Rye Wurlitzer

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2018 – Rye Wurlitzer
The 14th December saw a first for both Cranbrook Town and all of its members when we took part in a concert with the Rye Wurlitzer Academy.  The concert, which was ably compared by Richard Moore, opened with acclaimed organist Michael Wooldridge performing four numbers on the Rye Wurlitzer organ.  This was followed by the band playing a first set of:

  • The Carollers – Captain R.E. Holtz
  • Candlelight Carol – John Rutter arr. Andrew Wainwright – soloist Richard Warren
  • O Magnum Mysterium – Morten Lauridsen arr. P Littlemore
  • Thriller – Michael Jackson arr. Phil Lawrence

Several of Michael’s students then gave individual performances before Ian Lanceley, the band’s MD took to the stage to play a Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas accompanied on the organ by Michael Wooldridge.

The second half of the concert opened with the band playing:

  • Comfort and Joy – Martyn Thomas
  • An Untold Story – Paul Lovatt-Cooper – soloist Alan Smithers
  • Stop the Cavalry – Jona Lewie arr. Phil Lawrence
  • A Christmas Finale – Paul Lovatt-Cooper

After this second set, two of the academy’s senior students performed solo spots – one singing and the other on the organ before the evening moved into its final phase with the band and organ accompanying the community carols.  The band and organ  joined together for Johann Strauss’ Radetsky March and We Wish You a Merry Christmas to conclude what was, if the audience and band comments are anything to go by, a very enjoyable and successful evening which will hopefully be repeated in the future.

The UK’s second oldest Wurlitzer theatre organ, originally installed at the Palace Cinema, Tottenham in 1925. Now installed in the College.

During the 1950’s, with the advent of television, and a change to the format of cinema presentation, the Wurlitzer came to be used less and less, until it was finally put up for sale in the middle of 1957.

The organ was purchased by Rye Grammar School for the sum of £450. It was removed from the Palace Cinema during August 1957 and reinstalled on a balcony at the back of the newly built school hall. There wasn’t enough room in the chamber to install any of the percussion items (except the Cathedral Chimes) and so these were put into storage. Over the years they became damaged and lost.

During the late 1950’s and 1960’s the Wurlitzer was in receipt of regular maintenance and was often heard playing in the school. However during the 1970’s this ceased due to a lack of funding, and its condition rapidly declined. In 1980 a new chemistry teacher started at the school, who was also a fine organist. He breathed some life back into the Wurlitzer and once again it was heard playing in the school. However he left about ten years later and the Wurlitzer was threatened with being sold.

Rye Old Scholars Association came to the rescue and organised some fund-raising concerts to be able to keep the organ at the school. But, these began to make a loss, and eventually they declared enough was enough.