Posts Tagged ‘Organ’

As a holiday treat to my mother, sisters and the Retro Roadkids, I ventured to Massachusetts a couple of weeks ago to bring them to a holiday recital on the Great Boston Music Hall Organ, at the Methuen Memorial Music Hall in Methuen, MA. Listening to classic Christmas tunes played on this grand pipe organ, a splendid time was had by all!

The Retro Roadkids

Even Bach got into the holiday spirit!

Bach Goes Christmas

Originally built for the Boston Music Hall which opened in 1852 (now known clunkily as the “Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre”) the organ was inagurated into that space 11 years later, to great public acclaim.

However, much like we see today, times and tastes changed. In 1881 the Boston Symphony Orchestra was founded and drew the audience away from the great organ. With the orchestra’s popularity also came need for additional stage space, and it was deemed that this outmoded relic was too big for the hall’s current needs.

Despite vigorous protests the organ was sold and removed from the hall. Eventually the organ – which had cost over $60,000 to build, was resold for $1500 to Edward Francis Searles of Methuen.

Boston Music Hall Organ Christmas ConcertFinished in 1909, the Serlo Organ Hall in Methuen, MA where the organ now resides was built specifically for this great organ and is known for its wonderful acoustics and italianate decor. It is interesting to note that the organ was used only for the private entertainment of Mr. Searles, and the public was not admitted to the hall during his lifetime (he died in 1920).

Now on the register of historic places, you’d never know what a fabulous treat awaits you behind it’s classic brick facade. I would not have known about it myself except that I had attended a wedding there years ago. It’s a beautiful space for a wedding for sure.

Boston Music Hall Organ Pipes

I knew this was a place that my mother would enjoy, and the RetroRoadkids were amazed with the organ as well. I’m hoping the memories of seeing it and hearing it will last them a lifetime (an auntie can dream!)

RetroRoadboy is AmazedThe sound was just lovely, and while I did take some video of it, you end up hearing more of the woman behind me singing along to the carols than I would prefer. Here’s a video from YouTube that gives you an idea of the grandeur and sound of this great pipe organ:

We were lucky enough to attend this concert before they closed up for the winter (can you imagine how expensive it would be to heat such a place?!) but please keep this fantastic destination in mind and check out their website to learn when they re-open in the spring. It’s truly a hidden gem!

Methuen Memorial Music Hall
92 Broadway
Methuen, MA 01844
(978) 685-0693

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I think I’m still a little sad about yesterday’s post regarding old theatres that don’t make it, so here’s some holiday cheer coming from my local historic movie theater The Colonial Theatre in downtown Phoenixville, PA. Christmas movies and holiday music – live and on the big screen!

The Colonial Christmas

Here are some of the holiday films and events coming up at The Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA  this December!

City Rhythm Orchestra Holiday Style –  Sun Dec 5th 7:30pm

The 15-piece City Rhythm Orchestra presents Holiday Style, a big band concert that’s a perfect way to start the yuletide season!

City Rhythm Orchestra

A Christmas Story – Sat, Dec 11, 2:00 pm
A Christmas Story grasps the full scope of childhood injustice and obsession. A BB Gun! A Leg Lamp! You name it, they want it!

A Christmas Story Colonial Theatre Phoenixville PA

The Theatre Organ Society of the Delaware Valley Holiday Musical Extravaganza -Sun, Dec 12, 2:00 pmJoin TOSDV on the second of four shakedown cruises of the Colonial’s Wurlitzer 3/24 Opus 585. The concert will feature members of the TOSDV family performing holiday and seasonal favorites, along with a special holiday silent movie.

TOSDV Organ Concert Colonial Theatre Phoenixville PA

It’s a Wonderful Life Sun, Dec 19, 2:00 pm
Not a big success at the time of its release, it’s gone on to become one of the most popular movies ever made. One of Mod Betty’s favorite Phoenixville holiday traditions is seeing this on the big screen!

White Christmas Sun, Dec 26, 2:00 pm
“White Christmas” is a cracking musical….warm, sweet, and perfect for wasting a winter afternoon.”

Now that’s better! Fun stuff to look forward to!

The Colonial Theatre
227 Bridge St
Phoenixville, PA 19460

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It’s getting to be that time of year again when folks are looking for holiday cheer, and what could be more cheery than a bunch of people bursting into song at the Macy’s  store in Philadelphia, singing along to Hallelujah played on that fabulous Wanamaker Organ?

Click here to read my post from our visit to hear the Wanamaker Organ play Christmas tunes last year.

Here’s the Random Act of Culture, where th Opera Company of Philadelphia’s performance of Hallelujah.

Wanamaker Grand Organ Christmas Light Spectacular
1300 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 241-9000

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Even though the Wanamaker’s Department Store building in downtown Philadelphia PA has been taken over by Macy’s, if you look closely you can still see signs that this place used to be the grande dame of department stores in her day. Here are a few snapshots of some of the retail archeological finds I saw on our quick trip into Center City before Christmas.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/94/The_Grand_Court.jpg/397px-The_Grand_Court.jpg(I’ve actually never seen the organ without it being obscured by the giant Christmas Tree, but here’s a shot to show you how cool and old fashioned it is (thanks to Wikipedia for the use of this image))

As a quick refresher, Wanamaker’s was the first department store in Philadelphia and one of the first department stores in the country. The current building harkens from 1910 and originally had 9 of its 12 floors designated for retail. Now only a handful of them are shopping destinations, but the building still houses the fabulous Wanamaker Organ, which gives a hint to the fabulosity that the store once had.

When you’re walking in through some of the vestibules off of the street you can still see the intricate mosaic work and the stylized JW signature emblazoned in the center.

The fluorescent lighting and my photos don’t do them justice, but the colors are just wonderful in a very art nouveau palette.

click here to see more photos!

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Thanks go out to a swell co-worker who reminded me of a wonderful holiday tradition in the Philly area – The Wanamaker Organ and Christmas Light Show in the Wanamaker Department Store ( now Macy’s ) in downtown Philadelphia, PA.

Wanamaker Christmas Tree

The old Wanamaker department store (now Macy’s) in downtown Philadelphia has a very interesting history, including at one point having a in house radio station, kiddie mono-rail and the first department store to be lighted by electricity. My personal fave thing is that that it houses The Wanamaker Grand Court Organ – the largest operational pipe organ in the world!

The organ was built for the 1904 St. Louis Word’s Fair, and now a National Historic Landmark and has been entertaining shoppers for over 100 years. I encourage anyone with even a little bit of curiosity about what once was a magnificent department store to visit the informative website of The Friends of the Wanamaker Organ, who have done a great job of collecting information about the organ and the store itself. Job well done, folks.

Even though department store chain Macy’s now does business in the Wanamaker building they have upheld the Christmas Light Show tradition that was started in 1956. From the day after Thanksgiving until New Years Eve you can walk through the grand hall of the store and not only hear music being played on the organ, but see the giant Christmas tree and 15 minute light show every hour on the hour. ( During the year there are more lengthy organ recitals, don’t miss those either.)

Christmas Tree and Organ Loft

(Apologies for the soft focus photo  above, but my little point-n-shoot camera was overwhelmed by the scale of the grand hall which goes up 9 stories! What I did want to illustrate with this fuzzy photo is the lit up section to the left of the tree, which is where the organist sits. Behind the tree itself is where all of the pipes for the organ are- you can just catch a glimpse of some of them behind the massive 2 story tree.)

Retro Roadhusband and I went to check out the light show last Monday evening. This was a nice time to catch the show rather than in the hustle and bustle of weekend shoppers. While I was bummed out that there is no easy way to see the organist playing close up,  I have to hand it to modern technology for giving us the ability to view the organist as he played some music before the show:

We stood on the 2nd floor to see the show but many folks like to be on the ground floor looking up at the massive display of lights. Kids in fancy dress sprawl on the carpet and gather around the giant Eagle sculpture which, like the organ, also came from the St. Louis World’s Fair.

Waiting at Wanamakers

The Eagle sculpture weighs 2,500 pounds and sits on a granite base – the floor of the Grand Court had to be strengthened with girders to accommodate it!  When brought to Wanamaker’s it became the John Wanamaker chain’s corporate trademark. (I have no idea if it has to do with the local sports team, sorry!)

Wanamaker Eagle

Like trying to take a picture of a sunset, even a moving snapshot of the Light Show doesn’t capture the experience of being there surrounded by it all. Feeling the bass notes rumble through your core, craning your neck to take in the grand and beautiful architecture from the golden era of department stores, you’re becoming a part of its history just by being there.

Even the somewhat hokey light show,aimed more at kids than grown ups, isn’t as tacky when you realize that just down below, sprawled out on the red carpet, holiday memories are being formed in a little kid’s brain, or being relived in the mind of an oldster – hopefully fond memories that last a lifetime.

The Christmas Couple

One thing that I love about the this Philadelphia holiday tradition is its ability for the music  to connect a random group of people into a group of folks sharing the same experience. One minute you’re shopping for gloves and scarves after work, or trying on shoes. Or perhaps you’ve planned all day to come to the city for this annual holiday event. But as soon as that giant organ booms its music out, everyone who hears it is connected, and in that same moment we’re all together on a certain level, whether we fully realize it or not.

Watching At Wanamaker's

For those of you who want to wander down more Philadelphia Department Store Memory Lane, you can  also now see the Dickens Christmas Village from Philadelphia’s Strawbridge & Clothier Department store – within what used to be the Egyptian Hall in Wanamakers.

A Christmas Carol

This is definitely more child oriented than for grown ups, but I hope kids will be charmed by the story and the animated characters, even if they look even more old fashioned now than they were meant to when they were first displayed.

I raced through here with Retro Roadhusband, who shared with me that he had played Fezziwig in the school play. ( Though this Fezziwig looks more like Harry Shearer to me!)

Fezziwig's Party

We had a busy night in the city planned and RRH was relieved when I declined the offer to see Santa at the end of our journey. But if you do happen sit on Santa’s lap, let him know my Christmas wish is that the Wanamaker Organ continues to play and remind us of a bygone era for years and years to come!

Wanamaker Grand Organ Christmas Light Spectacular
1300 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 241-9000

RETRO ROADMAP RECOMMENDATION- If you drive into the city don’t park in the underground parking lot – which used to house a post office, lost and found, shoe repair, and the Dairy restaurant – which can be quite expensive! We found affordable parking in the garage at the corner of Sansom and 12th.

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