By Lee Shepherd
I’m really late coming to the table. I just discovered the Binghamton Theater Organ Society and attended a delightful evening of Charlie Chaplin films Saturday (April 13) with master theater organist Jim Ford and lecturer Joyce Jesionowski.
Performing on the Robert Morton Organ at The Forum, 236 Washington St., Binghamton, Ford cleverly improvised the “soundtrack” for four films from Chaplin’s early career.
According to Wilbur Dodge, organ technician, the Morton organ was reconstructed by Robert Melnyk and David Clark, using salvaged IBM parts, most of which are no longer replaceable. As they fail, they’re rebuilt by Dodge and technician trainees Jim Mead, Ed Pettengill, Rodney Lucas, Ed Watts and Carl Monson. The organ and the organist were in fine fettle this weekend, though.
After an informative introduction to the life and times of the great silent film star by Jesionowski, Ford played Chaplin’s signature piece, “Smile,” along with “Comedy Tonight” from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and “Strike Up the Band.” He then played continuously through the films, a whole orchestra unto himself, underscoring the slapstick and poignant moments with sympathetic melodies and percussive sound.
The Binghamton Theater Organ Society, founded by Paul Stapel, looks to be a labor of love by many dedicated volunteers, as listed in the program. One goal is to rebuild the Link Organ in the mansion of the Roberson Museum and Science Center, also in Binghamton, once $20,000 is raised.
It was a thoroughly entertaining evening, complete with popcorn.
Look for the next BTOS event on Dec. 29, when Ford accompanies the films of Buster Keaton. Visit www.binghamtontos.org for tickets and more details.
And if you want to hear versatile Ford play in other venues, he’s the church organist for Christ the King Redeemer Lutheran Church in Vestal, and will play at the April 20 B-Sens hockey game at The Arena.