SAGINAW, Mich. (AP) — With its golden finish shining spectacularly in the spotlight, a historic pipe organ at Saginaw’s Temple Theatre has been a gilded centerpiece and point of pride at the venue for nearly a century.
The Golden Voiced Barton organ has been making music for generations. And now the theater’s Organ Club is celebrating 50 years of keeping the instrument in tip-top shape while educating people about the history behind this piece of Saginaw’s theatrical past, The Saginaw News reported.
“What’s unique about this one is that it’s not been altered, that what you hear today is what they probably heard on opening night in 1927," said Ken Wuepper, the club’s vice president.
Wuepper said the mission of the group is to preserve the organ, educate people about the cultural significance of the instrument and present concerts and other entertainment with it.
The organ club was established in October 1970 by music lovers who shared the common goal of preserving the Temple Theatre’s organ. The club is a part of the American Theatre Organ Society’s Great Lakes Bay Chapter and has about 30 members today.
The organ was built by the Bartola Musical Instrument Co. of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The Butterfield Theatre company had the Golden Voiced Barton installed in the Temple Theatre to delight crowds with its setup of three keyboards and 11 sets of pipes.
“They were designed to accompany silent films. It was cheaper to have this than if you had an orchestra here every night,” club secretary and organist Pat Portner explained.
As time marched on and digital sound systems entered the stage, the organ’s role at the Temple changed. Now organists such as Portner, Wuepper, and Harmon primarily entertain crowds before shows with a mix of old and new tunes.
“The fun is entertaining people, what you can do to make people feel happy," said Wuepper.
Playing the organ takes a special type of musician, with Portner noting that it is often difficult for traditionally trained classical organists to play and to get used to it.
“It’s called passion, if you want to learn to play an organ like this or have the opportunity to play an organ like this. Your heart tells the story," club president Howard Harmon said.
The outside of the instrument is ornate, with a golden console adorned with intricate carvings. However, this golden console where the keyboards rest is only a portion of the instrument.
Hidden behind the decorative facades in the upper chambers, directly to the left and right of the stage, are a multitude of pipes that the organ controls. Observant audience members might be able to catch a glimpse of the swell shutters opening and closing as the organist controls the intensity of the sound.
Organists also have the ability to control more than just regular organ pipes with the keyboards and stops. They are able to pick from sounds including snare drums, whistles, chimes, and even a xylophone to bring their performances to life.
With a large palette of sounds and tones to pick from, creativity is key to playing the organ.
“We’re telling our story with our music, what it means to each of us individually," said Harmon. "I think you can express yourself really well when you’ve got an organ like this with all the different sounds, you can be creative.”
Aside from musical tones, the organ also has a trick up its sleeve that delights audiences. The organ dramatically rises out of the orchestra pit at the beginning of a performance, and is lowered back down as the music wraps up. Instead of using a hydraulic system, the instrument is attached to several large screws that raise and lower the organ’s platform.
The club is hosting a variety of events to celebrate its 50th anniversary, ranging from a visit by the Detroit Red Wings organist to an organist who will resurrect the Barton organ’s original purpose by using it to accompany a silent film.