LUMBERTON — Organist and composer Mark Andersen’s agile fingers will once again bring the Carolina Civic Center’s pipe organ to life on Thursday at 7 p.m., filling the theater with sounds of “good ol’ summertime.”
Andersen will perform his original score to accompany the 1926 silent comedy film “Mighty Like a Moose,” starring Charley Chase. “Mighty Like A Moose” is the story of a very plain husband and wife who secretly decide to get plastic surgery to improve their appearances. After the operations, they don’t recognize each other and try to pick each other up on a date.
Lead by Tim Little, director of music at First Baptist Church, audience members will have the opportunity to make their own contributions during a sing-along by lending their voices to such favorites as “Nothing Could be Finer than to be in Carolina” and “Carolina Moon.” Nostalgic images of summer in North Carolina will be projected on the movie screen along with the lyrics.
Andersen said other favorites from the period will include “For Me and My Gal,” “Oklahoma” and tunes from “The Sound of Music.”
“Everybody loves ‘The Sound of Music’ sing-alongs,” said Andersen
Andersen’s career took him away to New York, Boston and Paris. He spent the last 10 years in Seattle before returning a year ago to live in his Lumberton childhood home.
“It’s nice to be back in Lumberton,” he said. “Lumberton is extremely unique because it’s one of the few places remaining in the United States that has a real theater pipe organ installed in what used to be the Carolina Theatre.”
The theater closed its doors in 1975 and reopened in 1985 as the Carolina Civic Center.
Organ performances draw people from far away who want to experience the jazzy sounds of a “unit orchestra” first-hand, and are part of a preservation effort.
Anderson recently offered a sampler of “South” on his own prized Wurlitzer pipe organ.
“It doesn’t sound anything at all like a church organ,” he said.
Theater pipe organs were made to perform popular music of the day, and a single console commanded the accompanying sounds of wind and percussion instruments, such as drums, castanets, whistles and bells. There is more to the pipe organ than meets the eye. At Andersen’s home, another whole room holds the complete “workings of the organ.”
“Drum sets, bells and chimes,” Andersen said. “All of this goes into making the sounds you hear.”
The civic center has two such rooms.
“It’s a very involved installation,” Andersen said. “And it requires a lot to keep it up.”
With the introduction of “talkies,” pipe organs began to fall silent. In the early 1950s, theaters began scrapping pipe organs to make room for the installation of air conditioning. There are few theaters in America that have their original organs. There are only two pipe organs left in North Carolina, with the other in Greensboro.
“We are in a very unique position that we get to experience and hear things that 98 percent of the rest of the United States can’t hear,” Andersen said. “That’s why, when we do concerts at the civic center, we get people driving down from Richmond (Va.) and from Atlanta.”
There was also a visitor from New Jersey.
The civic center’s pipe organ is only used a couple times a year, and the last concert sold out.
While the concerts are an added draw for tourism to Lumberton, they are imperative to the upkeep of the pipe organ.
“It’s a preservation effort to make use of this beautiful instrument that we have here in Lumberton,” Andersen said. “To get people to hear it, and to let people all over the country know we have it here as well.
“It is very historically important because there are very few of these instruments left in America today.”
Organist and composer Mark Andersen performs "South", a Dixieland song from the mid 1920s on the Wurlitzer pipe organ in his Lumberton home.
Reach Juanita Lagrone at [email protected] or 910-416-5864.