Mr. Tom, Me & Mighty Mo
AT THE FOX!
Mr. Tom and me,
both enthralled with Larry Embury at the Might Mo!
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
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
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!
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
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:
*** Joe Patton - the Phantom of the
*** The Mighty Mo:
wonderful images of the pipes and chambers, etc.)