Tracker Pixel for Entry

Noon organ concerts are key this holiday season

by HPR Contributor | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Music | November 14th, 2018

photograph provided by Red River Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society

by Gabrielle Hersch 

With the kickoff of the holiday season (and the weather!) underway, it’s almost time for the annual holiday organ concerts at the Fargo Theatre. The concerts, put on as a partnership between the Red River chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society (ATOS) and the Fargo Theatre, are a local holiday tradition spanning several decades.

The concerts are held at noon — just right for anyone on their lunch break in need of a holiday serenade this December. Better yet, they’re free to attend! Just bring a non-perishable food item that will go to the emergency food pantry.

“We ask people to bring a non-perishable food donation,” Emily Beck, Fargo Theatre’s executive director said. “This is one way we try to give back.” 

“It’s a way for people to get out of the office and come and have a little Christmas cheer,” Beck stated.

Whether you bring family, coworkers, or just yourself, you can spread Christmas cheer by listening to talented local organists play holiday tunes, donating food to those in need, and partaking in a local holiday tradition.

“We definitely talk to a lot of people every year that say this is a family tradition for them, or just a tradition for their office. It’s really nice to be a part of people’s tradition,” Beck said.

This year, the holiday organ concert dates are: December 10th-13th, 17th, 19th, 20th, and 21st. 

All of the shows start at noon and last around 35-45 minutes. For these lunchtime concerts, the Fargo Theatre even allows guests to bring in outside food, so there’s no reason not to spend some December lunches appreciating the sounds of the theatre organ.

Lance Johnson, a member of the Red River chapter of the ATOS, is one of the organists who performs.

Johnson has helped spread Christmas spirit to the local community through these concerts for many years. In a way, Christmas is what brought the organ to him. 

After encountering his first theatre organ recording by accident while visiting a record shop as a teenager, Johnson was hooked. “I asked the lady if I could listen to it a little bit — the vinyl. She played a little bit of it and I thought, Ah, I gotta have that! But I couldn’t afford it, because I was still in high school. I asked my parents to give it to me for a Christmas present. So, Christmas 1955, I got my first theatre organ album. That’s what started everything, and it just ballooned out from there.” 

Another long-standing organ-based event at the theatre is Silent Movie Night, which began in 1974, where organists provide the movie score to classic silent films. They play different sound effects and music on the Wurlitzer organ, which creates many sounds with its extensive range of instruments and percussion.

While there are many events held by the Fargo Theatre, some of the most popular being live shows and movie showings, the organ-based events hold a special place in the theatre’s history. Johnson, the house organist of the theatre since 1973, walked me through the mysteries of the theatre organ and the Fargo Theatre’s past. 

“The theatre was supposed to be torn down in 1983. They were going to make a parking lot of it,” Johnson said. “When we heard that, the ATOS got involved and asked if we could rent it. So, the guy who wanted to buy it for a parking lot was out of luck.”

That’s right. Without the involvement of the Red River chapter of the ATOS and local organists like Johnson, the historic, beautifully restored theatre that plays such an important role in the Fargo community might just be… a parking lot. 

The Fargo Theatre has undergone multiple restorations and renovations since it was first constructed in 1926. In 1999, it was restored to its 1936 art deco look. In fact, Johnson said, “the lobby was restored to the original blueprints. Before that, they had torn it all out and just made it plain — no decoration or anything — back in the early ‘50s.” 

Thankfully the theatre, restored to its original glory, seems like it’s here to stay, as does the Wurlitzer organ it houses. In addition to his role as the house organist, Johnson has been in business building pipe organs for 64 years, and helped build the Fargo Theatre’s organ. 

The organ, owned by the ATOS but housed at the theatre, is one of only 48 Wurlitzer organs in the country that still remain in their original location. However, it’s not the first organ to be played at the theatre.

“The original organ in the theatre was very small. It had two keyboards, and seven sets of pipes,” Johnson explained. The organ now in use is four and a half times larger than the original, with four keyboards and 32 sets of pipes.

Theatre organs are a type of pipe organ, and they were originally developed to accompany silent films in the early 20th century. Unique in their sound, capability, and size, theatre organs are like an entire symphony packed into one instrument. Think of an electric keyboard, but acoustic. The theatre organ creates music with large pipes and real instruments, stored in chambers, instead of electronically through speakers.

The Fargo Theatre’s organ has four chambers, which are stacked in the upper portion of the walls on each side of the stage. The chamber shutters can be opened, allowing the music from the organ’s pipes and percussion instruments to sound throughout the theatre. The console, where the organist accesses the keyboards and controls, sits on a platform in front of the stage that can be lowered into the ground, or raised up, depending on the type of event. 

The theatre organ is a fascinating musical instrument that hugely impacted the early film industry. It remains a crucial part of the Fargo Theatre’s history, and events like the holiday organ concerts are a fantastic celebration and reminder of the theatre organ’s importance. 

“We’re proud to continue the tradition and give back in our own little way,” Beck said.

Don’t miss the noon organ concerts at the Fargo this December. Bring your friends, family, or just your lunch, and go listen to talented local organists playing your favorite Christmas carols. Again, admission is free — just be sure to bring a non-perishable food donation for the emergency food pantry.



Tracker Pixel for Entry HarborHealthClinic Tracker Pixel for Entry HPRONLINE

Recently in:

BISMARCK – Two bills are fighting for ethical supremacy in the North Dakota State Legislature. Senate Bill 2148, sponsored by Senator Tim Mathern, a Democrat from Fargo, received a ‘Do Pass’ from Special Ethics Committee on…


​‘Pull-Tab’ machines

by HPR Contributor

By Zach Nerpelzachnerpel@gmail.comThere is nothing more hopeless than a feeling unrequited. The obsession it brings, the doubt it stews, and the madness which erases your sense of self are crippling. You’ll give more than you are…

Thursday, February 21, 5:30-8:30 p.m.650 40th Ave S, West FargoThe area’s premier evening of Yoga, wine, cheese and community. Luna Fargo restaurant owner and wine/cheese expert, Nikki Berglund, will select 3 pairings to follow…

It will be Valentine’s Day by the time this issue hits the stands, but who knows you might even be picking it up after you’ve finished eating the last of the chocolates you bought for yourself for Valentine’s Day.We’re not…


Anti-Life America

by Ed Raymond

All The Evidence Points To An Anti-Life Political PartyAfter observing and experiencing the machinations and voting records of the Republican Party from Nixon to Reagan To Bush To Trump, one can arrive at only one conclusion: It is…

After a day of checking the weather updates and keeping an eye on any closing announcements from this week’s entrants, our judges ordered up a ride share service and headed out to the western side of town for two stops in West…

Over the past few years Luna has become my favorite restaurant in the FM area. The thoughtfulness of Ryan’s creations and the neighborhood environment of the locale as a whole creates a beautiful experience that can’t be found…


​Ready or Knot

by HPR Contributor

By Gary Usseryusseryg@gmail.comWhen Sabrina gets a hold of you and asks you to interview a band as unique as Fargo locals The Knotties you just yell “yes!” Only a few days later I was meeting with Channing Minnema (lead vocals,…

Documentarian Penny Lane adds another entertaining movie to her filmography with an inside look at the recent rise of the Satanic Temple. As a movie experience, “Hail Satan?” often lives deliciously. The film might even turn…

By Jacinta Zensjacinta.zens@gmail.comThe Department of Visual Arts at Minnesota State Community and Technical College Fergus Falls and the Kaddatz Galleries are excited to announce the First Annual Visiting Artists Workshop series.…

To many people unfamiliar with the wide range of the musical genre, the word ‘opera’ conjures up stereotypical images of people in period costumes and large women in Viking garb singing in foreign languages. The truth, however,…

Those who have been reading my articles for a while may remember when I interviewed Zachary Tooker about the Level Two Comedy Club at the Radisson in Fargo. While the club may have unfortunately closed, Tooker has not ceased…

The 1,290 square-foot garage that was once Main Avenue Auto has generated a lot of buzz for good reason. Harold’s on Main is Moorhead’s newest watering hole and the attention is all in the details. With its dark wood paneling,…

I’m a big man, I’m tall and powerful, but this also causes some issues in the body department. I suffer from acute scoliosis in my lower back, and pain radiates from this area on a daily basis. I have only ever had one massage…

by Devin Joubertdevinlillianjoubert@gmail.comIt’s that beautiful time of the year that’s filled with seasonal decorations, sparkly lights, warm family gatherings, and delicious feasts. I love everything about this time of the…

By Cara Cody-Brauncara.braun@wyndmereschools.orgI am not much of a science fiction fan, but I’m a sucker for a story with a portal. Who hasn’t dreamed of entering a different world? Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole in…