The Theatre Organ

Whilst church organs have developed over many centuries, and there remain in the world many examples of fine instruments which are 300 years old or more, the "theatre organ" (itself an organ with pipes, all of which are hidden from view) is a relative newcomer to the organ world, having first appeared in cinemas in the early years of the twentieth century to provide musical accompaniment and sound effects for the silent films of those days. The "unit orchestral" concept and design of the theatre organ, which distinguishes it from its church counterpart, is generally attributed to Cheshire born telephone engineer and organ builder, Robert Hope Jones. Its silent film role was, however, short-lived, as it was not long before talkies arrived, their soundtracks opening up new horizons for cinemagoers.

The opportunity now arose for the cinema organ to become a solo instrument in its own right, as it was now being played to great acclaim during interludes between films. Indeed, many members of the audience were increasingly being drawn to the cinema more by the fascination and appeal of the organ than the film. Right on cue, in an atmosphere of eager expectation, the rich, enchanting tones of the mighty organ swelled mellifluously into the auditorium whilst, emerging into the waiting silver spotlight's beam, there rose majestically, tantalisingly delayed, the gilded console, seated at which the resident organist proceeded to conjure up musical masterpieces as sure to transfix his audience as the finest magician might do. The wonder of the radio broadcast played a vital part in raising not only the profile of the theatre organs but also the celebrity status of the theatre organists who presided over them. Nowhere was this more so than beside the seaside at Blackpool where, for forty years, the combination of the magnificent Tower Ballroom WurliTzer and the mastery of Reginald Dixon (who designed it) became acknowledged the world over as a partnership unrivalled in its popular appeal either before or since.

In Theatre Mode, the Lytham St. Cuthbert's organ is capable of sounds, which are reminiscent of the Blackpool Tower WurliTzer, and this is no coincidence. The specification is the result of a close collaboration between Ernest Hart, Nigel Ogden and Peter Jebson, whose aim was to recreate the distinctive voicings and "twelfth"/"sub-tierce" couplers which give rise to the unique sound of the ballroom organ. Of course, it is impossible to transfer the all important acoustic of the Tower Ballroom to another building but this has been more than compensated for by the fact that, as with the church specification, each rank and individual note has been voiced by Ernest Hart personally to maximise the excellent acoustic of St. Cuthbert's.

Full church and theatre specifications of the Lytham organ can be found by clicking on the appropriate pages on this website, but the ten ranks and tuned percussion are as follows: Tibia Clausa, Diapason, Concert Flute, Viol d'Orchestre, Viol Celeste, Orchestral Oboe, Saxophone, Harmonic Tuba, English Horn, Vox Humana, Piano, Glockenspiel, Chrysoglott, Xylophone and Cathedral Chimes.

We look forward to welcoming to Lytham many visitors from far and wide to enjoy the truly amazing experience of seeing and hearing this unique and exciting new instrument.