Matching music to Pirates' action

Recorded selections replacing organist

With a runner on first, the Pirates infielders and audio engineer were ready for a double play. The Buccos converted, and that was Mic Connolly's cue to blare "Double Vision" by Foreigner throughout PNC Park.

The people staffing the in-game entertainment room sit 101 feet above the field -- far above the flying hot dogs and the sprinting Jalapeno Hannah. But they were also closely tuned in, prepared to match music to game situations using a computer, audio editor and other tools.

They played everything from Jewish folk classic "Hava Nagila" to the pop hit "TiK ToK." Baseball music has come a long way since the organ.

Behind the scenes at PNC Park

Go behind the scenes at PNC Park to the sound booth where engineers put together the show. (Video by Julia Rendleman; 08/17/2013)

At PNC Park, the organ music is all prerecorded, and there's less than there used to be. The evolution of ballpark music here and throughout the major leagues reflects broad shifts in technology and American culture.

Since the 1860s, there has been live music at baseball games. In those days, bands provided the entertainment, according to Tim Wiles, director of research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. As parks grew in size, "the concept of having a live band playing at a ballpark made less and less sense," since musical groups would have to move around to be heard by fans in different sections.

The development of the public address system changed that. The former New York Giants were the first Major League Baseball team to install a PA system, in 1929. In 1941, Wrigley Field became the first major league park to feature live organ music, according to Mr. Wiles.

"Because [the organ] was electronic, it was easy to put through a regular PA system," said Scott May, product specialist at Hammond USA, an organ company.

Live music was one way for baseball owners to improve the complete ballpark experience, particularly as they hoped to appeal to women and families, said Mr. Wiles. So the Cubs gave the organ a tryout.

"After they had it at Wrigley Field, the fans really took to it," said Ed Alstrom, weekend organist at Yankee Stadium.

During the 1990s, prerecorded music increasingly replaced organ music, especially as more batters wanted to pick their own walk-up songs. And the away team's batters often get no walk-up music at all. That combination makes for less organ music overall, said Tim DeBacco, the Pirates public address announcer.

"In general, major league ball clubs have been getting away from organ music in the last 10 to 15 years and replacing it with CDs and digital music cuts and so on," said Mr. Wiles.

How the organ faded out

Organ music is just one of a larger set of options now at ballpark entertainers' disposal. With videos on Jumbotrons and between-inning contests, the organ is sometimes drowned out, even in stadiums that still have live organists.

"With the rise of the visual elements of the game, there's certainly a lot less organ music," said Matthew Kaminski, the Atlanta Braves organist.

Still, even as the instrument competes with other elements for fans' attention, more than half of stadiums have at least part-time organists. Some teams, including the Braves, have even drafted organ players in recent years.

"I think they wanted someone more spontaneous," said Mr. Kaminski. "With prerecorded organ tracks, you wouldn't be able to find a baseball organ version of, say, 'Mrs. Robinson,' " a song with which he has serenaded Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano.

"I think stadiums are making a move to regain some sense of tradition, so they like to keep the sound. So they either have a live organist or sound bites," said Nancy Faust, the former organist for the Chicago White Sox, who is a legend among baseball organists. (She received a letter of congratulations from President Barack Obama upon her retirement, in 2010, and two bobbleheads have been made in her honor.)

The organ's traditional sound has not precluded it from moving into the 21st century, and many use social media to connect with fans. Mr. Kaminski generates song suggestions from Twitter.

"Nothing really comes from me these days," said Mr. Kaminski, noting that for every series he might receive between 100 and 200 tweeted suggestions per player.

He brings his iPad to games and, using an app that simulates a keyboard, can even practice new requests, though he doesn't always get around to it.

"There are times when I've played things for the first time with 50,000 people."

Vince Lascheid lives on

"Fans, it's time for the seventh-inning stretch. We invite you now to stand, join legendary Pirates organist Vince Lascheid, and follow the bouncing Eat'n Park Smiley Cookie, as we sing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame.' "

That announcement still precedes the legendary song, even though the legendary Vince Lascheid is no longer there to perform it live.

In July 1970, Mr. Lascheid debuted alongside the new Three Rivers Stadium, the first time live organ was used at Pirates games. He was the Pirates organist almost continuously until his death in 2009, according to his daughter, Mindy Lascheid-McKee.

After Mr. Lascheid passed away, the Pirates did not hire a new organist, though Mr. DeBacco and Matthew Zidik, manager of in-game entertainment, didn't know why.

Still, his music reverberates throughout PNC Park. When Mr. Lascheid became ill with Alzheimer's, his music was recorded on off-days. These recordings, in combination with recorded game performances from 2001, serve as the basis for most organ music now played at PNC Park. Every year, Mr. DeBacco, who plays organ at Penguins games and took lessons from Mr. Lascheid, goes back to them, splicing them up and coming up with new bits.

"These are, in a sense, fresh Vince performances; they are actual performances," he said, adding, "We wanted to do that to keep his legacy alive, so it's just more recycled Vince."

Part of that legacy was his ability to pair music with players' names.

For former Bucs players Andy Van Slyke and Kevin Young, that meant the theme song from "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "Forever Young." For one opposing player endorsed by a male enhancement pill, it was "Pop Goes the Weasel."

The in-game entertainment staff used some of those same tactics at the Pirates-Marlins game Aug. 7. As one example, the "Law & Order" theme song followed Mr. DeBacco's announcement of the game's umps.

That level of detail helped cultivate the mood at the game. In the music booth, big plays were time more for work than for celebration, as Mr. Connolly and Mr. DeBacco needed to get off songs as quickly as possible. But when the Pirates closed out the 4-2 win over the Marlins, Mr. DeBacco pumped his left fist.

It was, after all, a game well played.

neigh_city - pirates - music

Elizabeth Bloom: or 412-263-1750 or on Twitter @BloomPG. First Published August 18, 2013 4:00 AM


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