Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Noir City 6: Castro Theater Organist David Hegarty

A unique feature of an evening show at San Francisco's Castro Theater is the introduction and intermission music provided most nights by David H. Hegarty, played on a beautiful pipe organ that rises from below the stage during the first song. For the finale, the organ is lowered to the ground while San Francisco is played, the audience clapping along.

Do you make any special preparations for Noir City or other festivals?

I try to choose appropriate repertoire for whatever is playing at the theatre, although it's not always possible. I try to stay in the right time period, and make some gesture of recognition of nationality. But for the most part, the organ interludes are just independent mini-concerts. Of course, if the movie is a musical, I play music from the show--sort of an organ overture. And I often can play themes from the classic films--those from the Golden Age of Hollywood ('30s through the 50's).

Can you give us a brief tour of the organ, (keyboards, drawbars, pipes, etc). Also, how do you make it go up and down?

This Wurlitzer console was originally built for the State Theatre in Detroit in the '20s. The pipework (21 ranks) has been garnered from several Wurlitzers and integrated as though it was a new organ--totally authentic, as it would have been built by the Wurlitzer factory. This is the work of the organ's owners, the Taylor family of San Mateo -- particularly Dick Taylor and his partner in the organ business, Edward Millington Stout, a nationally recognized authority on Wurlitzer and Skinner voicing.

The pneumatic scissors-lift is triggered by a button to my left on the console. I get a signal from the projectionist when it's time to play "San Francisco" and bring the console down.

That castanet sound is great on Latin tunes. Is it synced to one of the keyboards? Are there other unusual sounds you like to use?

The percussion instruments are triggered by the keyboards and the pedalboard when the appropriate stops are engaged, and are actual instruments that are struck pneumatically. The tambourine, castanets, and wood block are particularly effective. There are also several tuned percussions that I use frequently: harp (like a marimba), chrysoglott, xylophone, glockenspiel, and chimes.

Is there a slight delay from when you press the keys until the sound emerges from the pipes?

There is no perceptible delay in this installation. It is very responsive. Some of the bass pipes, played by the pedals, are installed behind the screen, so they speak directly toward the organist. (The opposite is true of the Skinner organ at the Legion of Honor, where I play Pops concerts every month. The pipes are located two rooms away, in the attic, so the sound gets to the organist AFTER we've played the notes. It takes considerable experience to maintain the proper tempo in that environment; the natural inclination is to slow down as you wait to hear what you've played.)

Do you practice in the theater when it's empty?

This is my 30th year as the Castro organist (the first few were on a Conn electronic organ before the Wurlitzer was installed in the early '80s), so I know the instrument well and don't generally need any rehearsal time, although I do come in and prepare for certain special performances. I also do some teaching on the Wurlitzer. Students come from as far as Reno to take lessons on that instrument.

You are known to adapt film music for the organ. What are some of your favorites?

My specialization as a concert organist, particularly on "classical" organs, is the music of the Golden Age Hollywood film composers: Korngold, Waxman, Steiner, Tiomkin, Herrmann, Raksin, Newman, and others. I am particularly fond of Korngold's scores, and especially like his themes for Kings Row and The Adventures of Robinhood. I'm particularly interested in the Hitchcock films and the composers who wrote for him. I am also very fond of Angela Morley's music. She's a British composer who began working in Hollywood in the '80s. (She also wrote much of the underscoring for Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Dallas, Hotel, and the like.) She's now living in Scottsdale, AZ., and I am her personal archivist--organizing and catalogueing thousands of her manuscripts that reside at her house. Of course, I love playing her music: Snow Ride, Kehaar's Theme from Watership Down, etc. Check out her web site: www.angelamorley.com.

Any plans for a CD of you playing the Castro organ?

No immediate plans for recording on that organ, although I have a couple of symphonic organ CDs available online at "CD Baby."

What new projects are you working on?

I'm working on a recording on a big symphonic organ in San Francisco. Details to be revealed later.

What question do you wish someone would ask you?

Just happy that you were interested enough to ask ANY questions!

David also appears weekly at the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, and presents monthly pops concerts on the Skinner organ at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. For more info go to www.davidhegarty.com


GARfish said...

Nice job on the Hegarty interview and on the blog in general. I attended a few nights of the Noir Fest and it was cool to get a recap of the action at Cult Film International.

See you around.

Michael said...


Deliz said...

Keep up the good work.