THEATER ORGAN BACKGROUND

At the turn of the last century an Englishman by the name of Robert Hope Jones was introducing significant innovations to the art and science of organ building. These included a practical working electrical action for opening the valves within the windchests (there had been previous attempts) , invention of organ stops that sounded a lot different from those currently in use, and, coupled with his electric action for organs, a switching system known as 'unification' whereby one set of organ pipes could do the work of many compared with the mechanical or 'tracker' actions of the time.

Tonally, Mr. Hope Jones introduced some radical new organ stops. Most were of the same tradidional families, Diapason, Flute, String and Reed, but he introduced a new family, too, the Diaphone. This is kind of like a reed, but has a valve that opens and closes rapidly instead of a beating reed like in a Clarinet or Trumpet stop. The term used was 'valvular reed'. These pipes are only practical for pedal stops, but can produce tremendous power. The concept can produce so loud a sound that the Diaphone patent was extended for use in fog horns, which must be heard for miles at sea.

The reaction to Mr. Hope Jones' electromechanical and tonal ideas at the time were about like the initial reaction to the Rolling Stones: You either loved them or hated them. Some books on tonal design at the time thought this man was a total genius, others whose tastes were more for the organs of Bach's time dispised what he had invented.

Some of the stops he invented are household words in the Theater Organ world: Tibia Clausa, Tibia Plena, Viol d' Orchestre, Kinura, and others. He had started his own organ company in England after a career as a telephone communications engineer (the 19th century equivalent of working at NASA) and later immigrated to the U.S. where he again founded an organ company. He was far more the inventor and artist that a businessman, and his company was bought up by the WurliTzer company, then a major manufacturer of band organs found in amusement parks. Hope Jones' organ building efforts at the time had been confined to church organs. In the early days of his business, the concept of a Theater Organ had not yet been developed. He literally did not know at the time what he had going for him! He worked at WurliTzer for a while and unfortunately took his own life, depressed that his concepts and ideas were not more highly accepted. He was just a few years ahead of his time, because just a couple of years later, the idea for a specialized organ to add sound to the silent movies came to fruition, and a new market for his type of organ took root, and took off like a skyrocket! Had he held on for a couple more years, Hope Jones could have been the Bill Gates of his time.

It would be like Les Paul inventing the electric guitar, then blowing himself away two years before the start of Rock 'n' Roll!

At peak production in 1926, WurliTzer was putting out a theater organ a day! After Mr. Hope Jones' death,the Wurlitzer company continued the evolution of the theater organ. This was a totally new world, sort of like when synthesizers came out. It took artists like Jesse Crawford to figure out what to do with these new contraptions. Before Crawford's revolutionary style of playing and registration, the Tibia was thought of as solely an accompaniment stop, with no independent strong tremulant of its own! The ultimate development in theater organ specification was the 'Fox Special' that WurliTzer built. Four manuals, 36 ranks, and nearly unified to the hilt! This model was custom built for the five Fox flagship theaters throughout the country.

Right before the Great Depression (I still don't know what was so great about it), Western Electric worked out a method for adding synchronized eletronically produced sound to films.  When Al Jolson spoke in the that first talkie 'The Jazz Singer', he might as well have said: " Theater organ, you've had it!" Just as quickly as theater organs had been ordered decades before, Western Electric sound equipment was being ordered for theaters old and new. The organs were religated to background and intermission music, and like yesterday's fads, were quickly forgotten in mainstream entertainment. Some carried on for featured organists and solo spots, but like any entertainment fad, they became yesterday's news.

The 1950's ushered in a rebirth of interest as Hi-Fi hobbyists showed off their new toys with newly released George Wright recordings, and the 70's-80's brought live performance on Theater Organs back, this time in Pizza parlors and other restauants. Many people have installed abondoned instruments in their homes.  The ATOS has always been a strong backer of theater organ restoration and performance. In recent decades, a precious few BRAND NEW theater organs were actually built. The strange thing is that the Theater Organ has never found its way back into mainstream pop music. Some may say that Rock 'n' Roll helped kill the Theater Organ. I believe that theater organists' lack of interest in new musical trends killed the use of Theater Organ in pop music. The Theater Organ has always been the role model for entertainment organs from the Hammond up to the present day. The Theater Organ was the first synthesizer, putting the sounds of many musical instruments under the control of a single performer.

A number of very authentic digital simulations are being built today by Allen, Rogers, Walker and others. They are wonderful instruments, but they cost like they sound. There is now an alternative to those costly simulations, the synthesizer/sampler based theater organ. After all, what are these big digital organs anyway but large capacity samplers wrapped in horseshoe consoles?

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Construction

Operation

Circuitry

Specifications

Virtual Theater Organ Registration Basics-Families of Theater Organ Tone

Virtual Theater Organ Registration Basics-The Tibia/String Relationships

Virtual Theater Organ Registration Basics-Esemble Registrations

Virtual Theater Organ Registration Basics-The Polphony Problem

Virtual Theater Organ Music .mp3's

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