Last month, we noted that a mighty Wurlitzer organ that belonged to the Brooklyn Paramount before it was converted into a gym would be played one last time before the building’s conversion back to a theater. After writing about “The Beast,” we just had to see the thing for ourselves. So we stopped by Saturday as Los Angeles-based organist Mark Herman rehearsed for his once-in-a-lifetime performance.
Herman was impressed by the way the organ echoed in the room, which had been stripped of its 4,084 seats in the early 1960s, when Long Island University converted it into a basketball court. “It rolls on and on,” he said, looking at the empty room filled with folding chairs. “It’s amazing.”
Nick Myers, of the New York Theatre Organ Society, told us how, when the Brooklyn Paramount opened in 1928, the organ provided sound effects to go along with silent films. He described how two people would tune the organ via walkie-talkies.
Sunday’s program included Broadway hits by Harry Warren and George Gershwin. Jerome Kern‘s “Ol’ Man River,” from the musical Show Boat, represented the organ at its greatest ability, Herman told the audience. He then showed the Beast’s softer side by playing Irving Berlin’s “Russian Lullaby.” Herman’s encore started with “When The Saints Go Marching In”; when it concluded with “Danny Boy”, the pipes were truly calling. As the organ’s valves opened and closed above, light emitted from behind, giving the impression of a wall-sized volume meter. You could physically feel the instrument’s output.
The concert was recorded by audio engineer Nathan Avakian, a noted organist himself; his two microphones, centrally placed atop 15-foot high stands, were both set to cardioid mode. During intermission, Nick Myers had a quick discussion with a fellow NYTOS member about something off-sounding on the left side of the organ. They quickly dropped what they were doing and went into the wings to fix the problem before Herman resumed his performance.
The theater will soon undergo a two-year renovation by the Barclay’s Center Group. With 2,800 seats likely to dampen the organ’s sound, it’s uncertain we’ll ever be treated to a concert quite like this one again.
Here’s video footage of Saturday’s rehearsal.