Church with people sitting in pews

Fright Night!

Film poster showing Buster Keaton sitting in a pile of money with a can of glue
Publicity poster from 1921 silent movie The Haunted House

By day, Tacoma AGO Dean Cheryl Drewes is a respectable church organist. When Halloween rolls around, though, she reveals another aspect of her talent. On the evening of October 17, 2022, dressed in her witch costume, Cheryl accompanied Buster Keaton’s 1921 silent movie “The Haunted House” on the organ at Spanaway Lutheran Church as the highlight of the October combined meeting of the Tacoma and Olympia chapters of the American Guild of Organists.

Cheryl Drewes bows to the audience
Cheryl Drewes acknowledges the audience after accompanying The Haunted House

Cheryl Drewes is not new to theater organs. Growing up near Boston, MA, her family was in the American Theater Organ Society, and frequently attended silent movie events in a local restaurant. She doesn’t remember accompanying this particular silent movie in the past, and doing so required unusual preparation. In most theater organ settings, the organist sits at a console in front of the screen and can easily follow the action. Spanaway Lutheran Church, however, was not designed for silent movie productions, and the organ is behind the screen. Cheryl had to memorize the movie by watching it repeatedly on her phone. She was then able to match her accompaniment to the action by using a small mirror on the music rack in which she could see enough of the screen to keep her place. In the theater organ tradition, most of the music was improvised.

The program also featured several additional performers. The evening opened with Tim Drewes playing a movement from Suite Gothique, Op. 25 for organ composed by Léon Boëllmann in 1895 followed by the Scherzo from Grand Sonata, Op. 22, by Dudley Buck published in 1868. While the Buck composition may not have a direct Halloween link, Tim stated that he had always thought of it as “diabolical.”

Man playing an organ in costume with woman in costume assisting
Tim Drewes plays the organ with assistance from Cheryl Drewes

Past Dean Sheila Bristow accompanied her husband, opera singer Glenn Guhr, in a selection from Howard Hanson’s opera “Merry Mount” (1934) followed by a rendition of “That Old Black Magic Called Love,” by Harold Arlen. Arlen is known for composing the music for the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz.”

Man singing in long black robe with organ and piano in background
Opera singer Glenn Guhr performs in costume

Dennis Northway, a member of both the Tacoma and Olympia chapters, led the group in singing “pumpkin carols” beginning with “We Love Bewitching Time,” sung to the tune America. Other selections included “O Pumpkin Patch!,” sung, of course, to the tune of O Tannenbaum, and “The Twelve Days of All Hallows.”

Man in costume playing organ
Dennis Northway accompanies “pumpkin carols”

Following the program, members Sandy Tietjen and Jan Regier prepared a beautiful reception where attendees stood around talking for quite some time.

Sandy Tietjen and Jan Regier at refreshment table
Sandy Tietjen and Jan Regier at refreshment table

Special thanks to Spanaway Lutheran Church for hosting this event, and to Dick Tietjen for assisting with the reception.

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