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What is a theatre organ?

Depending upon your age and family experiences as a young person, a theatre organ may be something you have never experienced. Many have experienced an organ as the musical source during worship services. However those instruments are not configured to perform popular music.

Theatre organs are a unique musical instrument in that they were originally created to imitate a band or orchestra that was being used in the early era of silent films to provide music, replacing the piano when the presentation was “upgraded” for larger audiences or in a more prestigious venues, allowing musical accompaniment at lower cost. The instruments were based upon the concept of sound of the orchestra and included devices that provided rhythmic sounds including drums, cymbals and other percussive devices. Included were devices such as tuned bells and xylophones. Their tonal range includes low frequencies which imitate the string-base and lower frequencies of other string instruments.

Below are four short samples of the RTOS Wurlitzer that illustrate the range of sounds which a theatre organ can produce.

Listen to a jazz orchestra sample.

Listen to a marching band sample.

Listen to a string orchestra sample.

Listen to a symphonic orchestra sample.