Paul Kirner's Music Palace is situated in Ynyshir, Porth - the gateway to the Rhondda Valley. It houses our collection which presently consists of four theatre pipe organs, along with a wide variety of vintage electronic organs and keyboards, as well as an extensive collection of other media and memorabilia.
Paul Kirner's Theatre Organ Collection (registered charity 1176604) was founded by its namesake to preserve and promote theatre organs and their music for generations to come. Having toured clubland for many years, Paul and his late wife - singer and comedienne Hazel – became experienced musical hosts, opening their very successful venue Compton Lodge in Sapcote, Leicestershire in May 1979. Centred around the Compton organ from the Odeon Wealdstone, the Lodge became a centre for concerts and social events. By the time Paul presented the final concert there on the 40th anniversary in May 2019, the organ had grown to more than three times its original size, to become one of the most comprehensive theatre organs in the country.
There are currently four theatre pipe organs either playing, or in the final stages of installation, at the Music Palace. However there are other instruments in the collection including the Compton Lodge installation which will be moved down to Ynyshir in due course, and the magnificent ex Gaumont, Manchester Wurlitzer which is on loan to Folly Farm in Begelly, Pembrokeshire where it is heard in public twice a day. In addition to the organs we also have a large collection of original tooling and machinery – some from the Compton factory, and from the works of Wurlitzer’s UK agents S.J. Wright Ltd. These enable us to maintain our collection, as well as supporting organ projects around the world.
The theatre organ was originally developed to provide a less expensive alternative to a full orchestra in the larger picture houses opening from the early 1920s where a solo piano wouldn’t be adequate. Like traditional church organs the sounds are produced by wind blowing through multiple sets of pipes, however these were voiced more orchestrally, often imitating specific instruments of the string, brass and woodwind sections of the orchestra. Another fundamental difference is that the pipes speak on much higher wind pressures than is normal in church instruments, and they are totally enclosed in one or more organ ‘chambers’ with the sound passing out into the auditorium via sets of electro-pneumatically operated shutters graduating in size and opening in turn. When closed these efficiently hold back the huge volume of sound in the chambers, allowing the organist to use a huge dynamic range – from whisper to roar!
To imitate the instruments of the orchestra’s percussion section a full range of real instruments was provided including, xylophone, glockenspiel, chimes, sleigh bells, drums, cymbals, and sound effects for silent films such as bird whistle, motor horn, horses’ hooves etc. All of these were operated by ingenious wind-powered mechanisms.
In 1929 the 'talkies' arrived, so the original purpose of the theatre organ had disappeared and, indeed, in the USA they nearly all fell into disuse. However in the UK, where ‘cine-variety’ was popular, the organs remained in use to accompany stage acts and to provide background music between items in the programme, as well as being featured as an attraction in its own right in a 15 or 20 minute interlude. Therefore installations of theatre organs continued in the British Isles right up until the outbreak of the Second World War. Theatre organs were also a very popular feature on the radio, with broadcasts daily for many years on both national and regional programmes.
The organ began to fall out of favour with the public from the mid-50s when the advent of rock ‘n’ roll signalled the gradual marginalisation of light music in general. Weekly broadcasts continued on national radio though, and although few people remember the theatre organ in its heyday, it’s retained a substantial following among later generations who continue to enjoy its unique form of musical entertainment. These magnificent machines are now a part of our social and musical history, and we aim to preserve and promote them, and to introduce them to a new generation.