CANTON – Jared Goldinger was a teenager when he first experienced the magic of the Kilgen organ at the historic Canton Palace Theatre.
Seated for a Charlie Chaplin movie, the Jackson Township resident waited for the silent film to start.
Before it did, Goldinger was mesmerized as the historic Kilgen organ rose with the stage. Seated on the bench was Jay Spencer, who stroked the keys of the bygone instrument.
“I had never seen anything like that when he was coming out of the pit lift,” Goldinger recalled. “My heart sunk. For lack of a better word, it was awesome.”
Goldinger was seated next to chamber pipes, and “listening to it for the first time rattle my bones was something else,” he said.
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Once the film ended, Goldinger was still thinking about the music. Approaching Spencer, the house organist let him play the relic for a bit, and Goldinger’s love for theater organs began.
In 2016, as a 15-year-old he joined Spencer as the second organist at the Palace Theatre.
Now the duo will take their skills to Connor Palace Theater at Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland for a special summer movie event from Thursday through Aug. 21.
Cinema at the Square features popular movies at Connor Palace Theatre. Prior to the films, Goldinger and Spencer will be among those playing the Kimball pipe organ.
Spencer will perform starting at 6:30 pm Thursday for a 7:30 pm showing of “The Princess Bride.” He will also play the organ for one hour before the 2 pm showtimes of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” on Saturday and “Independence Day” on Sunday.
Goldinger performs at 6:30 pm Aug. 12 before the 7:30 pm showing of “Now, Voyager.” He also plays the organ before the 2 pm Aug. 13 showing of “Beauty and the Beast” and before the 7:30 pm Aug. 13 showing of “The Bodyguard.”
Goldinger also plays before the 7:30 pm Aug. 20 showing of “Stand by Me.”
To purchase tickets and for more information, including movies and showtimes, go to: www.playhousesquare.org/events or call the box office at 216-241-6000.
Summer movie series returns to Connor Palace
Christopher J. Ha and Robert Moran will also play the organ prior to some of the films in August at the Connor Palace.
This is the first time Cinema at the Square has taken place since 2019 due to COVID-19. The annual event dates to the late 1990s.
Connor Palace is one of several theaters within the complex operated by Playhouse Square, but the only one with a theater pipe organ.
“The theater organ is presented at Cinema at the Square not only for tradition, but also to recreate the grand atmosphere of a 1920s movie palace,” Ha said.
Goldinger, a member of the Western Reserve Theater Organ Society, considers historic organs to be a lost art.
“The theater organ is such a unique sound,” he said. “It really is something special and it’s a dying art.”
Organ artifacts in Canton and Cleveland
The Kilgen pipe organ at the Canton Palace dates to 1926, and is the only remaining model still played in its original theatre, Spencer said.
The Kimball organ in Cleveland also dates to the 1920s.
“To go some place like the Palace or Connor Palace or the Ohio (Theatre) in Columbus, it’s more of an experience than just going to see a movie,” Spencer said.
At the Connor Palace, Spencer said he will be playing music of the 1920s while also selecting pieces relating to a particular movie being shown.
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Unique features of the Kilgen include saxophone, glockenspiel, tuba, trumpet, xylophone, drums and other sounds. “It’s orchestral,” said Spencer, who recently played an organ before movies shown at the Ohio Theater.
Features of the Kimball include a sound reminiscent of an old car horn, Goldinger said.
The organ was originally played at East Liberty Theater in Pittsburgh before being donated to the Playhouse Square Foundation in the 1970s. Following its restoration, the organ was dedicated to the Connor Palace in 1992.
Goldinger, 22, described the Kimball as a gorgeous sounding instrument. “I really try to bring that lushness out,” he said.
Kids still are fascinated by the Kilgen
Spencer and Goldinger are carrying on a tradition started by the organist before them.
“I love watching the kids ooh and ah when it comes out of the pit lift,” Goldinger said.
Whether playing in Canton or Cleveland, Georgia Paxos, executive director of the Canton Palace Theatre, said the 58-year-old Spencer is an integral part of the venue.
“His talent, love and dedication to our historic Kilgen organ is unmatched,” she said. “Jay’s Silent Films with organ accompaniment are the only current programming that truly transports you back to what the Canton Palace Theater was like in late 1920s.”
Paxos said she also appreciates Goldinger’s fondness for the Kilgen, “and he is leading the next generation of organ enthusiasts not only in Canton, but all of Northeast Ohio.”
Spencer, also a member of the Western Reserve Theater Organ Society, said the late Bob Beck inspired him to play the Kilgen at the Canton Palace Theatre. Beck was the first organist after the re-opening of the Palace in the early ’80s, playing for more than 30 years.
“In the early ’90s, Bob let me play it and showed me some stuff,” said Spencer, a Palace Theater volunteer for more than three decades. “And I figured I’d pass it on. Now Jared is in the same situation, so it kind of worked out.”
Paxos, meanwhile, said she’s pleased that her organ-playing duo is sharing their talents elsewhere.
“We are fortunate they call the Canton Palace Theater their home and are excited for others to experience what we get to see on a regular basis,” she said. “They will be fantastic as always.”
Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 and email@example.com. On Twitter: @ebalintREP.
if you go
QUE – Cinema at the Square movie series featuring playing of the historic Kimball theater pipe organ for an hour before showtime.
WHERE – Connor Palace Theater at Playhouse Square, 1615 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.
WHEN- Thursday through Aug. 21. To purchase tickets and for more information, including movies and showtimes, go to: www.playhousesquare.org/events or call the box office at 216-241-6000.