In the movie houses of the 1920s, silent films were scored by musicians who played large pipe organs in the theaters. Back then, there were thousands of these instruments, but today there are only a few hundred left.
Steve LaManna, national sales manager at Galt House Hotel and Suites, Louisville, Ky., is doing everything he can to revive these custom-built treasures of the past. LaManna is a member of American Theatre Organ Society, an organization created to preserve and restore these rare instruments.
“Pipe organs are a big box of whistles,” explains LaManna, with sounds created by air blowing through pipes. His first exposure to pipe organ music came in the 1970s when he attended a silent movie screening in Buffalo, N.Y., where a pipe organ provided the soundtrack. Since then pipe organs have become his passion.
As part of the 5,000-member society, LaManna helps the effort to restore theaters as well as organs, including the Shea's Performing Arts Center in Buffalo. For the past six years, he has raised money for the society by producing a “Pops-style” concert at the Rialto Theatre in Chicago with an orchestra and, of course, a pipe organ. The themed events feature different types of music each year from jazz to big band.