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Volunteer to be honored for maintaining organ at the Arcada Theatre

Started by KB7DQH, August 02, 2012, 11:22:07 PM

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QuoteSt. Charles, IL —

Since Jim Shaffer, of Aurora, joined the volunteer group Chicago-area Theatre Organ Enthusiasts in the 1950s, he's witnessed the struggle many historic theaters face to stay open.

"There's less around today," The 76-year-old said. "It's a shame."

When theaters shut down, Shaffer said the theater pipe organ usually goes, too. In the 1960s, Shaffer said some theater owners in the area didn't know the value of the organs.

But for the last 30 years, Shaffer has fought to keep the unique music of the organ alive, particularly by maintaining the 1926 Geneva/Marr and Colton pipe organ at the Arcada Theatre.

Later this month, staff at the Arcada Theatre will recognize Shaffer's efforts. A dedication ceremony open to the public will feature a live organ performance, question and answer session along with stories shared by Shaffer at 2 p.m. July 29 at the Arcada Theatre.

Shaffer, who retired from clerical work at Burlington Railroad in 1997, said he always had an interest in theater pipe organ music. Before joining the club in the mid-1950s, Shaffer recalled playing records of the organ music.

"I used to just listen to them," he said.

But he likes the historic aspect of the instrument, too. Shaffer explained that in the 1920s, organs were a cheaper alternative to a full-orchestra used as background music for silent films.

The organ at the Arcada Theatre, in particular, can play about a dozen different instruments hidden away behind the theater walls. The black and gold organ at the Arcada Theatre is decorated with figures of Flamingos and is speculated to have been painted red and silver in the 1920s.

"There's not another one like it," Shaffer said.

In order to tune the organ's approximately 1,000 pipes, Shaffer and other volunteers with the organ enthusiast group must fit through cramped, often dusty, spaces. The tune-ups can take about eight hours.

"It's a dirty job," Shaffer said.

For the last roughly two years as crew chief Shaffer has led the efforts of the organ's upkeep. As a result, the Arcada Theatre still shows silent films accompanied by theater pipe organ music played by a professional.

Shaffer was hesitant to take all the credit for the organ himself.

"A lot of people have worked on this," he said.

In addition to maintaining the organ, Shaffer plays at the Arcada Theatre before shows. He said its just another type of music people can enjoy.

"There aren't too many of them left anymore," he said.

The objective is to reach human immortality—that is, to create things which are necessary to mankind, necessary to the purpose of the existence of mankind, and which have become the fruit that drives the creation of a higher state of mankind than ever existed before."