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Cinema organist working to keep dying art alive

Posted at 11:41 AM, Jan 17, 2020

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Mesmerized by living history five shows a day, five days a week, one man steps into a cinema hall to keep a century old tradition alive.

Inside theater three of the Chase Park Plaza Cinema in St. Louis, Gerry Marian represents a throwback to the movie houses of yester-year.

“It is my passion. I love it. I really love it,” said Marian.

At 70 years old, he is among the last working cinema organists in the country.

When asked what it’s like to sit down at the classic organ, Marian says he’s transported far away.

“I’m like in a different world,” he said.

For the last 20 years, Marian has played an electronic orchestral instrument for audiences between movie showings, a preamble to the latest Hollywood picture.

“This past October, we did ‘Phantom of The Opera’ and we had 130 people here on Saturday and 110 people here on a Sunday,” explained Marian.

The theater organ also known as a “unit orchestra” can mimic a host of sounds from flutes and oboes, to strings and percussion.

“It's an orchestra in one,” said Marian.

From the early days of the nickelodeon until the dawn of talkies, theater organs were a fixture in nearly all grand cinema palaces. They were originally designed to allow musicians like Marian to have all the instruments at their fingertips.

“These theater organs basically were intended to do the silent movie, to complement the silent movie,” said Marian.

Marian committed his life to the art after seeing legendary theater organist Stan Kann play at St. Louis’ famous Fox Theater in 1961.

“My dad took me up there and I told him right then and there that this is what I want. This is my vocation,” he says.

More than 50 years later, Marian says he has no plans to stop playing just yet.

“I don't know. But I love doing it. It's my life. It's my love.”