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Giving amateurs a chance

Ron Reseigh (who is not an amateur) at the Berkeley Wurlitzer

I’ve been thinking all day about amateur musicians and things people (and communities) can do to encourage amateur musicianship.

When I was in San Francisco, for a while I was member of the Northern California Theater Organ Society, which owns and maintains the large Wurlitzer organ at the Berkeley Community Theater. Once a month, on a Sunday, the society has an “open console” during the afternoon, and anyone who would like to play the organ can play it. Here’s a Youtube link of Ron Reseigh playing “Alone Again (Naturally)” on the Berkeley Wurlitzer.

I have played this organ. It’s quite an instrument, and not surprisingly it’s the biggest organ I’ve ever played. Most communities are notorious for being stingy with organs. Even though an entire church bought and maintains an organ, the organist usually keeps the key and won’t let anyone touch it. I even remember a newspaper story from the 1970s about a “phantom organist” who would break into churches at night to play the organ. The Mighty Wurlitzer is no snob. It will respond equally and faithfully to whoever touches the keys.

I totally understand the phantom organist. And I also want to chide those who sometimes refer mockingly to “the People’s Republic of Berkeley.” Where else do the common people — amateurs — get to touch the King of Instruments?


And since I’m sitting here in the woods missing the Berkeley Wurlitzer, here’s Mark Herman (also not an amateur) playing it.

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