At a time when live organ music has been drowned out by computer-programmed rock-'n'-roll in most sports arenas, Blackhawks organist Frank Pellico is a survivor.(via Kukla's Korner)
About half of the 30 NHL teams employ keyboard players, but Pellico is among the few who play an actual organ at the games.
What's more, Pellico said, "to my knowledge, the Blackhawks are the only team that has an organ of this size and capacity. I mean, a real pipe organ."
"Frank loves to play the organ, and he loves hockey. And the fans love him," Blackhawks game operations chief Ben Broder said. "It's great to have him around."
For that, local puck-heads also can thank Bill Wirtz, the late Blackhawks owner.
With Al Melgard at the controls, the 3,663-pipe Barton organ was a fixture at Blackhawks games at Chicago Stadium for years. Ever the traditionalist, Wirtz made a commitment to duplicate the sound as best as possible when the team moved to the United Center after the 1993-94 season.
The result is a custom-designed Allen organ, the largest the company had built at the time. Add the 300,000-watt sound system that was installed a year ago, and Pellico is among those who believes the sound is as good as it gets in any arena these days.
"Three hundred thousand watts? That's mind-boggling," said Pellico, whom Melgard mentored as a youth. "The previous system was decent, but it was made for the spoken word. Because there were no base speakers, it didn't do justice to organ music, which has very deep sounds in the pedals. Now the CDs and the organ sound dynamite, so we have the best of both worlds."
Still, Pellico admits to some apprehension when the Blackhawks moved across the street to the new arena.
At the cozy old Stadium, Pellico was stationed literally within reach of the fans in the mezzanine area. At the cavernous United Center, he is up, up and away from the action on the seventh floor.
"It's 100 percent different in the new building," he said. "In the old one, when somebody wanted to make a public announcement, the cue for me to stop was when the person began to talk. In the new building, I wear a headset to stay in contact with a producer. ... It's a whole different game now."
Pellico takes center stage between the second and third periods, a four- to six-minute segment called "The Frank Pellico Show" in which he showcases his skills.
"It gives me a chance to show what I can do on the keyboard rather than just play dun-dun-dun-dun, dun-dun-dun-dun to get some crowd noise," he said. "I can play anything I want to show people that I really did study music."
Even if Broder and others are in his earpiece once in a while.
"Frank is so humble; we like to razz him sometimes," Broder said. "You know, stuff like 'C'mon, Frank, you can pump it up better than that!' But the fans give him a thunderous ovation every time."
At 66, Pellico has too much fun to give it up any time soon.
"I love what I do, and the Blackhawks have been very good to me," he said. "What more could a person ask for?"