As fans line up for a new action flick at SLC’s Century 16, they’re missing out on something special they could find just across the street, something Blaine Gale bring to films: old-school style.
Gale accompanies and complements turn-of-the-century silent films on Edison Street's (The Organ Loft) five-keyboard, 36-rank Mighty Wurlitzer organ in a small building just south of the neighboring 16-screen theater on State Street.
“Silent films came from what we call the ‘kinder, gentler era,’ and as a result, there’s not nearly the amount of mayhem we see today,” Gale says. “I mean, we could forgive the Phantom [of the Opera].” He shakes his head thinking of the brutality in films like this year’s summer Batman blockbuster, The Dark Knight Rises.
But films like the original Phantom of the Opera and the accompanying organ music are far from dead.
During the theater’s silent film series, regulars fill up the reception hall, a former 1940s chicken coop, as Gale puts on his bow tie, cummerbund and pointed-toe shoes to hit the pedals. Aside from his digital watch and modern glasses, the nearly 80-year-old man looks like he could be in one of the films.
“He’s the best,” says Larry Bray, who inherited Edison Street from his uncle Lawrence Bray in 1982. “When it comes to silent films, it really takes an artist to be able to do this.”
It’s no wonder. Music has been Gale’s passion for more than seven decades.
“I took piano lessons for five years, starting at the age of seven,” says Gale, who was raised in Payson. “A lady in our neighborhood had a Hammond organ and asked me to come give it a try.” He pressed a key and noticed it kept humming, unlike a piano. “It was like a revelation to me.”
When an audience reacts to his music accompanying Clara Bow, Buster Keaton or Lon Cheney on the screen, he says it feels like he’s speaking to a best friend. “Organs let me be the orchestra, conductor of the orchestra and composer all at the same time,” he says. “Other instruments have to be part of a group to make the orchestral sound this emulates.”
Blaine Gale's love of organs has only grown since he started, and he is now striving to save the Capitol Theatre's Mighty Wurlitzer organ, one of only four in the state and in need of refurbishing at a price tag of $175,000. “It isn’t on the county budget and hasn’t been considered a prime component of the theater, like lights, speakers and curtains,” Gale says. Last March he met with government officials to stress its importance, and he’s helping to organize concerts with the Great Salt Lake Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society to raise funds. For more information, visit atos.org.