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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “The Michigan Theatre”

February 11, 2007

Dear Michael,

Steven Ball commented that many students may first hear a pipe organ in the Michigan Theatre. I didn’t first hear one there, but I heard one in a new way there and have never forgotten it. I was a student at U-M from 1971 to 1975, in graduate school and then law school. I spent a lot of time studying, more time at a job, and found little time left for recreation. But in 1974, the movie That’s Entertainment came out and was being shown at the Michigan. I walked over and settled in for a very fine film, filled with music.

It was an impressive collection. But then after the credits rolled at the end, the organ rose and filled the theater with that enormous sound. It just dwarfed the film sound I had been hearing. I can see the theater still as that big sound played. How cool.

I also stopped to think tonight that my father and his brother heard that same organ when they were studying at U-M. It’s still there, entertaining people. I like that.

The Michigan Theatre really is an integral part of Ann Arbor–it’s not just PR noise. The law school held a graduation there a couple years back, and the constant programming keeps people coming.

Ann Arbor and U-M are wonderful places. I’ve always considered the University to be our state’s crown jewel, this astonishing institution that we managed to create. And of course, it’s the home of Marilyn Mason. One of your CDs has her playing three of William Bolcom’s gospel preludes. She kindly answered an e-mail inquiry a couple of years ago, saying that she was working on recording all of them. Perhaps you can broadcast more of them?

By the way, there’s another intact Barton in its original home at the Temple Theatre in Saginaw, Michigan. The Temple Theatre was Saginaw’s grandest movie palace, attached to the Masonic Temple. The Masons pulled out a number of years ago and the theater had a dim future. It was purchased and restored by a wealthy local resident and now houses the local symphony orchestra and the usual range of miscellaneous events. The organ had been kept up by the local theater organ society. It’s still active but now in grander renewed surroundings.

So, thank you for the fine broadcast. Pipe Dreams competes for my ears each week with another public radio station’s program at the same time, but this week there was just no question about which I would choose.

Chris Campbell
Traverse City, MI


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