Monday, August 19, 2013

Extraordinary Talent...and Then Some

I belong to another music-oriented club besides the Great Plains Ragtime Society. In fact, I've been in this additional organization since 1984...the year it celebrated its first birthday.

It's the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society, the River City Theatre Organ Society.

Yesterday afternoon, RCTOS put on the 2013 edition of its annual fundraiser. Every year at this time, the club holds a concert at Omaha's Rose Theater, the one-time movie house (originally called the Paramount Theater; later the Astro) whose official current title is the Rose Blumkin Center for the Performing Arts. 

The place was packed.

And the talent was packed, too!

The theater's got a 3-manual, 21-rank Wurlitzer theater pipe organ that was built in 1927...and, currently, it's the only concert-ready theater organ in the Iowa-Nebraska-South Dakota area. 

Getting back to the talent being packed...this year's featured organist was Walt Strony, the Illinoisan-turned-Californian who was voted ATOS' Organist of the Year not once, but both 1991 and 1993.

Right from the first chords of his opener ("On the Sunny Side of the Street"), he showed the crowd just why. 

And when Walt followed that up with a medley from "My Fair Lady" and then his version of Mario Lanza's 1950 smash, "Be My Love," the Rose audience was in for one heck of a ride. 

Three selections later, Walt cued a silent movie, "Two Tars." (The two tars were none other than Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.)

Walt isn't just great. He's G-R-R-R-E-A-T!!

He and his unique style hit the theater-organ circuit in 1974 (at a time when Walt was 18) a time when RCTOS' 2008 featured organist, Donna Parker, was in her teens as well (and playing the organ at Los Angeles Dodgers games).   

After the showing of a movie that still proves to be some kind of funny, it was intermission time.

And after Walt came back out and fired up another number, the Pathfinders (a barbershop chorus group from Fremont, NE) took to the Rose Theater stage.

Last year, when Rob Richards played the Rose Wurlitzer, the Pathfinders turned out the concert with their movin', groovin' brand of a cappella singing...and proved to be so great that RCTOS invited them to come back for 2013.

The Pathfinders opened with a song called "Harmony" to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the International Barbershop Harmony Society...then brought back a tune they did in 2012, the 1967 hit "Lazy Day." ("Lazy Day" was how Spanky and Our Gang followed up their debut hit, "Sunday Will Never Be the Same.")

Fremont's Number One plus factor (well, I like to think so!) does the old, old ones, "The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi."

One of the Pathfinders used to run RCTOS. His name is Greg Johnson, and he's no slouch as an organist, either.

Greg's successor as the club's president is no slouch, either. His name is Bob Markworth...who'd just been named ATOS Member of the Year for 2013. (Bob and his wife Joyce own a 1927 Kimball 3-manual, 24-rank theater pipe organ, the instrument locally known as "The Beast in the Basement.")  

Because of Greg, Bob, Joyce, and Jerry Pawlak (he's the club's secretary-treasurer), RCTOS membership grew exponentially throughout this early going of this 21st Century. 

The club now has 162 members. And you can't beat that with a stick!

Well, after the barbershoppers showed how "The Joint Is Jumpin'," Walt came back out to join them.

After Walt got the show (this year's show was titled "Let's Take a Musical Stroll") going, he talked about how some people ask him to play rock songs during his theater-organ concerts. 

Walt's answer is: "Forget it. You need a melody."

Guess what Walt Strony and the Pathfinders teamed up to do?

They  worked out "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da."

By the Beatles.  

Oh, by the way...the 'Finders (formed in 1972, the year before Donna started playing at Dodger Stadium and two years prior to Walt's first theater-organ concert) recently did their thing at the IBHS competition in Toronto, ON, Canada...and ended up winning tenth place.

That's right: The Pathfinder Chorus is one of the WORLD'S ten best barbershop choruses.

No slouches are they.

Then Walt ran the concert's anchor leg by himself, closing it all out with a patriotic medley that featured the theme song from each of America's five military branches. (He invited veterans to stand up; veterans from four of the nation's five branches did just that...with only the Coast Guard lacking representation at yesterday's show.)

The medley continued with "The Stars and Stripes Forever" and closed out (the concert did, too) with what some people feel should replace "The Star-Spangled Banner" as our national anthem: "God Bless America."  

Can't wait 'til next see who's going to make the joint (ahem, the Rose Theater) jump. 

How about you?  

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