PPAC’s Mighty Wurlitzer is an Extraordinary Machine

It boasts five keyboards, six tuned percussions and 222 notes.
Wurlitzer
Photography RI / James Jones

The Mighty Wurlitzer
Providence Performing Arts Center’s Mighty Wurlitzer is the Cadillac of organs. The orchestral instrument, which PPAC purchased from a Chicago theater for $100,000 in 1981, has five full keyboards, six tuned percussions and 222 color-coded notes. Its 1,437 pipes — both vast and tiny, hidden in balconies to the left and right of the stage — can emit the concert flute, oboe, harp, glockenspiel, tuba horn and myriad other sounds. “It’s a very exciting instrument,” says Alan Chille, general manager at PPAC. “It’s all behind the scenes, so you really don’t see what happens, but it is amazing that it was designed to do all that.” In the spring and fall, PPAC hosts free lunchtime “Wonders of the Wurlitzer” concerts (starting October 3 this season) where patrons can bring bagged lunches and enjoy music by local organists and complimentary drinks. “We’re competing with cell phones and social media for people to just come in and close their eyes and listen to the music,” says Chille, adding that the theater, which celebrates its ninetieth anniversary this October, returns to its roots in silent film for a screening of Buster Keaton’s The Haunted House, with Wurlitzer accompaniment, on October 24. “It’s a neat thing to have,” Chille adds. “It’s a nice piece of history.”