THE STORY BEHIND THE 1922
ROBERT-MORTON IV/24 THEATER PIPE ORGAN
The Robert Morton organ was originally built for, and installed in, the American Theater in Denver, Colorado in 1922, where it was used to provide music for scene interpretations for silent movies. With the advent of "talkies" in 1927 the organ was replaced by a theater sound system.
In the early days of motion pictures all movies, usually of 5 to 8 minutes in length, were of people or animals in motion and were shown in what were called "Nickelodeons" with an admission of $5.00, and were filmed in New York City, Long Island, NY and New Jersey.
As the industry grew large theater "palaces" were built. Insofar as movies had no sound, full orchestras were hired to provide background and interpret the scenes in the films as they were screened. However, since most theaters could not afford the cost of hiring a full-time orchestra, the theater organ, capable of replicating every instrument -strings, ...woodwinds, brass, and percussion as well as sound effects such as bells, steam whistles, foghorns, fire trucks, etc., was developed. Smaller theater owners could now save a lot of money by hiring one organ player instead of a full orchestra.
This unique capability is what differentiates a church organ from a theater organ.
The first motion picture with a story, accompanied by a theater organ, was "The Great Train Robbery", released in 1913. The movie contained 13 separate scenes and ran for a full 12-minutes.
In 1927 "The Jazz Singer", starring Al Jolsen" was released, the first film incorporating sound in the form of speech, music and singing. Shortly thereafter other "talkies", as they were known, were filmed and the theater organ was subsequently replaced by sound systems.
Scroll down for the story of how this very rare, historic instrument came to Binghamton as one of only about 300 such instruments still being played in the world today!
After the sound system was installed at the American Theater, the organ was donated or sold to a Denver church which used it until it was replaced by a newer traditional churge organ.
The organ was subsequently sold and went into storage in, of all places, a chicken coop in Michigan.
In 1972 Robert Nash, then President of the former Binghamton Savings Bank, learned of the organ's existence, and arranged to purchase it for the Tri-Cities Opera.
The organ arrived in Binghamton shortly thereafter...
...literally thousands of pieces!
Local IBM engineer George Melnyk, who had never worked on an organ before, assembled a group of friends, colleagues, family and organ builder Albert Emola and embarked on a 5-year project to restore the organ to it's 1922 grandeur.
Once installed in the Forum Theater, the organ made it's debut in 1976 with Dennis James at the console.
To restore the organ today would cost an estimated $750,000.00.
The Robert Morton IV/24 Theater Organ is one of only about 300 theater organs in operation in the world.
The organ is now used by the Binghamton Theater Organ Society for the screening of silent films, with organ accompaniment by our Resident Master Theater Organist Jim Ford, and for musical presentations by our Resident Theater Organist, Nancy Wildoner.
The Binghamton Theater Organ Society schedules a mixture of 5 or 6 silent movie and musical presentations each season.