HISTORY- Marr & Colton Theatre Organ
In 1925, the Marr and Colton Company installed a 3/20 instrument in what became the Keeney Theatre. The organ was used daily to accompany the silent films until the advent of talkies in 1929. After that time, the organ was used only on rare occasions and was not kept in repair – the last record of its having been played was in 1941.
Then came the Flood of 1946, which floated the console out of the pit, and when it came back to rest on the elevator platform, it was upside down. It wasn’t until 1961 that a group of local organ enthusiasts including Lauren Peckham, Bob Oppenheim and David Teeter took on the monumental work of an organ restoration project. So much of the organ had been demolished in one way or the other that another 3/15 Marr and Colton organ was purchased from the Palace Theater in Jamestown, NY, and moved to Elmira. By 1963, the organ was in playable condition. Then came the Flood of 1972, which completely ruined the console, blowers in the basement, and the organ elevator lift motors, gears and other parts.
Nothing was done after the Flood of 1972 until 1976 when a concerted drive was undertaken to save the theater for use of a community and performing arts center – the Clemens Center. In March of 1977, Lauren, Joyce, David and Kent Peckham and David Teeter took on the restoration of the organ. During April of that year, the Center was able to purchase a four-manual Wurlitzer Theater Organ from our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna, NY. Working frantically right up to the last minute, the organ was played in October 1977 by David Peckham at the official grand opening of the Center, which starred Ella Fitzgerald.
In 2007-08 the Clemens Center undertook a major renovation project and after a thorough renovation to all its components, the theatre pipe organ premiered on October 27, 2013. Many of the finest artisans in the country were selected to accomplish the various tasks involved and the results are a delight to the ear and eye. The console has been magnificently refinished, and features restored keys of reclaimed ivory and ebony. Also, its control system has been upgraded to state-of-the-art designs with multiple memory levels and a record/playback capability. The pipe chambers have been redesigned with many restored pipe chest mechanisms and improvements. These upgrades include additional bass power, one newly commissioned voice and several sets of pipes that have been exchanged for higher quality vintage pipes. The result is a balance of floor-shaking energy and shimmering sounds that are exciting to hear! We are fortunate to have such a fine instrument available for everyone’s enjoyment!
RESIDENT THEATRE ORGANIST – David Peckham
A gentleman of multiple musical talents, David has been touring nationally and internationally as a theatre organist since 1980 and has performed at many of the finest theatre organs worldwide.
Last year, he was honored by the American Theatre Organ Society as their “Organist of the Year.” David has four theatre organ recordings to his credit. His most recent recording – No Remaining Seats – played on Rochester’s RKO Palace Wurlitzer, was released in the summer of 2005. His recording Live from Berkley has received stellar reviews since its release in 1997. His first recording, Electro-Pneumatic Action, features the Clemens Center’s very own Marr & Colton Theatre Organ. Excerpts from this recording have been featured many times on Pipedreams, NPR’s showcase of organs and organists from around the world.
Peckham’s classical training at the Eastman School of Music has allowed him to pursue more traditional organ venues as well. He is the organist at the Horseheads First United Methodist Church, his role since 1985, and has accompanied numerous choral and instrumental groups throughout the Southern Tier. He also performs as a classical recitalist. Resident organist at the Clemens Center since 1977, he presents solo programs, silent film accompaniment and participates in other local community attractions.
David is the caretaker of this marvelous instrument, original to the 1925 Keeney Theatre (as this performance hall was known prior to the 1950s.) His passion for the playing and caring for organs began at an early age as he worked alongside his father, Lauren, who began the L.A. Peckham Pipe Organ Service.