Feb 10, 2010

New York Times article about New Jersey Devils organist

Nice article about Pete Cannarozzi, the arena organist for the New Jersey Devils: Devils’ Organist Remains Part of Arena’s Rhythm. Some highlights from the article:
Hockey was once played to the sole accompaniment of an organ: the mighty Barton, its pipes built into the walls of the old Chicago Stadium; Gladys Gooding playing “Rangers Victory Song” at the old Madison Square Garden; Paul Newman storming into the booth of the Charlestown Chiefs’ arena in the film “Slap Shot” to tear up the sheet music and demand of the organist, “Don’t ever play ‘Lady of Spain’ again!”


“I am absolutely a firm believer in what the organ means to hockey,” said Lou Lamoriello, the Devils’ general manager. “It adds so much atmosphere and flavor. Younger fans want rock music, videos, and we accommodate them. But I hope we never lose sight of the traditions of hockey and what organ music adds to the experience.”


Once the game starts, the Devils also use plenty of recorded music and scoreboard videos, but Cannarozzi still plays. He exhorts the crowd with a four-note “Let’s go, Devils” chant; accompanies an announcement about snack stands with “Food, Glorious Food,” from the musical “Oliver!”; and fills the time during a video goal review with the theme from “Jeopardy!”

“The main thing about the job is to get the crowd pumped up during the game, and entertain the audience,” said Cannarozzi, a longtime studio musician and musical director for Ashford & Simpson.

Kyle Hankins, the Nashville Predators’ organist, said: “We help underscore the hockey game in real time, just as any composer would do for a Broadway show or jazz pianist would do at the Blue Note. You can’t get that flexibility out of a CD or MPEG. Also, the timbre is comfort food to the ears that carries some nostalgia for young and old alike. Listening works a lot better than trying to shove a hot dog down your ear canal.”

Paul Cartier, an air-traffic controller and the Yankees’ organist, has been the Islanders’ organist off and on since 1979. He has seen a lot of changes.

“It used to be just me and the P.A. announcer, nothing else,” Cartier said of entertaining crowds at Nassau Coliseum during the Islanders’ Stanley Cup dynasty in the early 1980s. “It was awesome. I probably did a full 15 or 20 songs a night, and all the chant stuff. On some stoppages I didn’t even do anything; sometimes I let it just breathe.

“That doesn’t happen anymore. It’s all recorded, no dead space allowed. Now I’ll play two or three songs, tops. The only time I get to play a full song is when someone gets injured.”

The rise of prerecorded music at N.H.L. games dates to the mid-1980s. The Devils announcer Mike Emrick told the story of Mike Keenan, then coach of the Flyers, who signaled the game director in Philadelphia to crank up the rock music to pump up his players during warm-ups.


“It all depends on whether your producer likes organ music,” said Larry Olsen, the Carolina Hurricanes’ organist since 2000. Olsen said that his producer, Pete Soto, was a longtime Rangers fan who appreciated the organ’s place in a hockey game.

“The younger ones tend to like sound effects more,” Olsen said. “Some teams have laid off their organists for budgetary reasons, and because they figure the effects will do the job.”

But some organists detect a comeback for their music.

Jeremy Boyer, the Blues’ organist, said: “Here in St. Louis, the team toyed with the idea of changing the goal song to ‘Crowd Chant’ by Joe Satriani and replacing the traditional goal song, ‘When the Blues Go Marching In,’ played on the organ. When the team put the songs to a vote on its Web site, the St. Louis fans voted for the organ playing after goals in a landslide.”

An organist can come in handy in an emergency, as when a bank of lights failed here on Jan. 8, causing a 100-minute delay before the game was postponed.

“We had to wait for the N.H.L. to make a ruling on what to do,” Cannarozzi said. “In the meantime, we had to entertain everyone, so we went round robin: videos, ads, Dave doing a couple of prerecorded songs, me playing a couple of songs. It was a lot to do for an hour and 40 minutes.

“In the meantime, people were coming up to us and asking us what was happening,” he added. “They were almost hostile. So I played ‘We Are Family,’ ‘Thanks for the Memories.’ I tried to keep it light and up."

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