CANTON — Jared Goldinger was a teenager when he first discovered the magic of the Kilgen organ at the historic Canton Palace Theatre.
Sitting down for a Charlie Chaplin movie, the Jackson Township resident waited for the silent movie to begin.
Before that, Goldinger was mesmerized when Kilgen’s historic organ rose with the stage. Sitting on the bench was Jay Spencer, caressing the keys of the ancient instrument.
“I had never seen anything like it when he came out of the pit lift,” Goldinger recalled. “My heart sank. For lack of a better word, it was awesome.”
Goldinger sat next to the pipes in the bedroom, and “listening to him for the first time rattling my bones was something else,” he said.
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After the film was finished, Goldinger was still thinking about the music. Approaching Spencer, the house organist let him play the relic for a bit, and Goldinger’s love of theater organs began.
In 2016, aged 15, he joined Spencer as second organist at the Palace Theatre.
Now, the duo will bring their skills to the Connor Palace Theater at Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland for a special summer movie event Thursday through August 21.
Cinema at the Square features popular films at the Connor Palace Theatre. Before the movies, Goldinger and Spencer will be among those playing the Kimball pipe organ.
Spencer will perform from 6:30 p.m. Thursday for a 7:30 p.m. screening of “The Princess Bride.” He will also play the organ for an hour before the 2 p.m. sessions of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” on Saturday and “Independence Day” on Sunday.
Goldinger performs at 6:30 p.m. on August 12 before the screening of “Now, Voyager” at 7:30 p.m. He also plays the organ before the 2 p.m. August 13 screening of “Beauty and the Beast” and before the 7:30 p.m. August 13 screening of “The Bodyguard.”
Goldinger is also performing before the screening of “Stand by Me” on August 20 at 7:30 p.m.
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 film series returns to Connor Palace
Christopher J. Ha and Robert Moran will also play organ ahead of select films in August at Connor Palace.
This is the first time Cinema at the Square has taken place since 2019 due to COVID-19. The annual event dates back to the late 1990s.
Connor Palace is one of several theaters in the complex operated by Playhouse Square, but the only one with a theater organ.
“The theater organ is shown in the cinema in 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 historical organs a lost art.
“The theater organ is such a unique sound,” he said. “It’s really something special and it’s a dying art.”
Organ artifacts in Canton and Cleveland
Canton Palace’s Kilgen pipe organ dates from 1926 and is the only remaining model still playing in its original theatre, Spencer said.
The Kimball organ in Cleveland also dates from the 1920s.
“Going to a place like the Palace or the Connor Palace or the Ohio (Theatre) in Columbus is more of an experience than just going to see a movie,” Spencer said.
At Connor Palace, Spencer said he would play 1920s music while selecting a few tracks related to a particular movie.
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Unique Kilgen features include saxophone, glockenspiel, tuba, trumpet xylophone, drums, and other sounds. “It’s orchestral,” said Spencer, who recently played organ before movies showing 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 the 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 beautiful sounding instrument. “I really try to bring out that lushness,” he said.
Children are always fascinated by the Kilgen
Spencer and Goldinger carry 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 he’s playing in Canton or Cleveland, Georgia Paxos, executive director of the Canton Palace Theatre, said Spencer, 58, 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 takes you back to what the Canton Palace Theater was like in the late 1920s.”
Paxos said she also appreciates Goldinger’s penchant for the Kilgen, “and he’s leading the next generation of organ-lovers not just in Canton, but throughout northeast Ohio.”
Spencer, also a member of the Western Reserve Theater Organ Society, said the late Bob Beck inspired him to play Kilgen at the Canton Palace Theatre. Beck was the first organist after the Palace reopened in the early 1980s, playing for over 30 years.
“In the early ’90s, Bob let me play and showed me stuff,” said Spencer, a Palace Theater volunteer for more than three decades. “And I thought I would pass on the baton. Now Jared is in the same situation, so it kind of worked out.”
Paxos, meanwhile, said she was delighted that her organ duo would share her talents elsewhere.
“We are lucky to have them inhabit the Canton Palace Theater and we are delighted that others will experience what we see on a regular basis,” she said. “They will be fantastic as always.”
Contact Ed at 330-580-8315 and [email protected] On Twitter: @ebalintREP.
If you are going to
WHAT – Cinema in the Square Series of films featuring the Kimball Theater’s historic pipe organ for an hour before show time.
WHERE – Connor Palace Theater at Playhouse Square, 1615 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.
WHEN – From Thursday to August 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.