Theater organ society to present Hector Olivera at Keystone Oaks

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To Barb Powischill, a performance by a world-renowned organist on a rare Wurlitzer theater pipe organ is akin to an evening at the symphony.

"It sounds like a whole orchestra; you hear a flute, trombone, bells and more," the retired schoolteacher from Whitehall said.

"And, when you hear Hector Olivera play, you swear there are two orchestras," Ms. Powischill said of the acclaimed Argentinian musician.

A concert by Mr. Olivera, presented by the Pittsburgh Area Theater Organ Society will be performed at 2 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Keystone Oaks High School auditorium, 1000 Kelton Ave., Dormont.

It will be the first show of the society's fall season.

A child prodigy, Mr. Olivera entered the Buenos Aires Conservancy at age 6 and, by age 9, had composed a suite for oboe and string orchestra that was performed by the Buenos Aires Symphony Orchestra.

His professional concert career was launched in 1968 following study at The Juilliard School of Music, known today as The Juilliard School, in New York City. He has performed all over the world.

Mr. Olivera, who once lived in Manor, Westmoreland County, last played for the local group in October 2010; before that he performed for the organization in 1993.

"One of his fortes is 'Flight of the Bumblebee' in which he plays the entire song with pedals," society board member Jay Smith said.

In 1970, the Baldwin Borough man was traveling with three other organ enthusiasts to a theater organ concert in Rochester, N.Y., and they came up with the idea to stage similar events in Pittsburgh.

Mr. Smith, a retired nuclear engineer, co-founded the theater organ society as a nonprofit shortly after.

The group located a theater pipe organ in storage in New York built in 1926 for use in vaudeville and silent movies.

"They were built not to be sung along with, like a traditional church organ, but voiced with more numerous and unique sounds for movies, like whistles, thunder, birds and steamboat whistles," Mr. Smith said.

Other differences include higher wind pressures, resulting in tones more imitative of instruments, and a distinctive horseshoe-shaped console for ease of play and greater variety of sounds.

Once film "talkies" premiered in the late 1920s, most such theater pipe organs were abandoned or destroyed; many had their metal melted for use in the World War II effort.

The society worked with the Keystone Oaks School District to install its Wurlitzer in the high school auditorium, which the district is free to use.

"We spend a lot of time maintaining to keep it in good shape," Mr. Smith said.

Doors open at 1:15 p.m. Oct. 5. Tickets at the door are $20, $15 in advance by calling 412-653-3206 or visiting:

For more on Mr. Olivera, visit:

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Margaret Smykla, freelance writer:


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