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Huge church organ lending sound to silent film classic

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Troy Shantz

One of southern Ontario’s grandest pipe organs will play a vital role when the 1925 silent horror film The Phantom of the Opera is screened in Sarnia.

Juno Award-winning organist Ian Sadler will provide the soundtrack for the unique event at Central United Church by playing its massive 2,771-pipe organ.

The show will recreate the silent film era, when live musicians provided all the audio needed, said organizer Ian Mason.

“I’m really trying to replicate what it would be like to attend a movie theatre in the 1920s,” he said, adding attendees are encouraged to dress in period costumes.

Stratford-based Ian Sadler, who recorded on the soundtrack of the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, will play a one hour and forty-five minute score on the church’s 120-year-old organ.

“The one at Central just happens to be a particularly grand example of a pipe organ. In fact, it’s the largest pipe organ in three counties, including the City of Windsor,” Mason said.

With pipes ranging from one to 16 feet in length and three manuals (keyboards), the organ’s music is felt as well as heard, said Mason, who grew-up in Sarnia attending recitals at the church.

“And that’s pure sound. That’s not electronically produced, that’s from air (and) reverberation,” he said. “You can actually feel the pew slightly shake.”

Mason called the post-Halloween show a fitting “send off” for the church at 220 George St. It’s scheduled to close its doors after the congregation’s 188th anniversary service in November of 2020.

The downtown landmark and its 1.6-acres were listed on the market this summer for $369,000.

The organ’s fate is unknown. There is little demand for such a massive instrument today, though it would have drawn numerous offers 30 years ago, Mason said.

Installed in 1898 and expanded in 1930, it was built by the world-renowned Casavant Frères company, which still operates today in Ste-Hyacinthe, Que.

Buying the same organ now would cost well over $1 million, Mason added.

Sadler will accompany a comedic short silent film prior to the start of The Phantom, as well as some classic “ragtime” tunes on piano at 7:45 p.m.



WHAT: Screening of the 1925 silent film classic The Phantom of the Opera, with organ accompaniment by Ian Sadler.

WHEN: Friday, Nov. 1, 8 p.m.

WHO: Presented by the Chatham Centre, Royal Canadian College of Organists.

WHERE: Central United Church, 220 George St., Sarnia

TICKETS: Available at Cheeky Monkey, $20 adults, $12 children age 12-16, $7 under 11. Attendees dressed in 1920s period costume will be entered into a draw for five, $20 prizes.




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