A re-dedication ceremony on Saturday will showcase a sound from the Wurlitzer Hope Jones Orchestral Organ that experts say has never been heard before.
Music comes out of the 900-pipe organ as Dave Schroder and John Buzard tinker with instrument. While Buzard has just completed the nearly $150,000 restoration project, Schroeder is living out a childhood dream by playing at the theater.
A music teacher at Bismarck-Henning High School, Schroder calls himself a 'closet theater organ freak.' That's due in part to the late Warren York, who rose from the orchestra pit playing the Wurlitzer for more than 20 years.
"He could sit and play anything," Schroder recalled. "He would play it in G-flat or F-sharp, or whatever has the most black keys. I said, aren't you making that awful difficult on yourself? He said if it was good enough for George Gershwin, it's good enough for me."
York passed away last July, but Schroeder said his friend will be there in spirit for the organ's re-dedication ceremony.
Buzard said by adding two ranks of pipes, the Wurlitzer should produce a sound no one has heard since its installation.
"One of the fellows that has acted on our behalf as a consultant told us, 'This is of course after we'd done all our work.' He said, 'You know John, this organ could have very easily wound up in the dumpster for as much work as was really required to bring this back to life,'" Buzard said. "I certainly appreciated that having gone through the process of restoring it all this last year."
Started in Dec. 2010, the restoration was supposed to have been completed in November, but John-Paul Buzard Pipe Organ Builders undertook what Buzard calls the equivalent of open heart surgery on the Wurlitzer.
Buzard's staff had to take it apart twice before discovering small cracks in the organ's chest, which meant control air escaped into the atmosphere. He said wind generated below the stage wasn't properly making its way through the pipes.
"What volunteers had tried to do in order to make the organ louder - they'd actually damaged the pipes in order to make them speak louder and the problem was is that the organ never got enough wind from the blower," Buzard said. "From 1921, that 90 year old problem had never been troubleshot."
Virginia Theater Director Steven Bentz said the organ's restoration will also make it more appropriate for new kinds of performances:
"It was really to be an organ that would play under silent movies," Bentz said. "That's different from an organ that's put into a space in kind of a concert hall setting. I think what they're doing - and have done - is bringing that along- making the organ much more powerful."
On Saturday night, award-winning organist Chris Gorsuch comes in from the West Coast to see what a refurbished Wurlitzer can do.
Bentz said there is not an exact playlist as of yet for the two-hour concert, but Gorsuch will accompany 'Liberty' - a 1929 silent film starring Laurel and Hardy. The evening also includes a presentation on the organ's restoration, and an exhibit of Virginia artifacts.
Remembrances of Terry Masar are pouring in from around the Champaign-Urbana community, particularly from the music scene.
The Urbana man who operated Nature's Table restaurant died Sunday at the age of 61. Greg Danner says he was friends with Masar at the University of Illinois before he installed the restaurant's first stereo system in the early 80's. He says Nature's Table quickly became an institution for music, particularly jazz.
"I think what Terry was looking for in his group of friends was music students, and of course, a lot of the jazz musicians came from amongst them, and even the faculty," said Danner. "It immediately, like the day it opened, turned into a hangout for the U of I music department."
Danner says many of the performances at the restaurant were of the impromptu variety, and musicians that are still popular in the area today got their start there. U of I violin instructor Dorothy Martirano says she played in a string quartet at Nature's Table. She says Masar made a point of seeing that a lot of people, particularly young people, had a place to perform. She says some of those students went on to become successful in places like Chicago and New York.
And Martirano says Masar's personality kept students coming back to the restaurant.
"Everyone wanted to play at Nature's Table," she said. "So I feel fortunate to have been a part of that. And the other thing about Terry was that he was incredibly generous. If you were in some kind of financial need or any kind of need, he was very generous."
Nature's Table operated in the 1980's and 90's.
Terry Masar was found dead in an Urbana hotel room Sunday night. Authorities are calling it an 'unexpected death'. Autopsy results haven't been released.
Champaign's mayor now has a distinction shared by the late rock and roll singer turned U.S. Congressman Sonny Bono, the President of Haiti, and a leader of the band Midnight Oil.
MTV just came out with this list of the top five musicians with political credentials. At number five is Champaign Mayor Don Gerard, who had a 20-year tenure as a rock and roll artist. He performed with LeRoy Bach, who went on to play with Wilco, Liz Phair, and Iron & Wine.
Gerard was also in the 90's band 'Steve Pride and his Blood Kin' with former Wilco member, the late Jay Bennett. Gerard was also a founding member of the local band 'The Moon Seven Times.'
"At the time, it was a completely different landscape," he said. "I think for the most part we really wanted to make music, put gas in our van, have a couple of beers, meet some girls, and maybe you know, put out a record and sell a thousand copies. Back in the day, it was kind of innocent."
Gerard credits his music career for propelling him into public office.
"Politics is a lot like being in an independent band," he said. "You're trying to do your best. You're trying to put something out there that people are going to like, and you get out and try to promote it and spread the word, and try not to screw up."
You will no doubt be hearing a lot of "The Star Spangled Banner " during Fourth of July parades and ceremonies. For some people, it is the sound track of national loyalty. But one small private college in North Central Indiana is pulling the national anthem from its sporting events. It says the anthem does not fit its religious outlook. As Illinois Public Radio's Michael Puente reports, critics of that decision are calling the college unpatriotic.
Warren York was a plumber by trade, but audiences in Champaign knew him as a self-taught musician. For nearly 20 years, York entertained audiences at the city's Virginia Theater. After restoring the Wurlitzer in the old vaudeville house, he played in between movies at Roger Ebert's annual film festival, and during other events.
In a 2006 interview with WILL, York talked about his efforts to care for the organ.
"In some instances, when you've got a pretty good sized organ, it may take a year or so to rebuild it," York said. "But this one (the Virginia's) we like to keep in their (audiences) ears a little bit."
Longtime Virginia theater manager Leonard Doyle says the man's talents never ceased to amaze him.
"The notes and everything were in his head," Doyle said. "He played with no music, and somebody would ask him to play a piece of some sort, and he knew it. But he was a tremendous organist, and Warren is going to be very much missed in the community."
A series of health problems forced York to quit playing the organ in 2009. He passed away Monday morning at the Illiana Health Care system in Danville. York was 73. Graveside services are Wednesday at 1 p.m. at Clements Cemetery in Urbana.
There's already an effort underway to honor Warren York, benefiting the ongoing restoration of the organ. Donations may be made to the Warren York restoration fund at the Champaign Park District.
For nearly 150 years, a largely black private university in Nashville has prided itself on its liberal arts studies and its music. Vocal ensembles at Fisk University have been there about as long as the campus itself, but as Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert reports for NPR, the songs performed there could have sounded very different if it had not been for the efforts of one of the school's first music directors.
A longtime instructor of a course on The Beatles has greatly boosted his student base... and popularity... via the web. University of Illinois at Springfield Communication and Liberal Studies professor Michael Cheney has taken his love for the Fab Four and condensed it into a series of on-line lectures. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talked with Cheney about his Beatles course, and a podcast that's drawing fans worldwide.
The Art Theatre in Champaign will roll out a new series this month with an emphasis on the performing arts.
The theater is teaming up with the digital film company, Emerging Pictures, to feature operas, ballets, and Shakespearean plays in High Definition and surround sound. The first selection in the series is this weekend's presentation of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, recorded from London's Globe Theatre. Sanford Hess, the operator at the Art Theatre, said he hopes the showings will offer audience members a close representation of what it is like to see a live performance.
"You get close-ups of the performers that you would never get when you're sitting in the theatre," he said. "At the same time you still get that kind of communal experience of watching it with many other people who are also opera lovers or who love to see ballet."
Hess said he plans to invite speakers to give a presentation before each showing to provide some background about the stories and help explain the staging of each production.
"With the Shakespeare (plays), I think it's not so much the story that you need, but sometimes it's fascinating to know the historical context that some of the plays take place in," he explained. "I know Richard III has been staged in sort of World War II time frame. So, they're trying to make a point and have somebody give some context before you start; it's great."
Ticket prices for operas will be set at $20 for adults, and $18 for children, students, and senior citizens. All Shakespearean plays and ballets will be priced at $15 for adults and $13.50 for children, students, and senior citizens. Audience members can get discounted rates by purchasing a three-show package. The 2011 Winter/Spring season starts next month with a free showing of Verdi's Aidia on January 1st and 2nd.
Hess said the Art Theatre also plans to start showing digitized classic films early next year with works by British director Alfred Hitchcock, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, and filmmakers from the French New Wave movement.
This week marks the anniversary of one of the largest efforts to raise money for the nation's farmers, who in 1985 were battling lower land values and higher interest rates. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers looks at how this benefit concert has helped small family farms in the last 25 years.
Twenty five years ago this week, the Champaign area was all about Farm Aid. The 12-hour event in Champaign, Illinois featured more than 40 acts, including organizers Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young. It drew in more than $9 million dollars to help the nation's struggling farmers. But beyond raising money, Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports that the concert helped shed light on the challenges facing farmers in the 1980s.