On June 25, 2021, RiverCenter became the new home of an Allen GW IV digital theatre organ, a gift from Dr. Marie Jureit-Beamish through the Atlanta Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society (ACATOS).
The history of theatre organs can be traced to entertainment venues in the mid-teens through the late 1920s, when entertainment across the country centered around silent movies and Vaudeville. During their heyday, thousands of movie houses depended on live musical accompaniment, providing the primary usage of the original theatre organs until the “talkies”—movies with sound—became mainstream in the early 1930s.
In the decades to follow, some organs were destroyed when their theatres were torn down, but some found their way into churches or private home installations. The American Theatre Organ Society was founded in 1955 to save as many of these instruments as possible. While there were originally several thousand theatre organs, today only a few hundred remain.
The Allen Organ Company of Macungie, PA is a world leader in the creation and manufacture of digital organs for churches, concert halls, theatres and private homes. In 1997, the company’s “Renaissance” technology changed the organ world, using digital technology to imitate pipe organ sound. In the distinctive world of the theatre organ, the model GW IV made history.
“GW” stands for George Wright, the legendary organist who consulted with Allen technicians to create the instrument. RiverCenter’s GW IV has four keyboards with the equivalent voices of 33 ranks of pipes. The GW IV also features percussion (glockenspiel, xylophone, chimes, etc.) and “traps” (cymbals, snare drums, tambourines and castanets) making the GW IV the full equivalent of a large theatre pipe organ. The sound is amazing.
The History of RiverCenter’s Allen GW IV Organ
RiverCenter’s Allen GW IV was originally owned by South Florida pipe organ enthusiast Cal Jureit. Jureit purchased the Allen digital organ when a move to a new home could not accommodate the space required for his large Wurlitzer pipe organ that was installed in the upper floor of his previous home. Following her husband’s passing, Jureit’s wife, Dr. Marie Jureit-Beamish, decided to carry on Cal’s legacy and love of the theatre organ and began hosting a series of concerts in her home. As the former Director of Music at Principia College in Alton, IL, Dr. Juriet shared her passion for music through these “Jureit Musicale” concerts presenting some of the finest theatre organists in the world, both in concert and in silent film presentations with theatre organ accompaniment (what the original theatre organs of the 1920s were intended to do).
Recently, Dr. Jureit-Beamish and her current husband have done some downsizing of their home as well, and she began looking for a new home for the instrument. She contacted Ken Double, organist for Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, President of ACATOS, and frequent performer at the Jureit Musicales, to see if he could assist her in finding a home for the organ.
As Double tells the story:
“It’s funny how one door closes, and another door opens. One initial potential for the organ was a church south of Atlanta, and it appeared that might be the new home. But a change of heart from church leaders opened another door, and in stepped RiverCenter Executive Director, Norm Easterbrook. Atlanta Chapter member John McCall initially opened the doors at the church, and while disappointed with that change of heart, he was overwhelmed to find out an old friend was interested in the Allen organ.
Mr. Easterbrook and ACATOS have a relationship dating to Norm’s tenure at the Rylander Theatre in Americus, GA, home to a Moller theatre pipe organ. When Norm found out about the Allen organ being available, the phone lines and internet waves started burning immediately!
With three different theatres, and a portable installation that only digital technology can provide, this Allen GW IV has not one, but three new homes in which the patrons of the RiverCenter can enjoy the music of the theatre organ, be it in full “pops concert” mode; silent film accompaniment; or simply making enjoyable pre-show music for attendees to enjoy.
Opportunity, good fortune, and timing. How fortuitous it is that this wonderful donation by Dr. Marie Jureit-Beamish found its way to the ACATOS, which found a highly interested and motivated Executive Director in Norm Easterbrook, to bring this great musical addition to the River Center.”
Easterbrook acknowledges that the Allen GW IV’s digital technology and portable installation made it the perfect instrument for RiverCenter, allowing for use in all three of RiverCenter’s concert halls. “We are profoundly grateful for the gift of this theatre organ to RiverCenter. Really, it is a gift to the Columbus community and the surrounding region as it will delight audiences in whatever way it is presented here at RiverCenter. You can’t help but smile and feel good when you hear a theatre organ because they are just pure fun.”
A debut concert with Ken Double is planned for early October, and additional events will be announced soon.