The Kingston Korean Church
Kingston Korean Church

The Kingston Korean Church and The Kingston Theatre Organ Society

Theatre organs were developed in the early twentieth century to provide music and sound effects to accompany the silent films of that era. By 1933 there were over 7,000 such instruments installed in theatres across America (Wikipedia). It was a glorious new era of entertainment, as organists performing on consoles decorated in gaudy colours with built-in console lighting would delight audiences with popular tunes of the day before settling down to accompany the feature film presentation. But with the development of sound film technology in the late 1920s, the silent film era came to an end and most of the theatre organs fell silent.

In the late 1970s, a group of theatre organ enthusiasts, who formed the Kingston Theatre Organ Society, got together to bring a modest-sized 1928 Kimball organ to Kingston from the soon-to-be-demolished State Theater in Youngstown, Ohio. When no suitable theatrical venue could be found, the organ was professionally installed, with much volunteer help, in Kingston’s Anglican Church of the Redeemer. It was expanded from twelve to twenty-eight ranks of pipes and a modern electronic control system was added. The organ ably accompanied the services of the Church of the Redeemer for several decades, until the Anglican church closed its doors and sold the building to the congregation of the Kingston Korean Church in 2011.

Since 1981 people continue to come from far and wide to see and hear concerts played on Canada’s largest Theatre Pipe Organ, and the three-manual Kimball organ has become the proud showpiece of the Kingston Theatre Organ Society. The KTOS is a member of the Kingston Arts Council, and also is the only Canadian Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society.

Veteran theatre organist Dave Wickerham, who has performed many recitals on the Kingston organ in the past, will again play it in recital for our Festival at 2:30 p.m. on Monday, July 11, 2016.

The Kingston Kimball Theatre Organ Console

What is a Theatre Organ anyway?

It’s the glamorous showbiz cousin of the traditional church pipe organ; a showy survivor of the golden age of the big city movie palace — an age when the Paramounts and Capitols pulled in moviegoers in droves. Like a conductor, the theatre organist can mix and match a feast of delicious tone colours, percussions and all, in a thousand ways.

With the stage curtains closed after the newsreel, rich wall-to-wall music would pour out from high above the box seats as down below a spotlight picked out an organist at a spectacular console slowly rising from the orchestra pit. Every spine would tingle through ten minutes of lively Broadway hits or Strauss waltzes, capturing the attention of the full house and building anticipation for the coming feature film.

Impractical in today’s multiplex boxes, only a few of the hundreds of theatre organs that once pulled in the crowds survive in their original venues. The organs remaining in New York City’s Radio Music Hall, the giant Fox theatres in Detroit, Atlanta and St. Louis and the famed Chicago Theater still thrill audiences. Canada never had many theatre organs, and only Vancouver’s Orpheum still has its original instrument. Our most famous instrument was Shea’s “Mighty Wurlitzer” in downtown Toronto — powerful enough to once fill Maple Leaf Gardens, and now entertaining in Casa Loma.

The Kingston Kimball Theatre Organ

Pipe Organs are measured in size by the number of ranks of pipes, a rank ranging from 61 to 97 pipes. Some ranks are doubled or tripled by adding slightly detuned celeste ranks which add a shimmer to the sound. At 28 ranks, the Kingston Kimball is the largest of this kind of organ in the country. The console can be rolled out to centre stage for concerts, where it rises on a lift for better viewing.

Rather than assigning ranks of pipes to separate manual or pedal divisions, in a theatre organ ranks are divided between “chambers” (for expression purposes), and are accessible to all manuals at various pitches. The Kingston instrument has two chambers, Main and Solo, where the pipework and percussions are mounted on three levels, behind four sets of shutters. Expansion over the years followed the detailed plans of the renowned U. S. experts Allen Miller and Clark Wilson.

The Korean Church, Kingston, Ontario

W.W. Kimball and Company (1928)

The pipe ranks of the Kingston Kimball Organ, divided between two adjacent chambers, are:

  • Silver trumpet
  • Tuba
  • String Diapason II
  • Solo Tibia
  • Main Tibia
  • Clarinet
  • Oboe Horn
  • Krumet
  • Orchestral Oboe
  • Kinura
  • Cor Anglais
  • Saxophone
  • Violins (3 ranks)
  • Cellos (2 ranks)
  • (Gamba/Solo String)
  • Muted Violins (2 ranks)
  • Quintadena
  • Flute (2 ranks)
  • Solo Vox Humana
  • Main Vox Humana
  • French Horn

The following are obtained acoustically/electronically:

  • Tibia Resultant 32’
  • Diaphone Resultant 32’
  • Grand Harmonics VII 32’

Tuned Percussions:

  • Piano
  • Cathedral Chimes
  • Glockenspiel
  • Celesta
  • Xylophone
  • Wooden Bar Harp
  • Chrysoglott

Plus a vast array of drums, cymbals, bells and whistles.

S5 Box