The Instrument



My Instrument

I use an electronic organ as my main ‘base’ instrument – The Yamaha EL90. This organ was manufactured in the early 90’s and is still an exceptionally good instrument. In my opinion, Yamaha’s ‘EL’ range of organs was the best ever produced.

The Yamaha EL90

In my arrangements I use the sounds of the EL90 in addition to those of a ‘VTPO’ (Virtual Theatre Pipe Organ).  The VTPO is fundamentally a ‘sampled’ theatre organ, basically all the sounds of a theatre organ have been ‘Sampled’ (their digital sound recorded) and can be used via MIDI on any other MIDI compatible keyboard. You can purchase many VTPO samples and you can use whatever organ or combination of sounds you wish. This is truly an amazing time for new development in technology. Anyway back to the plot…

I channel the VTPO sounds through my EL90 and combine them with the on-board sounds of the Yamaha. I use the facilities of the Yamaha to control the VTPO. The final result is a unique sound of whatever ‘base’ instrument you’re using and the VTPO. The Yamaha’s sounds are in themselves all editable as is the VTPO. So you can imagine the variations are almost endless. It is possible to truly create something unique!

With the Yamaha I can ‘capture’ the sound combinations in ‘Presets’ or ‘Combinations’ – this always me instant access to sets of personalised combinations of sounds. AMAZING!!

Theatre Organ History – The origins

In the first thirty years of the twentieth century, a new art form took America and the world by storm. Cinema. Film. Motion pictures. “The picture show.” Whatever one called it, movies captivated the masses in a way nothing else ever had, and our love affair with movies has continued to the present day.

  Unlike today, when we are likely to watch movies in a small multiplex theatre, early movie-goers were treated to a much grander spectacle for their nickel. Theatres were larger and more opulent, especially in the bigger cities. While the massive, ornately-decorated downtown theatre quickly became known as the “movie palace,” or even the “cathedral of the motion picture,” virtually every city neighbourhood and small town boasted at least one “Bijou” which would put today’s mall multiplex to shame.

In those days, everyone went to the movies. Theatres offered an escape from the troubles of the world. Within their dark, cavernous auditoria, one was pampered by a huge uniformed staff of ersatz servants. The movie might be part of a larger show which included musical numbers and stage acts, and the movie itself was shown not on the miniscule screens of today, but on the “big, silver screen.” And, likely as not, that show would include a performance on the giant pipe organ which was installed in the auditorium.

The story of the theatre organ is, in a real sense, the story of the movie palace which housed it; and its existence may be solely attributed to the fact that the movies of the time were silent. In larger theatres, movies were originally presented as part of larger shows, which also included live on-stage acts such as singing and dancing. Music was required for these performances, and theatres employed staff musicians — sometimes entire orchestras — to provide live music for the stage acts. In smaller, less affluent settings, a piano would serve as the sole musical accompaniment to this live entertainment. With musicians and instruments at hand, the silent movies were quickly provided the luxury of a musical accompaniment.

But the impresarios who brought these nightly extravaganzas to an eager public were searching for something new and different, and an idea was born. What better way to contribute to the image of the theatre as a “cathedral of the motion picture” than the peal of a mighty pipe organ? An added incentive, surely not lost on these shrewd and competitive businessmen, was the savings afforded by having to pay only one musician, who while playing a pipe organ could produce sounds approaching those of an orchestra of dozens of players.


Robert Hope Jones
Robert Hope Jones


The first pipe organs to appear in theatres were little more than transplanted church organs. While they looked and sounded impressive, they were ill-suited to the performance of the popular music of the day–a necessity in the realm of the theatre. However, the instrument quickly began to evolve into an entirely different type of instrument, one which far better suited its intended purpose.

Many of the innovations which led to the perfection of the theatre organ were the work of one man, a brilliant English inventor named Robert Hope-Jones (right). Hope-Jones developed many of his innovative ideas regarding organ design in his native England, but it was not until his arrival in America and his fruitful collaboration with Rudolph Wurlitzer (left) and the Wurlitzer company of North Tonawanda, New York, that many of his ideas were realized.

There were around three thousand of these grand instruments built between 1910 and 1940.  Today, we estimate that about one thousand remain.  Most Theatre Organs are located in the United States, England, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.  A few have made their way to other places in the world including Germany, Japan, and France. There are also a handful of electronic organ installations listed that regularly provide public concerts.