allege that this sort of thing requires musicianship, even if it necessitates arranging at sight from a pianoforte copy, is to betray a very curious and entirely new conception of the term.

I am not suggesting, for a moment, that diapason tone, and a selection of Bach, Rheinberger, or Karg-Elert should be introduced into the cinema: on the contrary, I consider that the 'unit orchestra’ and its oleaginous outpourings are, musically and psychologically, entirely at one with the almost incredible imbecility and vulgarity which they accompany on the screen.

If Mr. Newman and his cinematic confrères would be honest with themselves and admit what is obvious to musicians, then there would be nothing to discuss, but when claims are made on behalf of 'artistry,' 'musicianship,' &c., emphatic protest becomes necessary.

Incidentally, it is highly improbable that a musician - as opposed to those whose sole claim to the title is a string of academic appendages - would ever be seen or heard in the base atmosphere of the cinema, for he would accept almost any type of employment in preference to degrading himself and his art. - Yours, &c.,


99, Alexandra Road,

St. John's Wood, N.W.8.


"The Musical Times" Vol 72, No. 1057, 1 March, 1931, pp. 254-5




Although I am averse from journalistic correspondence, savouring as it does of free advertisement and publicity, I cannot allow the extravagant statements of your correspondent Mr. Gray-Fisk to pass without protest. It is a pity that he allows his personal prejudices to run away with his discretion; everyone has a right to his opinions, but before presuming to make authoritative statements one should be better acquainted with facts than your correspondent appears to be. Constructive criticism will always be welcomed by cinema organists, but destructive criticism which is prompted only by violent personal prejudice merely discredits the critic.

One may, with all due humility, draw attention to the fact that there are good and bad organs in cinemas, just as good and bad organs are to be found in churches; and Mr. Gray-Fisk has no doubt heard the resources of the latter 'exploited efficiently and inefficiently as those of the Jews’ harp’, &c. Also 'Storms and Monastic gardens' have been 'remorselessly doled out’ by organists other than cinema organists, and incidentally with less effect.

But it is upon your correspondent's statement that ‘to be a successful cinema organist one must be a musician first and an organist second is sheer nonsense’ that I join issue with him. It is obvious from that statement - which is sheer nonsense - that he cannot have attended 'all the principal cinemas in London.' His opinions being formed from performances of certain men who are neither musicians nor organists, and who endeavour to cover up their inefficiency by vaudeville antics, are quite valueless as criticism ; they merely take the form of a violent diatribe against a body of musicians who, while making a living, are at the same time earnestly endeavouring to improve the musical taste and appreciation of the people at large, through the cinema.

The cinema organ itself stands in no need of defence, particularly against those who do not understand the elementary points about it. There are good specimens and bad ones, and there are British and foreign cinema organs; in any case, the value of the cinema organ as a musical instrument should be assessed upon a good specimen. A well-designed British cinema organ - such as the one in the Regal Cinema, Marble Arch – is neither a badly balanced nor 'consistently ugly' instrument, nor are musical results impossible. It will provide an entirely adequate medium for the display of a musicianly (and artistic) organist's powers, and for the presentation of good music. The finest performance of Mozart's Fantasia in F minor which I have ever heard - and I have heard it played by many well-known organists - was given by Mr. Quentin Maclean on the organ in the Regal Cinema; and the many organists (both church and cinema organists) who were present on that occasion were not slow to mark their appreciation of a performance which was faultless both technically and artistically. I have heard atrociously bad performances of Bach by well-known organists, and I have also heard exceptionally good ones; but the bad performances argued neither a bad organ nor the fact that all organists are not musicians.

Perhaps Mr.Gray-Fisk will answer the question, ‘What is a musician?’ I presume that I, according to his views, am not a musician since I have 'a string of academic appendages’; nevertheless I can definitely state this fact, that of the very many trained organists aspiring to cinema appointments to whom I have given auditions (including, mostly, men holding academic distinctions), not half-a-dozen up to the present time have shown a sense of rhythm in music, of artistrv in registration, or of an artistic or correct use of the Swell pedal; and none have shown any reasonable knowledge of musical compositions apart from organ works and the usual Beethoven and Bach. Are we to conclude from this that organists generally, as a body, are not musicians?  Whatever the answer may be, there can be no prospect of success for such players in the cinema.

I myself have had more than one opportunity of demonstrating to Organists' Associations and similar societies that the works of Bach, Rheinberger, Widor, Reger, and Karg-Elert, amongst others, can be adequately performed on a good cinema organ, though such music can have no regular place in a cinema programme - at any rate in Great Britain. In Germany, Austria, and Czecho-Slovakia I have played such music on British cinema organs (which I had the honour of introducing into those countries) with entire success; and it may be of interest to mention that in Bratislava (Pressburg) the organist (an artist and musician) who followed me as permanent organist in the Metropol Kino was Prof. Ledwina, chief organ professor of the State Conservatorium of Music and former pupil of Guilmant, Widor, and Reger ; thereby hopelessly degrading himself and his art in the eyes of Mr. Gray-Fisk. But I do not think that Prof. Ledwina or any other cinema organists would worry about that.

The 'drooling, bibulous, snivelling' which is often heard on gramophone records and via the wireless is no criterion of the cinema organist's art, but rather an aping of a style of playing notoriously American. If Mr. Grav-Fisk, however, does not like the cinema organ he is under no compulsion to hear one; at the same time, he need not delude himself into the belief that his farrago of fatuities will have the slightest effect in preventing others from manufacturing, playing, hearing, and enjoying cinema organs; or will prevent I J organists, 'compelled to migrate from the church,' from striving for the opportunities which the cinema offers to artistic and musicianly players.

On one point, and one only, are Mr. Gray-Fisk's remarks fair and just, and that refers to misleading (and often deliberately untruthful) advertising of a new cinema organ. It may perhaps avoid further discussion on that point if I state the fact that the Regal Cinema organ is the largest in Europe, and the organ in the Empire Cinema is the second largest, with the Trocadero organ (Elephant and Castle) taking third place.

Yours, &c.,


(Mus. Doc. Dunelm., F.R.C.O Warden-Elect, Cinema Organists' Section, Incorporated Society of Musicians)



I was rather surprised at the "Musical Times" publishing an article of the nature of Mr. Frank Newman's, and still more surprised that a musician of the calibre of Mr. Gray-Fisk should trouble to criticise it.

As a cinema organist, I suggest that the work of organists in cinemas has no more right to the consideration of serious musicians than tap-dancing in music halls has to the devotees of ballet. The sooner we cinema organists realise this the better. Certainly I many serious musicians do play in cinemas, but with their tongue in their cheek. My own case is an example; I was faced with the alternative of teaching or doing some sort of musical hack-work if I wished to pursue a musical career - and to be candid, I would much sooner spend four and a half hours a day in a cinema and be free to go to as many concerts as I choose, besides having time for study, than do elementary teaching all day, which to me would be sheer drudgery.

Any attempt to justify on artistic grounds a profession in which five per cent. are enthusiastic musicians, fifteen per cent. commercial musicians, and the rest mere hooligans who have stumbled into cinema organ playing, is utter nonsense.

I will finish by quoting a manager's reply to a question as to how he chooses an organist - 'I open the first twenty letters, then knock out the F.R.C.O.s and give the rest an audition.'

For obvious reasons I remain anonymous, but enclose my card.

Yours, &c.,



"The Musical Times", Vol 72, No. 1058, 1 April, 1931, pp. 348-9



I was interested to read ‘Cinema Organist's’ letter in the April. issue of your journal. From what I have heard from numerous acquaintances who have had to leave the church for the cinema, the writer is not far wrong.

That there are musicians playing cinema organs, and that skill of a certain kind (some call it ‘cinema snap') is necessary if one is to be a success, are two undeniable facts. A church organist in taking up a cinema appointment may never (be he ever so accomplished as a church musician) make a real success of it. Being a cinema organist may not satisfy one's urge for self-expression, but at the same time even ‘those who are musicians get a certain amount of fun out of it sometimes, and in any case £ - a week [naming a living wage] is not to be sneezed at’, as a friend of mine, who is successful at the job, said to me recently.

Why is it that many organists are deserting the church for the cinema? The reasons are not far to seek. It is largely necessity, and in certain circumstances (fond though one may be of Church music) seems to be the only course to pursue.

Take my own case, which to my knowledge, is by no means an isolated example. I am organist of what is considered to be a smart and flourishing church. A few months ago the authorities reduced my salary by £100 per annum. At the same time they appropriate the organists' fees for special services such as weddings and funerals. (I may mention that this is a church which a short time ago raised on a single week-day nearly £500 for a special purpose.) The obvious reply to this is, why not get a job outside as well. The objection is that the special services come at such unexpected occasions that it is quite impossible to take up any post where one would have to give a guarantee to be on the spot at stated times.

When such treatment as this is meted out to those who have done their work honestly and to the best of their ability, can one wonder that organists are compelled to seek work elsewhere?

The Church in certain quarters seems to have a callous indifference to the welfare and feelings of her lay servants, and so long as things look all right on the surface nothing else seems to matter.

As long as this state of affairs exists there is certain to be a feeling of bitterness, and a knowledge that real effort is not appreciated. There are no signs of a better state of things, and as a well-known musician said to me the other day, 'In a few years' time there won't be a first-class musician in the Church of England except possibly in some of the bigger jobs.'  I don't think he's far wrong.

My advice to intending Church musicians is to get as many irons in the fire as possible outside the church, and not to expect adequate pecuniary reward for the amount of work which has to be done if things are to be really worth while.

Even organists cannot live on air alone.

Yours, &c.,



"The Musical Times", Vol 72, No.1059, 1 May, 1931, p. 445




Dr. Tootell, in the April issue of the "Musical Times", asserts that I 'cannot have attended all the principal cinemas in London.'

Actually, I have attended the Astoria, Capitol, Empire, New Gallery, Kensington, Plaza, Regal, Rialto, Shepherd's Bush Pavilion, Stoll, Tivoli, Trocadero, Tussaud's, and New Victoria, so if these are not the principal cinemas perhaps we may be enlightened as to which are.

But Dr. Tootell is certainly correct when he says that my opinions are 'formed from performances of certain men who are ‘neither musicians nor organists, and who endeavour to cover up their inefficiency by vaudeville antics,' and I should therefore be extremely interested to know where one may find the 'body of musicians who, while making a living, are earnestly endeavouring to improve the musical taste and appreciation of the people at large, through the cinema,' who comprises this body, and what music they employ for their very laudable purpose.

This latter point is important, inasmuch as Dr. Tootell, although he claims that 'a well-designed cinema organ - such as the one in the Regal Cinema, Marble Arch-will provide an entirely adequate medium for the display of a musicianly (and artistic) organist's powers, and for the presentation of good music,' later admits that 'the works of Each, Rheinberger, Widor, Reger, and Karg - Elert can have no regular place in a cinema programme - at any rate in Great Britain.'

Undoubtedly the cinema is a grotesquely inappropriate environment for the performance of pure organ music, and those whose staple fare is Hollywood will resent and be repelled by the introduction of art; but this being so, what possible point can there be in possessing an organ and organist whose powers cannot be fully or properly utilised?

It is therefore quite irrelevant for Dr. Tootell to cite the fact that Mr. Quentin Maclean, on the organ of the Regal Cinema, Marble Arch, gave – before an association of professional organists - the finest performance of Mozart's F minor Fantasia that he (Dr. Tootell) had ever heard.

Moreover, having heard this organ put through its paces by Messrs. Maclean and Foort, and having also heard Mr. Maclean play ‘straight' music at the Central and Queen's Halls, I can accept Dr. Tootell's statement that the performance was 'faultless, both technically and artistically,’ only with extreme reservation.

I think that most organists will agree that an instrument the specification of which includes four Nux Vomicas – pardon! Vox Humanas - six Saxophones, eight Tremulants, Klaxon Horn, and Slap-on-the-face, is rather more suitable for the production of muck than of music.

As regards the question, ‘What is a musician?’ my point is that a string of academic appendages is no guarantee whatsoever of artistry in execution, originality in composition, and general musical initiative; Mus. Doc.'s and F.R.C.O.'s mav possess these qualities, but more often they do not, their work being more satisfactory to the eye than to the ear. Incidentally, it is an ironical comment on the value of the aforementioned appendages that they are granted gratuitously to geniuses such as Delius and Ravel after the latter have produced works which, had they been written for an examination, would probably never have secured pass marks.

Dr. Tootell then contends that 'the "drooling, bibulous snivelling" which is often heard on gramophone records and via the wireless, is no criterion of the cinema organist's art, but rather an aping of a style of playing notoriously American.' Unfortunately, these performances are by the organists of the cinemas enumerated above.

Here are a few instructive examples from the H.M.V. and Columbia catalogues: Reginald Foort, the New Gallery, ‘The Sacred Hour' and 'In a Japanese Garden' (B3197) ; Sydney Gustard, at the New Victoria, ‘You brought a new kind of love to me' and 'He's my secret passion' (B3709) ; Sandy MacPherson, at the Empire, ‘Lucky me, lovable you' (with two pianofortes and saxophone) and' Silvery Moon' (with saxophone) (B3420) ; F. Rowland-Tims, at the Capitol, ‘My song of the Nile' and 'I'll see you again' (B3242) ; Edward O'Henry, at Madame Tussaud's, "Dream Love' and ‘Just as we used to do' (Cochran's 1930 Revue) (B3428) ; Leslie James, at the New Gallery ‘Wedding of the Painted Doll' and 'Medley of old songs' (B3093) ; Terence Casey, at the Tivoli, ‘Devotion' (Melodie Passionnée) and ‘Pleading’(Morceau de Concert) (5384) ; Quentin Maclean, at the Shepherd's Bush Pavilion, ‘In a Persian Market' and ‘In a Chinese Temple Garden' (4921) ; Quentin Maclean, at the Regal, ‘Lily of Laguna' and 'Little Dolly Day-dream' (DB13) ; Pattmann, at the Astoria, ‘In a Monastery Garden' and ‘Sanctuary of the heart’(9416). Lest I be again accused of 'violent personal prejudice, I will refrain from giving my own opinion on these offerings, but will leave your readers to decide for themselves whether this sort of thing can best be described as 'earnestly endeavouring to improve the musical taste and appreciation of the people at large, through the cinema,’ or as sheer unadulterated muck-mongering.

Finally, I recommend Dr. Tootell to read as calmly as possible the refreshingly honest letter from 'Cinema Organist,’ and to concentrate in particular on its penultimate paragraph.

Yours, &c .,


"The Musical Times, Vol 72, No. 1060, 1 June, 1931, pp. 540-1



May I be allowed to add a comment or two to the correspondence about cinema organs.

I would say firstly that church organists and others I are not perfect enough themselves to be continually criticizing others, and that half of them do not really know quite what they are talking about. Far better let them make themselves thoroughly efficient (and at the moment they certainly are not), and then start picking holes in the cinema organists, their organs, and playing.

I would suggest to all the passionate opponents of the cinema and Unit organ that they peruse the following list of cinema organ records, and that they walk into a gramophone shop and hear the first three or four that are mentioned. Columbia, DX66 {Quentln Maclean, the Regal, Marble Arch), ‘The Ride of the Valkyries,' and the Toccata in F from Widor's fifth Symphony ; also DB298, Mendelssohn's Wedding March and the Bridal March from 'Lohengrin' ; and DX193, Liszt's second Hungarian Rhapsody (with pianoforte played from the organ console). The first of these shows marvellous playing, extraordinarily clear recording, and a magnificent organ, while in the Wedding March in the second the recording is also remarkably brilliant. The simultaneous playing of the organ and pianoforte in the Hungarian Rhapsodv is a feat of technique. Moreover, the registration is very musicianly.

Other Columbia records are: 4319, Hungarian Dance, No. 5 (arr. Brahms), and Coleridge- Taylor's Intermezzo in C (W. Steff-Langston, Elite, Wimbledon) ; 4734, ‘Jesus shall reign' ('Rimington') , and ‘Dear Saviour' ('Lloyd') (G. T. Pattman, the Astoria); 4318, ‘Poet and Peasant' Overture (Quentin Maclean, Shepherd's Bush Pavilion).

H.M.V. B2873, Beethoven's Minuet in G and the Waltz from ‘Faust' ; B3094, Tchaikovsky’s 'Chant sans paroles' and the player's own 'Ca c'est Madrid’ (Edward O'Henry, Tussaud's) ; B3741, Selections from ‘Faust' (Leslie James, New Victoria).

Edison Bell ‘Winner’, 4969 and 4992, Prelude No. 2 (Rachmaninov) and Nocturne in E flat (Chopin), and ‘Finlandia' (C. D. Smart, Christie Unit organ: no other specification given).

Regal, G9192, Handel's Largo and Mendelssohn's ‘Spring Song' (Stanley Macdonald, Compton Theatre organ).

Broadcast Twelve, 5169 and 5035, Selections from Tchaikovsky's ‘Casse-Noisette' Suite, the Intermezzo ('Ave Maria') from Bizet's 'Arlesienne' Suite, and excerpts from the 'Pathetic' Symphony (Tchaikovsky) (Herbert Griffiths, Stoll, Kingsway).

These are only a few of the records I have actually got (i.e., of cinema organs) of quite respectable music. I hope they will serve to confute the ones which Mr. Clinton Gray-Fisk, collected together. He picked out the very worst from each respective list. He complains about the eight tremulants on the Regal organ. Does he not know that these are fitted only to certain stops, and that the eight are not nearly so crude as the one, two, or three fitted to whole manuals in most church organs? He may be surprised to hear that the much-praised new Compton organ at Downside Abbey has six tremulants, fitted to certain stops (and this is not so large an organ as that at the Regal). Also, he complains of the Saxophones, Vox Humanas, and 'Slaps-on-the-face' in this organ. For one thing, an organ that is so fine otherwise can afford to have these things; and for another, he ought I to know that the ‘effects' in cinema organs such as Slaps-on-the-face, ‘Wind and surf,’ ‘Horses' hoofs,' &c., are used only for cues in silent films, and not for programmes of music. However, die-hards always will be die-hards.

-Yours, &c.,


Wixenford, Wokingham, Berks.




Having read with great interest the letters on the cinema organ in the "Musical Times", I was surprised to see Mr. Gray-Fisk making such gross misstatements. I am a great admirer of Bach and the 'straight' organ, but it does not blind me to the merits of the Unit organ. Like many new inventions, this instrument has come

in for a lot of abuse, much of it based on lack of understanding. In the Unit organ, orchestral tones have been carefully studied and imitated, and the organ at the Regal, Marble Arch, is the best example I know. Mr. Gray-Fisk criticises this organ, mentioning Vox Humana and Tremulants among other things. I would point out that many church organs contain these, and I have heard some very bad performances in churches.

When using the Unit organ, the most rapid piccolo, flute, and clarinet passages come out with wonderful clearness and with a great similarity to the orchestral instruments. By thinking and playing orchestrally, a greater likeness to the orchestra cannot be found anywhere. To make out that there is therefore no beauty in the ‘Unit organ' is rubbish. Mr. Gray-Fisk concludes his letter with a remarkable quantity of gramophone records which do not show anything except

that his views are like those of many other organists, that unless a piece of music is by Bach or Rheinberger it is not worth playing. I should like to give Mr. Gray-Fisk a piece of advice. Let him visit the Pavilion, Marble Arch, and hear his critic, Dr. Tootell, play there. If he can find anything wrong in either the playing or the music, I shall be very much surprised.

- Yours, &c.,




As one with friends in both camps, I should like to deprecate strongly the present unhelpful argument about Church v. Cinema organs.

Cinema organs are built for a special purpose; to play overtures, light music, popular dance and novelty numbers, and accompany occasional silent films.

‘Straight' organs have been tried, and found wanting for this purpose, and as a result the present type of instrument has emerged.

For a lover of true organ music on traditional lines to attend cinemas, expecting to hear his favourite fare, and comparing what he does hear with previous experiences at, let us say, Alexandra Palace or St. Margaret's, Westminster, is about as sensible as instituting comparisons between Carlyle and Ashley Sterne, or between roast beef and ice cream, all good when taken at the proper time.

Cinema organ playing is a new thing, which, owing to various reasons, such as the rapid growth of the industry, the shortage of organists (in the early days-- not now), unscrupulous commercial exploitation, and vitiated public taste, has had a doubtful start.

The new cinema organists' section of the I.S.M.(now a hundred and fifty strong)-Dr. Tootell is the Warden-elect, by the way - is doing its best to establish a standard which, while supplying the entertainment needs of the industry, will not offend the canons of reasonably good taste.

May I plead for the support of all musicians and organists in this effort?

There are many difficulties to be faced, amongst which may be reckoned 'canned music’ ignorance in high places, commercial depression, and also those who alienate public sympathy by exercising cheap wit about ‘Nux vomicas' (a very stale joke - 1896 vintage).

Yours, &c.,



"The Musical Times", Vol 72 No.1061, 1 July, 1931, pp. 634-5



In their intolerance, practically all correspondents on both sides have overlooked the fact that, given a good instrument of either type, any class of music can be performed acceptably by a competent player. Quotations, like statistics, can be wangled to prove anything, and plenty have been advanced to show the number of' blind' notes resulting from playing certain chords on a unit or extension organ. Against this may be set the demonstration that in a reasonably extended chord, about twice as many pipes speak on the Downside Great as on an average sixteen-stop cathedral Great. That 'real' organ music can be presented on a cinema organ with an effect not differing appreciably from the composer's intentions may be verified by anyone who cares to listen to Reginald New on the wireless. Though the bulk of his programmes consist of light music and transcriptions, he often introduces legitimate organ pieces; and the organ contains only eight or nine ranks, I believe. Those who can attend Phillip Dore's recitals at Bournemouth can hear how well classical organ music (Bach, Reubke, and the like) sounds on an organ of cinema type. I cannot believe that Bach himself would be other than delighted at the rendering of his music; and by the way, before we sneer at the 'traps,' let us remember that J. S. B. himself played on various organs fitted with bells and other percussions, and planned to have them fitted at Mulhausen. Dare we presume that he would have turned up his nose at the other effects? Rather do the signs indicate that he would have scored for quite a variety of them!

In the opposite direction, we may quote the case of Philip Dore again, this time at Portsmouth: on the ‘straight' organ there, he has been known to play jazz and other blasphemous stuff. A church organist of many years' standing told me that he had not realised the half of what 'organ music' meant until he had heard Dore on both his organs. Enthusiasm is no word to describe his opinion of what he heard - rhapsody is nearer the mark.

While I was at school I often went with another boy (a year or so older) who was deputv-organist at a local church, to hear him practise. More often than not he I tried out various schemes of registration on light music of the day (jazz was unknown - at least to us - then), and much of it was quite enjoyable. If caretakers or other official (or officious) people were about, he would play tricks with the tempo or elaborate the tunes after the manner of a chorale prelude.

Of course, I do not say that music written for straight organ can be played exactly as scored on a unit organ. ; or vice-versa. The two types of instrument are almost as distinct as they both are from the orchestra, and music written for the one needs arranging for the other. Comparatively few organists can do this I arranging at sight, though many think they can, and act according1y, with what result we all know!

Proper registration on a modern organ will secure the sounding of many pipes in proper order and combination by the striking of mere skeleton chords, where the same I effect on an ancient instrument demands the use of whole ‘fistfuls'; but the exact method must depend on whether the many extra pipes are derived from independent ranks or by judicious extension.

-Yours, &c.,





May I be allowed to thank Mr. W. G. Webber for his letter in your July issue, for the correspondence regarding church organs, cinema organs, and their players has been anything but helpful, and it is a pity I that so many people are ready to rush into print on a subject on which obviously they are not fully conversant.

I do not propose to join in the argument, and my object in writing now is to draw attention to a fine cinema organ which I think has not been mentioned by any of your correspondents. I refer to the Compton instrument in the Davis Theatre, Croydon. It is probably due to the fact of its being outside the London area that this organ seems to be so little known. Dr. Tootell , I think, stated in one of his letters that the three largest cinema organs in this country were at the Regal (Marble Arch), the Empire (Leicester Square), and the Trocadero (Elephant and Castle). I am, of course, open to correction, but I am fairly certain that the Croydon instrument is larger than that at the Empire, and comes second only in point of size to the organ in the Regal Theatre.

The Croydon organ is a four-manual, having about two hundred and seventy stop-keys, and contains much fine work, including a 32-ft. Pedal reed.

Also of interest is the fact that frequently real organ music of sterling merit is played when the Davis Theatre opens at mid-day, and I have recently heard there at this time excellent performances of the Liszt Prelude and Fugue on the name of B A C H, and the Variations from the Widor Fifth Symphony.

- Yours, &c.,



"The Musical Times", Vol 72, No. 1062, 1 August, 1931, pp. 737-8




The comments of some of your correspondents on this subject would be more convincing if they were consistent. Dr. Tootell claims that the cinema organ ‘will provide an entirely adequate medium for the display. . . of an organist's powers, and for the presentation of good music'; Mr. W. G. Webber, on the other hand, states that cinema organs 'are built for a special purpose. . . to play overtures, light music, popular dance and novelty numbers, and accompany occasional silent films'; Mr. Mansfield describes the organ of the Regal Cinema, Marble Arch, as ‘magnificent,' and one which ls 'so fine' that it 'can afford to have these things' (i.e., saxophones, vox humanas, slaps-on-the-face, &c.); while Mr. Norman Upton bases his eulogy of the instrument on the grounds that it possesses 'a great similarity to the orchestral instruments,' and that by thinking and playing orchestrally a greater likeness to the orchestra cannot be found anywhere.'

The use of superlatives in respect of an instrument is justified only by reason of the characteristic qualities of that instrument, and not because of its resemblance to those of others. Moreover, there can be no possible point, as I have already shown, in providing a 'magnificent' organ if its powers are to be subsequently limited to the performance of 'light music, popular dance and novelty numbers,' &c., which, in truth, they are.

The cinemoanium of the Regal Cinema is, at first glance, impressive - on paper. When, however, one discards the numerous 'effects' - triangles, tom-toms, saxophones, and other sob-stops - it will be found that there is very little organ left, and even this is never heard.

I should add, too, that the sounds emitted by this, and every other cinemoanium that I have heard, do not resemble the organ or orchestra.

Mr. Webber would 'like to deprecate strongly the present unhelpful argument about church v. cinema organs' : so should I. Had Mr. Webber read my original letter carefully, he would have seen that from the outset I referred to the ‘cinema organ' as 'a glutinous contradiction in terms,’ and he would also have seen that so far from attending cinemas and expecting to hear my favourite fare, I expressly said 'I am not suggesting for a moment that diapason tone, and a selection of Bach, Rheinberger, and Karg-Elert should be introduced into the cinema.' My whole object was to protest against the fantastic claims made on behalf of the cinemoaniums and the so-called 'artistry’ and 'musicianship’ of the cinemoaniumists, when the only music performed is of the type described above, and which makes little demand on technique and less on imagination.

This discussion could cease immediately if the cinemoaniumists and their apologists would candidly confess (1) that the cinemoanium is not an organ in the generally accepted sense of the term, (2) that it is not a suitable medium for pure organ music, and (3) that the performance of 'overtures [of the' Poet and Peasant' variety], light music, popular dance and novelty numbers' may involve a certain degree of dexterity as regards the manipulation of the box of tricks, but can hardly be said to call for musicianship save in the sense that the multiplication of 2 x 2 necessitates a mathematician.

Mr. Mansfield's list of gramophone records is certainly quite respectable, consisting as it does of evangelistic hymns, the most threadbare selections from the restaurant repertoire, and one hopelessly overworked piece of organ music, Handel's ' Largo.' These, with Mendelssohn's 'Spring Song’, are, indeed, quite aristocratic when opposed to 'He's my secret passion' and ‘Wedding of the Painted Doll’, but only the very naive could contend, at this time of day, that this sort of thing is an attempt ‘to improve the musical taste and appreciation of the people at large, through the cinema’, or expect musicians to take it seriously.

If this is the best that the cinemoaniumists can offer, they must not mind if musicians and critics continue to regard them and their devotees as being musico-intellectually at the kindergarten stage.

- Yours &c.,


St. John' s Wood, NW


SIR,-I have noticed that during the last few months, the issues of the "Musical Times" have contained some rather heated discussions on the question of ‘Church v. Cinema Organs'; I have also noticed that critics have a habit of contrasting cathedral organs with inferior cinema organs, or famous cinema organs with those of a village church. Another strange feature is that although these discussions

are headed as ‘Church v. Cinema Organs’, the general trend of the argument is Church v. Cinema Organists. Personally, I am of the opinion that a debate on this subject is futile, for do we not find good and bad organists in both groups? For instance, the cinema organist can be found who plays one phrase on something resembling high-pitched ‘tinkly bells' (owing to my complete ignorance of the names of stops of this description, I have to try to describe the effect), and then plays the next phrase on a 16-ft. down in the lower regions (as if he were endeavouring to give a demonstration of the limits of his ‘Super Special Mighty Organ’!). Similarly, some church organists seem to have a happy knack of playing a hymn-tune with the pedals following up merrily in the rear, half a beat overdue.

In contrast, we may, as Mr. Mansfield pointed out last month, hear cinema organists to whom it is really worth while listening. Meanwhile, church organists certainly contribute their share (perhaps more than their fair share) to lists of brilliant players. If there can be any solution of the original question, ’Church v. Cinema Organs’, I think it is this: the church organ is generally (and it should be) the nobler instrument in that it is used to inspire the soul in the worship of God (by far the greatest use to which any instrument can be put).

-Yours, &c.,





In the August issue of the "Musical Times" I was interested to read a letter headed ‘Church v. Cinema Organs’, and signed ‘A Tolerant Listener.'

Our ‘Tolerant Listener' says : ‘Those who can attend Phillip Dore's recitals at Bournemouth can hear how well classical organ music (Bach, Reubke, and the like) sound on an organ of the cinema type.

Last year, whilst visiting Bournemouth, I went to one of Mr. Dore's recitals at the Pavilion. I have the programme in front of me now, dated July 20, 1930; the following is the programme Mr. Dore was going to play :

Two Chorale Preludes ... ... ... Bach

Sonata on 94th Psalm . . . ... ... Reubke

(a) Aubade ... ... ... E. Johnson

(b) Moto Perpetuo.

Lost Chord ... ... ... ... Sullivan

Overture to ‘Ruy Blas' ... Mendelssohn

After the first item our friend Dore turned to the audience and asked them what they would like next.

I am not going to tell exactly what happened; but I append the programme that Mr. Dore played, instead of the one that was printed (price 2d.).

Two Bach Chorale Preludes


In a Monastery Garden

Fairy Clock

Poor Old Joe

Imitation of a Salvation Army Band

Imitation of the little boy next door learning to play the harmonium


Sleepy Valley

Toreador's Song

Tweet Tweet Tveet

What came next I do not know or dare to think of.

By this time I thought I had heard enough good organ music for one day.

I am only sending this letter to you to save any organist wasting his time to go to the Pavilion at Bournemouth to hear good organ music played on an organ of the cinema type, because he might be disappointed.

Yours, &c.


(Organist and Choirmaster,

Dalston Wesleyan Mission)


"The Musical Times" Vol 72, No.1063, 1 September, 1931. pp. 830-1




I notice somewhat with amusement Mr. Clinton Gray-Fisk's third letter on the cinema organ in this month's number of the "Musical Times". It is quite obvious that he is so prejudiced against it that he will admit nothing good of it, and that therefore it is a waste of time trying to instruct him. I will admit there are some bad cinema organs, but there are also many good ones. Those constructed many years ago, before the introduction of the 'Unit' system and its adoption by leading builders, are certainly poor in design and tone. Nowadays, real attempts to imitate the orchestra are made, and there is in the present-day instrument a pleasing array of orchestral tones as well as adequate diapason foundation. On such an instrument there is resemblance to the orchestra and also pure organ tone. The cinemas mentioned in Mr.Gray-Fisk's last letter all have fine organs where both these things can be heard, and it is no disgrace for them to have drums, cymbals, &c., which are used in the playing of orchestral music and not in the creation of ‘sob-stuff.' Mr. Gray-Fisk's three statements are totally without foundation because, firstly, the cinema organ is still an organ (the sounds are drawn from the same medium, although duplexing and extension are used) ; secondly, pure organ music can be played on a cinema organ. Mr. Quentin Maclean and Mr. Herbert Griffiths have demonstrated this in London, and at the Bournemouth Pavilion pure organ music is regularly rendered on a 'cinemoanium,' as Mr. Gray-Fisk likes to call it. Here I recently heard Mr. Philip Dore play two Fugues (the G minor and D minor), three Bach Chorale Preludes, the Toccata from Widor's fourth Symphony, and part of the Reubke Sonata. The greatest purist could have found no fault.

As regards technique, the cinema organist must be brilliant. It would be interesting to hear Mr. Gray-Fisk at the organ of the Regal, Marble Arch, playing Liszt's second Hungarian Rhapsody as recorded by Quentin Maclean for Columbia. We might then hear quite different remarks. In the old silent days the cinema organist was faced with hours of constant playing in the accompaniment of the films. Many provided excellent extemporised accompaniments,, while others selected, arranged, and joined up music to suit the photoplay. Both of these called for good technique and a very considerable ability in arranging, which many still possess to-day.

In conclusion may I say that letters like Mr. Grav-Fisk's will not bother the lovers of the cinema organ, of which there are a great many. The cinema organists' section of the I.S.M., which Mr. Webber mentioned in his letter, is doing excellent work. Mr. Reginald Foort is the Warden, and Dr. Tootell the Warden-elect, while the committee contains well-known names such as Messrs. G. T. Pattman and Frank Newman. These gentlemen are trying to raise the standard of playing all round.

Yours, &c.,


Moseley, Birmingham.

[This correspondence is now closed.- Editor.]


Mr Richard Blake Brown, of Bournemouth, writes a long and lively letter in answer to Mr. Ernest A. Freestone's complaint in our last issue (p. 831), the subject of which was a recital by Mr. Philip Dore at the Bournemouth Pavilion on July 20, 1930. Mr. Dore incurred Mr. Freestone's censure by abandoning a respectable programme in favour of a publicly improvised selection of popular titbits. Mr. Brown gives a different picture of the incident. It was a day of wet and rough weather, he says. A horde of excursionists arriving from a midland town, and finding no cinemas open (it was a Sunday afternoon), poured into the Pavilion, ‘redolent of beer and oranges, exasperated into sheer pandemonium by the inclemency of the weather, and not caring a jot whether Mr. Dore played the organ or painted his nose scarlet and danced on his head.' The two Chorale Preludes with which the official programme began were scarcely audible. Impossible to proceed with the thirty minutes of Reubke's Sonata. Mr. Dore saved the situation by concocting an unofficial programme with help of his audience and his own 'timely and irresistible banter,' and even went on for an extra half-hour in order that the catering department might rally to provide tea for four or five times the usual numbers. Mr. Brown concludes by paying a tribute ‘to the admirable work of one who has afforded me more consistent pleasure, in listening to great organ music, than I can well say’.

Mr. W. J. Yorke, Pendleton, Manchester, expresses himself tolerantly on the cinema organ controversy, and associates himself with Mr. Freestone's complaint concerning the programme played by Mr. Philip Dare at the Pavilion, Bournemouth. Mr. Yorke was there.


"The Musical Times", Vol 72, No. 1964, 1 October, 1931, pp.936-7

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