The scene is the 2,400 seat Music Hall in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, Sunday, June 29, 2014. The house lights go down, the spot hits the stage, and, nothing.
Suddenly, a great sound, like a circus calliope, fills the air, it's, it's Cole Porter, yes, it's Cole Porter's "From this Moment On," and little-by-little, the gold on white massive console of the Robert Morton 4/28 Theater Pipe Organ rises from the basement level on it's own elevator to fill a cavity at the front of the stage. The slight frame of nineteen-year-old Stephen Kucera (koo CHE ra) sits confidently at the console, finishes the song, and pivots on the bench, microphone in hand, to welcome the audience composed of theatre organ enthusiasts, their prisoner-friends, curious public, and cookie lovers.
Originally constructed in 1927 to accompany silent movies at Loews' Midland Theatre, the Robert Morton organ has four consoles plus the pedalboard, 28 ranks of speaking pipes and many acoustic sound makers: xylophone, triangle, drums, cymbals and a piano, all controlled by the organist from that goliathan console. The high pressure air supply was designed to supply the sound of a pops orchestra or band, the delicacy of a church organ is definitely out of the window. The timbres of the pipes are mostly in your face, with a mechanical vibrato that tells you that this will be a time of popular numbers.
So, the next popular song Mr. Kucera would announce was "Fantasia in G Minor" BWV 542 by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and he pulled it off. It was not a parody of Bach; Kucera brought that mighty instrument to his command and played a fine, straight, performance of the Baroque master's piece.
Stephen Kucera, a junior at Kansas State, majoring in organ performance and accountancy, looks more the bookkeeper than the music idol, has played for the Kansas City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, is organist for the First Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, Kansas, and is active in student activities at Kansas State.
He did, indeed, fulfill the desires of the pop music crowd, playing arrangements of rather recent music, standards, a little patriotic touch, and a sampling of theater numbers. He may well be setting a new trend for music idols.
His ensuing offerings included:
"Let It Go," from the Disney movie Frozen, By Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
"Ben Hur Chariot Race March," by E. T. Paull, you could visualize the big horses, the terrifying chariots, and the grimy, sweaty, blood,
"When You Believe," from the Dreamworks film, The Prince of Egypt, by Hans Zimmer and Stephen Schwartz
"The Entertainer," by Scott Joplin
"Theme," from Schindler’s List by John Williams
"Pirates of the Caribbean Medley," from The Curse of the Black Pearl, by Hans Zimmer
"Finale in G," by John Rasley
"Defying Gravity," from the musical Wicked, by Stephen Schwartz
"Puttin’ on the Ritz," by Irving Berlin
"Flight of the Bumblebee," from The Tale of Tsar Saltan, by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"Toccata Brevis," by Daniel Gawthrop
"Barbarian Horde," from the movie, Gladiator, by Hans Zimmer
"I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing," by Diane Warren
"My Heart Will Go On," from the movie, Titanic, by James Horner
Selections from Les Miserables, by Claude-Michel Schonberg
"Moonlight Serenade," by Glenn Miller
"Tomorrow," from the musical, Annie, by Charles Strouse
and the pre-planned encore, an unabashedly sentimental presentation of, "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
The good- sized crowd did honor the performance with a standing ovation, so the encore did not go to waste.
The next program offered by the Kansas City Theater Pipe Organ, Inc., will be on September 14, 2014, featuring Donna Parker, who was the first Official Organist for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and a veteran of guest appearances on CBS' Sunday Morning show; the program should be exciting; if history repeats itself, there will be cookies.