One of the nation's foremost theater organists will entertain audiences Monday evening, July 1, when the Chattanooga Music Club presents its annual patriotic community concert. The free program begins at 7 p.m. in Memorial Auditorium.
Featured artist Walt Strony will show off the capabilities of the historic Austin pipe organ with a program of patriotic music before providing improvisational music to enhance the screenings of two Laurel & Hardy films, "The Two Tars" and "Liberty."
According to music club member Evelyn Gibbs, the program will open with its traditional presentation of colors, salute to active personnel and veterans of all military branches and a performance of the national anthem by Margaret Abernathy.
Strony says he plans to play Charles Ives' variations on "America," his own suite from "Victory at Sea," some Gershwin and music by other American composers.
Gibbs says Strony is an "excellent entertainer," who is known for his ability to adapt programs to his audiences.
"I always check out the crowd before the performance to see who's there. I may make some program changes at that point," Strony says. "The final arbiter is the audience response. After one or two selections, and by talking to the audience between selections, an artist gets a feel for the crowd. Usually, changes are not necessary at this point. But if they are, I will make a change. I always have more music ready to perform than there is time to play, so there is some flexibility."
Rarely seen silent films accompanied by each concert's featured organist have become a popular tradition of these CMC community concerts. Strony says if he does his job well, the audience won't even notice he's playing.
"The success of silent-film accompaniment is when the audience forgets that there is music and is totally focused on the film. The best compliment one can give a silent-film accompanist is to say, 'I forgot you were playing the organ.' "
Concertgoers can expect to hear the Austin organ put through all its voices -- a rare opportunity -- because there will be a group of organ aficionados in the audience.
As part of the American Theatre Organ Society's annual convention in Atlanta, a group of 300 delegates is traveling to Chattanooga on Monday. Gibbs says they will be treated to a private afternoon concert on the Tivoli Theatre's Wurlitzer organ, dinner at Rock City and then the CMC's patriotic program that night.
Strony says he's planning to wow them with a wide variety of music to show off the organ.
"It will not be the typical organ recital."
Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.
ABOUT WALT STRONY
Made his concert debut in 1974 at age 18.
Has performed across the United States, as well as in Japan, Australia, England and Canada.
In July 2007, he performed the first solo organ recital to be presented in many years at New York City's Radio City Music Hall for the American Theatre Organ Society convention.
Is the only living organist to have twice been voted Organist of the Year by the American Theatre Organ Society.
If You Go
What: Patriotic Organ Concert.
When: 7 p.m. Monday, July 1.
Where: Memorial Auditorium, 399 McCallie Ave.