THE ORPHEUM’S HISTORICAL ‘MIGHTY’ WURLITZER PIPE ORGAN MOVES INTO THE NEW MILLENIUM
When Mike Walsh re-opened his celebrated and award-winning Art Deco Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace at Cremorne in 1987, amongst the many unique attractions was the multi-million dollar Wurlitzer Hope-Jones Orchestral Pipe Organ in the original main auditorium.
The 87-year-old historical organ has since become one of its major assets and talking points, though many people still believe that it is merely a large electronic organ.
Mike Walsh had purchased the instrument from a theatre organ enthusiast John Robinson, who wanted the Orpheum to install this wonderful instrument in memory of his late wife.
The installation cost was over $100,00.00 to completion.
Work included the finishing of two pipe chambers on either side of the stage, (already in place), to house the 11 ranks of pipes. A platform was built above the proscenium for the special effects, full-scale drum kit, Xylophone, Marimba and other tuned percussions; plus added live sound effects originally created for silent movie accompaniment. An elevator lift, with revolve was required to raise the massive three keyboard console from the pit below to stage level. In addition a large blower motor area was created to produce the high wind pressure required for the 1000 pipes and instruments.
One of the many features of the Wurlitzer Robert Hope-Jones’ organ is the sophisticated electrical switching mechanism, which connects the console at stage level to the many sets of pipes, percussions and special effects installed in the chambers.
It is via this elaborate switching matrix that the infinite array of tonal combinations is possible to the organist.
In reality the Wurlitzer Pipe Organ is a giant one-man orchestra capable of performing most genres of classical and popular music.
In its time there were more than 7,000 theatre pipe organs in American cinema-theatres.
In 2012, less than 40 original organs remain in their initial theatre homes in the USA.
Hundreds more restored theatre organs are in public venues across the globe. In Great Britain today there are over 190 pipe organs extant.
In Sydney during the ‘glory days of cinemas’ there were at least 20 theatres that had pipe organs installed, and in five of the city venues, the organ often joined the theatre’s top orchestras for stage shows, and or, silent film presentations. At least 9 of these organs were by the Wurlitzer Company, who had acquired the patents for the unique Robert Hope-Jones inventions. Again here in Sydney there are now several in churches and private homes.
Neil is now the longest serving theatre organist in Australasian cinema theatre history.
He tours internationally most years to perform organ concerts, and he is a huge audience favourite overseas.
When not performing, Neil is consulting and engineering virtual pipe organs for PC and MAC.
The Orpheum organ started its life as a Wurlitzer Robert Hope-Jones Orchestral Organ, Model 235, three keyboards (also know as manuals), eleven sets (also known as ranks) instrument, and was sent on the 11th April, 1925 from the factory of The Rudolph Wurlitzer Co. in North Tonawanda, NY. USA. to the Wilson Theatre, Fresno, California, opening in that same year.
It was removed in 1973 to the Organ Power Pizza in San Diego, USA, and it later found it’s way to Australia, where it was sold again to engineer/manufacturer, John Robinson, for the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo.
When his offer was declined, John turned to Mike Walsh, who was planning the restoration of the then derelict auditorium of the Orpheum Theatre, Cremorne .
Installed by Adelaide organ builder George Stevens, the Orpheum Wurlitzer with some minor refurbishment and the addition of a 12th rank, an English Post Horn was installed for the opening performances from December 9, 1987. The rest is Australian cinema history!
Since that time, Neil Jensen and Mike Walsh have seen the continuous maintenance, upgrading and enhancement of the Wurlitzer. Additional to the twelve rank complement, a Orchestral Trumpet rank was gifted and installed by Neil Jensen, bringing the organ’s specification to thirteen lush ranks.
The Wurlitzer organ is a most versatile instrument. It was a boon for exhibitors in the theatre pipe organ period. Built by the Rudolph Wurlitzer factory, they were one of the largest instrument manufacturing plants in the world between 1910-1942, and their organ output was double that of any competitor in the United States, or Great Britain. They also made violins, rare string, brass and woodwind instruments, plus pianos and orchestrions. The famous Wurlitzer Company was duly acknowledged for their high standard of quality and pride in their workmanship. Other organ manufacturers were quick to adopt the many revolutionary innovations devised by Robert Hope-Jones! Among them were Kimball, Moeller, Robert Morton, Page, Barton and Marr & Colton, Kilgen, and the British Christie organ of Hill, Norman & Beard . Church organs and pianos, often used in theatres, were virtually finished, as a top cinema-theatre pipe organ could replace an entire orchestra, or pianist, for a silent movie. Wurlitzer later made electric pianos, electronic organs; and their famous jukeboxes.
THE CURRENT UPGRADE
The Orpheum Wurlitzer Pipe Organ has now seen more than 24 years of service and is currently, undergoing an extensive three stage maintenance, restoration and expansion program.
While preserving the integrity of the organ’s original roots, this upgrade will move the instrument forward into the 21st millennium.
The state-of-the-art computerized control system Uniflex 3000 now replaces the unsustainable original electro pneumatic switching relay. This cutting technology relays the enormous performance data stream from the organist at the console to the organ’s three chambers locations over a CAT5 Network. Additionally, MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is facilitated within the computer control system giving way to extended performance possibilities.
Today the Orpheum Wurlitzer is the perfect marriage of the old and new. Engineered and developed by Neil Jensen, an extensive complement of Digital Voices has been selectively and tastefully added as a tonal and feature augmentation to the original installation.
These computer based digital tonal resources seamlessly integrate into the instrument and play through a custom-designed sixteen channel audio array. This audio complement is installed in the three pipe and percussion chambers.
This specialised and intricate work is being supervised and developed under the direction of our own resident organist, Neil Jensen, who has been the resident Orpheum organist since the beginning in 1987.
He is now the longest serving theatre organist in Australasian cinema theatre history.
Neil tours internationally most years to perform organ concerts, and he is a huge audience favourite overseas. When not performing, Neil is consulting and engineering virtual pipe organs for PC and MAC.
THE SPECIFICATIONS OF OUR WURLITZER
The Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace Wurlitzer Pipe Organ Tonal Specification
At the completion of Stage 3 Maintenance/ Expansion Program
SOLO Chamber (Off prompt/ Stage Left)
Pipe Ranks & Percussions:
*English Post Horn 8’
Tuba Horn 16’
Tibia Clausa 16’ (Bottom 12 notes – digital)
Digital Ranks & Percussions:
Solo Violin 16’
Solo Violin Celeste 16’
Solo Marimba (Expressed)
MAIN CHAMBER (Prompt/ Stage Right)
Pipe Ranks & Percussions:
*Orchestral Trumpet 8’
Open Diapason 16’
Clarinet 16’ (bottom 12 notes – digital)
Viol D’Orchestre 8’
Viol Celeste 8’
Concert Flute 32’ (Bottom 12 notes – digital)
Digital Ranks & Percussions:
Trumpet (D Style) 8’
Main Tibia Clausa 8’
Main Vox Humana 8’
Concert Flute Celeste 8’
Wood Diaphone 16’
PROSCENIUM CHAMBER (Over Stage)
Snare / Tom Tom Drum
FX (Siren, Horses Hooves, Surf, Gong, Bird Whistle, Train Whistle, Telephone Bell)
Tympani (Hits & Rolls)
Grand Piano (Steinway D)
Symphonic Cymbal Roll
Bell Trees (Up & Down)
* denotes additional to original 1925 pipework
italic denotes Digital Ranks and Percussions