The Empire Theatre at the State Fair Art & Home Center is playing to full houses this Fair. They are not only playing for the local performing groups dancing and singing there but also for its ??permanent?? resident; a 1925-vintage Wurlitzer organ.
The organ was built in Tonawanda and shipped to Syracuse for the RKO Keith Theatre.
When the theatre was demolished in the mid-1960s, the organ was rescued from the wrecking ball by the Empire State Theatre and Musical Instrument (ESTMIM) volunteer group and restored. It??s been played on the fairgrounds since 1967.
A lot of the concerts include ??oldie but goodie?? music like Patsy Kline??s ??Crazy??, but Harvyn Tarkmeel, one of the volunteer players, demonstrated the organ??s many sound effects (train, hoof beets, gongs, birdsong).
Tarkmeel showed how, as an accompanist to silent movies, which are shown in the theatre, he needs to improvise and change moods quickly. The organ helps and it's billed as a ??Unit Orchestra?? that can replicate all sounds.
Phil Edwards, the president of the ESTMIM group, says it can play any kind of music except rap. It has a characteristic quavering movie theatre music sound because it has five special trems, which are units that make the music quaver.This is something that theatre goers do not get to see. Behind where the screen is, there is a wall of wood slats opens and closes to modulate the volume. While the organ sits on the left side of the stage, there??s a player piano on the right that is connected to the organ keyboard and you can see the keys move as its played.
ESTMIM has a fall schedule of concerts on their website.