Updated: Nov 20, 2022
When it comes to music, I’m pretty much up for anything. So, when my brother told me he had an extra for the Mighty Morton Organ Festival at the Ohio Theatre, I didn’t hesitate. “Yeah, I’m up for that.” I still remember the first time I saw the Morton rising from below stage level. Magic! It may have been an elementary school field trip. I wasn’t bored. I was fascinated with the Ohio Theatre the first time I ever set foot in it, and that feeling has never left me. It’s still my favorite of the many beautiful theaters I’ve been fortunate to see in person. I still like to explore the many intricacies you'd never find in a new build. And the organ is the heart of the theater.
The Mighty Morton
Concert Recording – CR-0024
That afternoon, as the organ rose up, the sound seemed to be coming from everywhere. Suddenly the sound of a tambourine and other percussion was coming from the wall to my left. Clearly the organist was some kind of mad genius. There were four keyboards and who knows how many tabs? And he was hitting foot pedals. I didn’t see any speakers. He was playing the building.
We came this close to losing it all before I was even born. The wrecking ball was literally on site. It was current organist Clark Wilson’s attendance at the 1969 “farewell concert” that inspired him to learn the organ. "I could not get over the beauty of this place (the Ohio Theatre)," Wilson told The Columbus Dispatch last year. "As a little kid, I couldn't imagine what kind of mentality would want to tear a place like that down." The organist that day? Roger Garrett. Garrett was the Ohio Theatre organist from 1933 to 1942 but he was living in Clarksburg, WV by this time. He would come back for special occasions, including in 1967 to perform and record The Mighty Morton after the organ's restoration.
The Lynwood California-based Concert Recording label focused solely on organ recordings and even had an Organ of the Month Club. My copy still had the registration card inside. It says full sound stereo on the cover and monophonic on the labels. Hmm… Garrett’s performance was on November 12, 1967. There is no crowd noise on the recording, so I'd guess this must have been recorded before or after the attended performance. The liner notes credit the organ technicians that handled the restoration and provide details about the microphones used and their placement. This label was run by enthusiasts.
Garrett was only the second official house organist. Henry B. Murtagh was loaned by New York’s Capitol Theatre to open the theater until a permanent organist could be found. Six weeks after the opening, Bill Dalton was named the first official organist on May 6, 1928. Garrett followed in 1933. The 614orty-Niner has an excellent blog piece about the album Dalton recorded in May 1968. The post includes a thorough overview of the history of the Ohio's Morton organ.
After Garrett left to serve in the Marine Corps during World War II, no official organist replaced him and the organ was rarely played. The American Theatre Organ Society restored it in the mid-'60s, but by 1969 the Ohio closed. The Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA) was formed to save the Ohio Theatre and is the current owner. An episode of Broad & High focused on the Mighty Morton can be seen here.
Scoff if you want, but there’s no live music experience quite like being enveloped by The Mighty Morton. It’s the original surround sound. November 18 & 19 performances featured Cameron Carpenter performing Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani and Leos Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass with the Columbus Symphony Chorus.
A1 Westward Ho
A2 South Pacific - Wonderful Guy - Younger Than Springtime - Bali Ha'I - I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair - Happy Talk - Some Enchanted Evening
A3 On The Trail
B2 Traditional Medley #1: Whispering - Red Sails In The Sunset - Oh! Johnny - I'm An Old Cowhand From Rio Grande - Paper Doll - Pennies From Heaven - Cecelia - The Whistler And His Dog - Elmer's Tune
Composed By – Tchaikovsky
B4 Traditional Medley #2: Smiles - When You Wore A Tulip - Sleepy Time Gal
Recorded At – Loew's Ohio Theatre, Columbus
Jacket Notes – Roman Walek
Organ – Roger Garrett