Music series

The Colorado Springs founder of a long-running music series can’t stay away from his Wurlitzer organ | Culture & Leisure

You can hear the lush music of the Wurlitzer Theater pipe organ before you even set eyes on it.

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

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

He delves into one of his favorite musical genres: the 60s. As he hits the keys with delight, the 2,400 pipes, hidden in the pipe chambers hidden behind a wall on stage, produce energetic interpretations of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” and “The Entertainer.” Its organ has 35 ranks, 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 are even a percussion chamber in an attic above the stage that houses a xylophone, chimes, sleigh bells (for those Christmas performances) and a light harp known as a chrysoglott.

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

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

“Theatre 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’s nothing you can’t play on a theater organ, even the classic pieces that Bach, Handel and Beethoven wrote.

The series is solely based on donations, which are used to maintain Weesner’s nearly 100-year-old organ.

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

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Two events in the first decade of his life conspired to make Weesner the man he is today – a man who can lose himself in organ music. He stops by the gym about three times a week to play for hours on end, and sometimes all day on Saturdays. When the pandemic started, the gym emptied out 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 bit tempting and distracting,” Weesner said.

The 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 small place in New York.

“My mom made the mistake when I was 10 of taking me to Radio City Music Hall where they have the biggest Wurlitzer pipe organ ever built,” he said. “When that console slid off the wall and the music filled the auditorium, I was in heaven. I’ve never been the same.

After Weesner’s family moved to Colorado Springs in 1965, the 15-year-old began frequenting the old Chief Theater downtown. 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. He couldn’t do much but stare at it as a teenager, but just before he got an architecture degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, his mom sent him an article about some guys who had obtained permission to obtain the chief’s organ. operational. He fled home in a fever to help.

That was in 1972. In 1973, they learned that the bank that owned the chief intended to tear it down. 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 very good deal, he said. Ten years ago, it took five friends 11 months to move the organ into the gymnasium and install it.

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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 quiet, entertainment organs were relieved of their duties and sent to churches, civic auditoriums, restaurants and private parties.

“People ask me the definition of a theater organ,” Weesner said.

“It’s everything 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 that music or not. It’s a shame they had a short career.

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

“New pipe organs only go to wealthy churches, for the most part,” Weesner said. “Unfortunately, there are almost no more organs installed in auditoriums or municipal theatres. The pipe organ market may last for another generation.

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