Colorado Springs, Founder of Long-Time Music Series, Can’t Stay Away From Its Wurlitzer Organ | Culture & Leisure


You can hear the lush music of the pipe organ in the Wurlitzer Theater before you even see it.

Once you encounter the magnificent console hidden inside the Immanuel Organ Gym at Pikes Peak Avenue, you can see why Dave Weesner is addicted.

The tall, lanky architect sits behind the pristine 350-pound organ, which sits on a 200-pound platform on casters so it can be rolled into the kitchen when basketball games take over the gym.

He dives into one of his favorite musical genres: the 60s. As he presses the keys with relish, the 2,400 pipes, hidden in the pipe chambers hidden behind a wall on stage, produce rapid interpretations of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” and “The Entertainer.” His organ has 35 rows, which is a set of pipes. Each of these ranks produces the sound of musical instruments – saxophone, trumpet, flute, vox humana (Latin for human voice) and many others. And there’s even a percussion chamber in an attic above the stage that houses a xylophone, chimes, sleigh bells (for those Christmas shows), and a light harp known as a chrysoglott.

“My wife calls the organ the other woman in my life,” said Weesner, 71.

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Weesner is a member of the Pikes Peak Area Theater Organ Society, which founded the long-running Sack Lunch Serenade Shows at the City Auditorium in 1995. The Thursday lunchtime series, which has since moved to the gym at 828 E .Pikes Peak Ave., Features Weesner and other local, regional and national organists accompanying silent short films and playing many musical genres. This summer, the series will hit its 500th Sack Lunch Serenade, which Weesner is quite happy about. The series will run until September 2.

“Theater organs play four types of music: marches, ragtime, Christmas music and everything in between,” Weesner said.

“They also do well on softer ballads and soft, mellow music. There is nothing you cannot play on a theater organ, even the classical pieces that Bach, Handel and Beethoven wrote.

The series is made entirely through donations, which are used to maintain Weesner’s almost 100-year-old organ.

“It’s in near perfect condition,” said the proud organ daddy. “He is known across the country as playable and reliable.”

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Two events in the first decade of his life combined to make Weesner the man he is today – a man who can get lost in organ music. He stops by the gym about three times a week to play for hours at a time, and sometimes all day on Saturdays. When the pandemic started, the gym emptied and he was able to maintain a 66-day streak, playing at least two hours a day.

“My office is a mile from the gym, so it’s a little tempting and entertaining,” Weesner said.

First event: the piano lessons that his mother imposed on him and his brother when he was 7 years old. He didn’t want them or ask for them, but he dutifully sat at Miss Flannery’s keyboard every Wednesday after school for half an hour.

The second: a visit to a little corner of New York.

“My mom made the mistake when I was 10 to take me to Radio City Music Hall where they have the largest Wurlitzer pipe organ ever built,” he said. “When that console came out of the wall and music filled the auditorium, I was in seventh heaven. I have never been the same.

After Weesner’s family moved to Colorado Springs in 1965, the 15-year-old began attending the old downtown Chief Theater. He couldn’t help but notice the original 1927 Wurlitzer organ in the pit, a remnant of the building’s original incarnation as the Burns Opera House. There wasn’t much else he could do as a teenager, but just before he graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with an architecture degree, his mother sent him an article about a few guys who had gotten permission to get the conductor’s organ. operational. He ran away from home with a fever to help.

That was in 1972. In 1973, they learned that the bank which belonged to the chief intended to demolish it. Before destroying the building, Weesner and others asked the bank to donate the organ to the city. The Organ Society rebuilt it and installed it inside the City Auditorium in 1978, where it still stands today.

Weesner acquired his Wurlitzer organ after the death of its Denver owner, who was a longtime friend. He paid $ 43,000 for it, a pretty good deal, he said. Ten years ago, it took five friends 11 months to move the organ around the gymnasium and set it up.

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Wurlitzer began building theater organs around 1911, specifically to accompany silent films and to entertain theater patrons before and after films and during intermissions. In 1931, when silent films were no longer so silent, the entertainment organs were relieved of their functions and sent to churches, civic auditoriums, restaurants and private parties.

“People ask me what the definition of a theatrical organ is,” Weesner said.

“That’s all a church organ wants to be on a Saturday night. There’s no genre of music that a theater organ can’t play, except maybe rap, which I don’t know if you call it music or not. It’s a shame they had such a short career.

Nowadays, the high cost of purchasing the instrument, in addition to the expense and the difficult move, has put a huge drag on the organ market. Only a few hundred theatrical pipe organs still exist in the country.

“New pipe organs only go to wealthy churches, most of the time,” Weesner said. “Unfortunately, there are hardly any organs installed in auditoriums or civic theaters. Perhaps the pipe organ market will last another generation.

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