Mighty Mo & Me

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Atlanta's Mighty Moller

 

Mr. Tom, Me & Mighty Mo

October 23, 2005

 AT THE FOX!

Mr. Tom and me, both enthralled with Larry Embury at the Might Mo!

 

 I had known about going to the Fox Theatre*** for well over a week … and I didn't share it with anyone except Tommy until a day or so before we were to go.  But Mr. Tom Phillips (the wonderful old man at Brookhaven UMC who was my biggest fan, and who shared a love of pipe organs with me ... although more so for theatre organs) called to tell me that his daughter, Sharon, had arranged for us to sit in on a rehearsal with Larry Douglas Embury*** playing the world’s 2nd largest theatre organ, THE MIGHTY MO***.  He is the organist in residence at the Fox, and Mr. Tom said maybe I would get to play!  Let me tell you, I dared not dream that I would.  I know many churches that won't let strangers TOUCH their pipe organs, and I could only imagine it would be the same at the Fox.  For practically a lifetime I have wanted to play The Mighty Mo at the Fox Theatre, even just TOUCH it; but I would not allow myself to even talk about the possibility.  NOTE: before Tommy came into my life, Mr. Tom and I went to organ concerts and he would take me out to dinner ... most times at the famous Atlanta Fish Market in Buckhead (well I would drive and he would pay!).  He said he wanted to hear me play the Mighty Mo before he died ... he is now 89.

 

So ... we drove to his daughter's home to pick them up.  I had packed ... in a nice, large, shaped black bag (by that I mean it wasn't one of those flimsy, cheap tote bags), a big white envelope, my wallet, 2 pairs of glasses (different magnification strengths), my camera, a black 3 ring notebook with only a copy of “The National Anthem” in the Key of A flat, and a pair of lovingly-used blonde suede moccasins (my organ shoes), JUST ON THE OUTSIDE CHANCE I might be allowed to play the Mighty Mo - but I wasn't going to think or talk about it!  If I didn't … I would have control over my disappointment!

 

Sharon handed me an email from Mr. Embury, so I would have the phone number to call on our arrival - I noticed that he had written to her that HIS father died earlier in the year and would have turned 99 on October 23rd.  We pulled up at The Fox on October 23rd!!!

When Mr. Embury answered, he told us that “Peanut” would meet us at the stage door.  She is a security person with a beautiful smile - and was extremely nice to us.  Right behind her was Mr. Embury welcoming us to the FABULOUS FOX!!!  From then on he was Larry!  He explained that he had just completed giving a student a lesson and that they would be staying while he played for us - I was temporarily disappointed, but I need not have been (more later).  Yet another man was amongst the four people who joined us.  Larry introduced us to JOE PATTON *** and this was someone beyond belief ... this man helped save the Fox and single handedly restored the Mighty Mo.  My lord how many blessings can a person have in a single afternoon?  I was to have more!

We walked into the theatre, and there she was ... all caged up!!!  Who cares?  In or out of a cage, she still is the most beautiful creature in the world!!!  In the past I had seen her coming up out of the stage floor amongst the lights flooding her and in the midst of her glorious sounds ... and now I was in the presence of the man who was making those glorious sounds, PLUS the man who restored those glorious sounds, and the mighty instrument who ALLOWED those glorious sounds ... I was overwhelmed in glory!!!

 

Larry hopped up on the bench (NO MUSIC) - turn on the power - and there she was, all lit up and rising up, as he played a show tune ... and at the end, he turned and said he'd take requests!!   I had thought we would be there to attend his rehearsal (he is playing for RiverDance in a couple of weeks, and then will go into Rockette's Christmas and The Nutcracker Suite), but he put on a show for us like you would not believe ... certainly I wasn't believing it!  Now when you can take Autumn Leaves and play it as a ballad with falling leaves, et al, and then turn it into an addendum to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor ... WOW!!!  He asked for requests (oh please!) and Mr. Tom asked for "I Talked To the Trees" ... I looked at him, sitting beside me, and he had tears running down his face (I DO love this man!). 

 

Tommy found out from Joe Patton that he had recently located and bought an old 400-pound railroad bell from Pennsylvania Station.  When the Mighty Mo was built, they planned to put one in ... but didn't.  So there was room in the chambers for one.  When Tommy told Mr. Patton that Mr. Tom ALSO loved trains ... he went up and asked Larry to demonstrate ... and demonstrate he did!  Suddenly there was a real live train in that theatre ... I swear!!  The bell, the steam, the chug, chug and the clickity clack and SUDDENLY … Chattanooga Choo Choo!!!  I thought about my voice student Lex who sings that number in a wonderful medley of songs of that era ... he would have LOVED IT!  So did Mr. Tom!  Tickled him and all of us to death! 

 

He asked Larry to play something with 32' pedals.  This is the next deepest and lowest sound an organ can make - and the pipes are huge in height and circumference.  He thought a minute and turned and blew our minds away with "Battle Hymn of the Republic" - using those low tone pedals that resonate in your gut!!! 

 

I thought we'd hear about 5 or 6 pieces and then be dismissed ... but Larry likes to GIVE GIFTS to people ... none of this highfalutin musician snobbery like so many I have known in my life.  Not only is he a brilliant musician ... he is a wonderful conversationalist ... another gift to us!  At a certain point, he excused himself for a break, and I took that opportunity to go over to a very young man sitting with 2 adults ... he confirmed he was Larry’s student and they were his parents, and that he had just taken his 2nd lesson.  I asked if he played classical organ works, and he said yes, but he was also interested in the improv of theatre organ.  He said he had just turned 13!  A well-mannered, very bright young man!  I told him he was a dying breed.  A minister told me not too long ago that there are approximately 30 organ majors in the U.S. ... sadly, churches are getting away from organ music and turning to electric keyboards and/or bands.  I had a delightful conversation with that neat young man!

 

The sound of the organ caused me to turn.  Huh?  The March of the Marionettes?  It was Sharon, Mr. Tom's daughter, SITTING AT THE MIGHTY MO ... I stood in disbelief and my heart skipped a beat ... oh my God ... maybe there is a chance! 

I walked back toward Tommy and he was smiling .... BIG!!!  He told me to go on UP THERE!  Strangely, I STILL felt hesitation ... like if I went up there, there would be something to stop my dream. 

 

Now let me digress and tell you about the white envelope ... it held two of my stories ... the "Moccasin and Gifts" story, and my piece on "Our National Anthem, Pure and Simple" - and clipped to the outside was a thank you note to Larry, thanking him for making Mr. Tom happy - as well as the rest of us. 

 

So when I went down the aisle to get my music and moccasins, I took out the white envelope as well, and handed it to Larry - with the explanation that he would understand WHY I was putting on (GOD FORBID) moccasins to play the Mighty Mo!!!  You see - purists DO NOT wear moccasins … oh my NO!!!  It was a priceless moment when Larry turned to his young student and commented that I had written an explanation as to WHY I was wearing moccasins!!!

 

My Old Moccasins on Mighty Mo’s  Pedals!

 

So I climbed up on the bench, put my music up on the rack and showed him what I was going to play and said to him - I want a BIG sound!!!  “Mo” has four manuals (keyboards) - Note: I had a 4 manual Kilgen when I played at Covenant Presbyterian in Albany (for 3 years).  It was an old theatre organ converted into a church organ by a local organist.  So Larry showed me which manual to play, and he selected the appropriate stops (an organ is like an orchestra at your fingertips - one “stop” will be flute, another brass, etc. and putting several together, you have an orchestra!!!), and I drew in a deep breath and started my dream!!!  I played the opening lines of the National Anthem and when I got to ... “and the rockets red glare” - he introduced the snare drums (I think … all I know is there was percussion and I was getting turned on and when he did, I shouted “YES!”), and then when it got toward the end ... I literally yelled ... “BIG” ... and he turned on the big guns ... TUTTI ... ALL!!  And I finished with a flare!!  And when I finished with the last crashing chord, I threw my arms around Larry and said ... Oh thank you!  I NEVER DREAMED …!!!!  I was close to tears!

 

Beverly at the Might Mo … Fox Theatre, Atlanta GA

 

 He asked if I wanted to play something else - and I said I didn't play anything without the music but "Jesus Loves Me.”  So he let me play that.  I asked for a music box sound, tiny and bell-like.  Note: I play Jesus Loves Me for the children to come forward for their special time every Sunday morning, and play it in the style of Mozart or Clementi.  So he selected a wonderful delicate stop (like a glockenspiel) - have no idea what it was, and I played.  When I finished that, he said - let's play a duet using that.  So he started, and then told me when to come in and ... oh folks ... what a delight!!!  At the Mighty Mo with Larry and Jesus!!!

 

 Mr. Tom had asked Larry to demonstrate a tibia and a vox humana sound.  (Though Mr. Tom has never played an organ - he knows a lot about them.)  The latter is the closest thing to an instrumental human voice - and to me ... the tibias are the main sound that creates the sound of a theatre organ.   So we had that demonstration and suddenly he was playing "Sweet, Sweet Spirit", the hymn I recently arranged for my vocal student, Helen, and ironically, I selected it for a benediction response at church this entire month to tie in with our "Team Spirit" theme.  OH BROTHER - what an improv he did on THAT number!!!  Then went on to do a medley of Christian melodies ... "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" and a rousing finish with "Oh For A Thousand Tongues” ... and I thought I was going to take off and fly!!!  It was THEN that the tears came.

 

 Then it was time to go ... the student and family said their goodbyes, as did Joe Patton; and Larry walked us to the stage door and outside and was still telling incredible stories, such as ones of Virgil Fox, etc.  I could have listened forever.  He said to come back if he was practicing ... any time! 

 

 And we loaded up the car, still overwhelmed by what had just taken place and headed for Atlanta Fish Market!!!  Had a wonderful meal - then headed back to Sharon's, dropped her off, and then took Mr. Tom home.  I told him, that just because he finally heard me play the Mighty Mo, he still had to live forever!!!

 

(Sadly my dear friend, Mr. Tom, died December of 2007)

 

 I am still having a real problem with the reality of this dream come true.  Last month we went to an annual gathering of high school friends, and we had a lively discussion on “degrees of separation.”  I look at this happening as degrees of opportunity, and even THAT is not the word I want.  Here is why: I went to Brookhaven UMC 4 years ago because at that time, I could not find a church to serve (as a director), and I truly SETTLED on this church because it had a pipe organ.  I started playing there on the staff in August.  On my birthday Sunday, which is usually around Halloween, I always play the first and last sections of the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor to celebrate BOTH!!!  And someone told me afterwards that Mr. Tom was standing over to the side just beaming ... it was shortly thereafter that I began to know him as a friend and mutual organ lover.  So there I was, in the first degree of an unknown opportunity in a place I didn't want to be ... meeting a man (another degree) who has a daughter who is very attentive and loving to him ... and she (yet another degree), because of her love of a man I love, reached out to (another degree) a giving man, Larry, who made my dream possible!  The lesson: sometimes we don't know why God closes doors, until we realize he has found a way to open up a dream for us!!!

And that's my story, and I'm happily sticking to it!!! 

 

I cannot conclude this episode without paying tribute to my dear husband.  Tommy made me feel so special ... I would be hard-pressed to chose between the thrill of playing the Mighty Mo and the look of pride on his face when I finished.  Thank you my darling!

 

Links to websites connected with Mighty Mo ... if you are interested!

*** Larry Douglas Embury:  http://www.duoarts.com/

*** Joe Patton - the Phantom of the Fox: http://www.mymidtownmojo.com/fox-theatres-phantom-can-stay-midtown-ga-patch-2

*** The Mighty Mo: http://dobywood.com/FoxTheatreAtlanta/Fox-Moeller-Organ.html  (some wonderful images of the pipes and chambers, etc.)

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