A Rare and Unique Experience in Phoenixville’s Downtown: Silent Films with Live Theatre Organ

Console of the Colonial Wurlitzer Opus Theatre Organ.
Image via Michal Kortsarts, the Colonial Theatre.
Console of the Colonial Wurlitzer Opus Theatre Organ.

There aren’t many communities with operational, century old movie theaters. Rarer still are those survivors that possess markers of their age such as analog projection systems and theater pipe organs. Yet, the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville checks all the boxes.

It will celebrate its theatre pipe organ on Saturday, Sept. 18 at 2 PM at a special ‘Wurlitzer 100’ Birthday Party hosted by the Theatre Organ Society of the Delaware Valley, which owns, operates, and lovingly maintains the instrument and its hundreds of pipes. The Wurlitzer Opus resides beneath the floorboards of the Colonial Theatre’s main stage in its 122-year old auditorium, which is featured in the movie, The Blob. It also happens to be the oldest working theatre organ in Chester County. 

Organist Mark Herman will highlight the Roaring ‘20s in this special concert, with a complimentary wine and cheese reception to follow in the theater’s Garden Suite and Rooftop deck. Herman holds the distinction of being the youngest person ever to receive the ‘Organist of the Year’ award from the American Theatre Organ Society. He has toured internationally in Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, and United Kingdom, and his arrangements and performances have been heard on television and in motion pictures.

In 2019, he was honored to be featured alongside the Los Angeles Philharmonic for a rare organ solo cameo. Herman resides in Los Angeles, where he is President of Mark Herman Music LLC, a provider of organ consulting and project management. He is also a voicing specialist and tonal consultant for Allen Organs and proud Allen Artist, showcasing new Allen Organs in the US and beyond. Allen Organs is headquartered in Macungie, Pa.

Theatre organs are a specific type of pipe organ developed to provide musical accompaniment and sound effects to accompany silent films in the first 3 decades of the 20th century. Some sources estimate that of the thousands of organs installed in America and elsewhere, fewer than 100 remain in their original venues. The Colonial Theatre’s Wurlitzer Opus pipe organ is not original to the venue: it was installed in 2000 to enhance the quality and diversity of programs. Originally, the Opus was built and installed in Shea’s Hippodrome Theatre in Buffalo, New York, then purchased by a private owner in Ontario, and sold to a Pizza & Pipes restaurant in Fresno, California.

​The organ will also provide accompaniment at an Oct. 30 screening of the 1922 silent film, Nosferatu. The German expressionist vampire film is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and organist Brett Miller will perform music from Hans Erdmann’s original score. After the show, Miller will stay for a discussion with the audience. 

For tickets to the “Wurlitzer 100” concert and reception and Nosferatu, visit thecolonialtheatre.com or call (610) 917-1228.

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