The Singing Hills WurliTzer is installed at the Singing Hills Golf Course, which is situated at Albourne, Sussex, which is a few miles North of Brighton on the South Coast of the UK. It consists of 23 ranks of pipes, traps, and the less usual twin consoles. The smaller Opus 1840 2 manual console was the first to be installed, and is capable of playing 5 ranks of pipes. It is mounted on a shallow platform that moves sideways under power, which allows it to be moved to its left to make way for the 3 manual console (which is able to play all 23 ranks) to rise from its pit in the more traditional manner. The following resumé allows the smaller console (known as Opus 1840) to speak for itself:
I was born at the WurliTzer's organ factory at north Tonawanda, New York State, USA in 1928. I had 4 ranks of pipes - trumpet, flute, string and vox humana. I was never named but was registered as Opus 1840.
My first home was at the Sutton Theatre in Thomas, a bustling town in West Virginia, where I replaced a worn out player piano, and cost the theatre owners the princely sum of $25,000. The town of Thomas was the heart of a thriving timber region, which consisted largely of Eastern European immigrants who really enjoyed their movies. I played to packed houses and loved every minute of it.
But within 18 months or so, "talkies" had replaced silent movies, cinema organs were redundant and I was sent back to North Tonawanda with a pretty bleak future. Many organs were scrapped there and then, but I had a very lucky reprieve and was earmarked for England, on the other side of the Atlantic! The "talkie" craze was sweeping England too, but a film show there was a very long affair - 2 full length films, a newsreel and an interval with live entertainment, usually a local talent competition. So organs were still useful to accompany the budding artistes.
Before I was sent off to work in England, North Tonawanda made me like new again, and added a tibia rank. On 27th February 1931, I opened at the Regal Cinema in Colchester. Colchester was, and still is, a garrison town. It is the home of the Essex Regiment, who fought in many valiant campaigns during World War II in North Africa and Europe, and the Regal Cinema made an important contribution to community life during this period. Some of my favourite songs and arrangements emerged during that time, especially the music of Glenn Miller, but after the War things changed dramatically. Performances were shortened, the live interval disappeared and eventually the second film as well. Just like the very early days in America, cinema organs became unwanted junk. I lingered there, unwanted, with nothing to do and with no care and attention.
In 1963, the owners of the cinema decided they had no further use for me and I was destined for the scrap heap, but once again my charmed life held, and from poverty, I went to luxury. I was bought by an organ enthusiast called Jim Crampton, who owned a disused watermill in Norfolk, where he was building a collection of rescued organs. Life was very comfortable at Jim's mill. He had it renovated to include a central heating system just for us organs, and he devised a special turbine system to supply our electricity.
It was a very sad day when Jim died, but he had been very thoughtful, and before his death he had arranged homes for all his collection of organs, so that his widow did not have the problem of disposing of us. I ended up in Sussex, but for some years I had no public venue to demonstrate my vast repertoire of music. I languished in store in Worthing, with several false hopes of finding a new home. Once, I nearly returned to the cinema; then there was strong talk that I would go to a public house, but the ideas foundered through lack of money or planning problems.
Now I have ended up in Albourne at the Singing Hills Golf Course. What a fantastic stroke of good fortune! I have been beautifully restored, after many hours of rubbing down and countless layers of fine lacquer. And I am unique!! There cannot be another golf club in the world that has a fine WurliTzer pipe organ.
I have been joined by a younger sister from the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Los Angeles, USA. She will borrow my 5 ranks to complement her 14 ranks, and between us we expect to be one of the finest WurliTzer installations in Europe. (I guess that her console is a bit tarty - gold with an illuminated surround which changes colour to suit the music - but I suppose if you've spent all those years in a cathedral, you're going to let your hair down when you get out!)
Me? I am in my original state, apart from y relay board which has been swapped for a solid state version - a sort of hip replacement really.
I think I am going to thoroughly enjoy myself here, and I hope you enjoy my superb music too. Incidentally, providing the person who sits at my bench knows what they are doing, there is not one piece of music that I cannot perform!
See you at Singing Hills.
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