8A - Thursday, March 22, 2012
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Theater organists play out their passion
Rare experience for "It's hard to find people who being in church and being fas-
are good at playing theater cinated by the pipe organ," Ball
public, players at organ, which means how to play said. "I started playing at church
a popular tune and make it sound when I was nine, but we didn't
M ichigan Theater good on a pipe organ," Aldridge have an instrument at home that
said. "There's a certain style to it, I could play. It was nearly impos-
ByJOHN BOHN sort of like jazz piano." sible to practice."
DailyArts Writer One has to wonder how some- Ball, who is fascinated by
one not only comes to learn this public art as well as mechani-
For the newcomer pleasantly skill set but also decides to pur- cal instruments, received his
surprised by its presence or the sue such a rare path in the first doctorate in organ performance
regular expecting an old friend, place. Surprisingly, even with from the University of Michigan.
the soundsofaBartonorganhave such a small talent pooi, the Hired hy the Michigan Theater
been offering film-goers a unique Michigan Theater has had a in 2003, Ball has become a regu-
ambiance in the Ann Arbor area great deal of luck finding organ- lar performer for the theater's
since the Michigan Theater's ists to play its five-day schedule. silent films, such as this past
opening in 1928. While it had "We are really fortunate that Halloween's showing of "Nos-
a two-decade hiatus between people come up to us," Aldridge feratu: A Symphony of Terror."
about 1950 and 1970, the Barton said. "They say, 'Hey you're one "I describe (the silent film
organ was not only restored to of the few organs in southeast score) as a patchwork quilt," Ball
new life in the '70s, it also helped Michigan playing,' and they said. "What you're doing is knit-
preserve the Michigan Theater want to play so they offer their ting together all these pieces of
from potential demolition. services." music and making it happen in
"We heard it might be torn Aldridge, who led the resto- real time. You have to be able to
down or converted into a shop- ration effort and still plays the transition immediately from one
ping mall," said Henry Aldridge, Barton, is joined by five other to the other, and you also have to
Eastern Michigan University organists: Newton Bates, who be ready to transpose any one of
professor of film studies and also has been playing since its those pieces or combine them."
Michigan Theater organist restoration; Steve Warner, a ' With his expertise, Ball is in ADAMGLANZMAN/Daily
coordinator. "It was the theater church organist in Detroit as demand across the country for Classical and theater organists require different skill sets for their crafts.
organ people who got together well as an organ builder; Father silent-film performances. How-
and pushed to have the theater Andrew Rogers, a professional ever, one of his most memorable early age and came to fruition me on piano because they were ment for players to adapt to.
saved. But really it started with organist and orthodox priest experiences was being commis- not long after. skeptical," Seward said. "It's Today, Seward makes the trip
the organ. It makes coming to from Fenton, Mich.; Dr. Steven sioned by the city of Ann Arbor "When I was five or six, I went hard to take a 5-year-old very from Southfield to Ann Arbor
the Michigan (Theater) special." Ball, a University assistant pro- to compose a score for a never- to see 'The Sheik' at the Michigan seriously when they say they almost every weekend to play for
The pipe organ is rarely fessor of organ and carillon as before-seen silent film discovered Theater, and Steven Ball was play- want to play the organ." those half-hour intervals before
encountered, with only a hand- well as one of the carillonneurs inthe Ann Arbor District Library's ing. He invited me to come and sit She started organ lessons by screenings - which is, to her, a
ful playing in Michigan and of the Burton Tower; and the archive of The Ann Arbor News. down at the console, and I think I age 11 and began as a volunteer dream come true.
even fewer in other states, and youngest organist at 16, Emily "What made it significant was played a couple of notes and then I performer for the Redford The- Here inAnnArbor, the dreams
it's unusual because of the skills Seward, from Southfield, Mich. it was a silent film from the era," just knew I wanted to play." ater the next year. In 2009, she and passions of the Michigan
it demands of the performer Steven Ball's passion to Ball said. "It's very rare these of course, given the rarity of was hired by the Michigan The- Theater's organists have not only
- skills which are different play this rare instrument was days that such a thing happens." the organ, it's difficult to jump ater and trained by Aldridge to given the city a rare sound, but a
between classical or theater instilled at a young age. Emily Seward's desire to play right into things. play the theater's organ, which lasting historical importance in
organists. "My earliest memories are the organ also began at a very "Initially, (my parents) started has its own acoustic environ- cinema and music.
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