Friday, May 30, 2008

The Right Note Column - Taurangas WURLITZER

Before I get in to my column this week, I must first explain that I am not a Bay of Plenty Times “reporter!” My column is not really intended to publicise coming events, or give exposure to up-and-coming talent. It is more about celebrating the phenomena that is the Tauranga music scene. Introducing you to some of the interesting characters and events that have shaped the intriguing, ever-evolving theatre of musical entertainment in this area through my own experiences (where possible) and via stories related to me by some of the characters themselves.

I am what may loosely be described as a “rocker!” A local musician with a few years experience in the rock/blues music fraternity. Therefore my knowledge and experience of a “wurlitzer” is limited to the swirly writing on the front of a juke-box, but what I do know is that everybody loves a good old-fashioned mystery with a plot and a story with more twists and turns than a Winston Peters party political broadcast!

Yes, the Wurlitzer Organ - what a fascinating and mysterious creature she is!

I say creature because it is like an organic, living thing, that is tended and nurtured by its supporters, and has the ability to “grow” and attain new “voices” according and attributed to the activity of its care-givers!

I mean, what other instrument do you know of that has its own “society” or group, dedicated to its health and welfare! What other instrument has a dedicated PA (personal assistant) with the auspicious title of “keeper of the organ?”

To me she has the aura of a 1940s murder/mystery, or of a secret society like the royal antediluvian order of buffaloes, or the phantom of the opera.
I mean, where is she? - We have all been to Baycourt before, so where does she live?

Where are all the pipes and stuff?
Before I reveal some of her secrets, let me tell you of some of her fascinating life. The Wurlitzer organ was shipped to New Zealand from North Tonowanda, New York, USA in October 1926 and was installed in the De Luxe Theatre Cinema, Courtney Place, Wellington, and made its debut in 1927 with Sydney organist Emanual (Manny) Aarons It’s main function being the accompaniment to the silent movies of the era. With the demise of the silent movies, she was put up for tender in 1958.

Some crazy guy from Tokoroa (Mr Eddie Aiken) scored it, and installed it in a “Honey Shed!” where he held many concerts for friends and locals until 1967, when it found a new home in the Tokoroa High School. (no disrespect intended Mr Aiken, but I can’t think of any other way to describe installing a monster like this in a honey shed! - I mean - wherever did you find room for the honey? - or the bees for that matter! - crazy!)

In 1971 the organ came up for tender once again, when the now extinct (no thanks to the local council who enforce compulsory community spirit via your rates) community service group called the 20,000 Club purchased it and in a superhuman effort, with over 5000 VOLUNTARY man hours, and tremendous VOLUNTARY material support from sponsors, installed it in the Tauranga Town Hall.

When the council demolished the Town Hall a new home for her had to be considered, and after many months of repeated hard work, she was installed into Baycourt, and the inagural concert was held on 17th December, 1988.

The organist, Dennis James, came from the USA for this very special occasion.

The organ society was formed in 1987 to provide support, and continual maintenance for the organ, and who now work closely with Baycourt management and friends of Baycourt to meet the needs of the grand old girl.
Concert-goers get to watch, as she rises majestically from her home under the stage with a great flourish and ceremony, as the curtains draw back on both sides of the proscenium (part of the theatre in front of the curtain) to reveal the thousands of pipes and traps in the sound chambers, that produce the amazing voices of this grande-dame of the theatre age.

Now, the Wurlitzer is a rare and specialised creature, and those who can play it are apparently few and far between, but I can’t help but imagine if somebody like local keyboard legend Grant Winterburn was let loose on it!

Now, I do not suggest for one moment that he roll around and wrestle with it on the stage, or throw it to the floor and play it on his knees like I have seen him do with his own keyboards on many occasions - (One) because it would be impossible, and (two) the society members wouldn’t let him out of the theatre alive - besides, he has matured quite a bit since those days (I think!) BUT, a bit of dry ice, a light show, and the spectacle of the beast rising out of the smoke - Grant Winterburn astride like on a giant Harley Davidson - to join an amazing rhythm section and guitarist like he brought to the recent Jazz Festival, and he would have the old girl - and the audience - singing like never before to a brand-new generation and set of devotees.

Anyway, enough from the fantasy world, and back in reality, the Wurlitzer Society have a concert already planned.

Please get along to Baycourt on Saturday the 7th June to hear premiere organ entertainer from the UK, Chris Powell put this amazing piece of “world musical history” through its paces, and marvel at the spectacle of the Opus 1482 Wurlitzer.

Once again - right here in Tauranga!

On behalf of myself, my children, and the people of Tauranga I would like to thank the volunteers who gave up their time and efforts voluntarilly and without compulsion to provide us with the opportunity to experience this early wonder of technology.

And to all you compulsion-touters out there may this be a lesson in how real community spirit is achieved - Amen!


Anonymous writeups said...

I was fortunate to hear it played a few years ago and must say that it was fantastic - thoroughly enjoyed the Wurlitzer!

11:23 am  

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