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Organ music makes triumphant return

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Organist Dave Calendine at Thursday's rehearsal prior to the Wings' home opener at Joe Louis Arena. (Photo by Michael Caples)

DETROIT – When Dave Calendine was recently approached about bringing organ music back to hockey games at Joe Louis Arena he jumped at the opportunity.

“Heck, ya! I was all for it,” said Calendine, the head organist at Detroit’s Fox Theatre. “I’ve always wanted a live organ at a hockey game. It just fits better than what I call canned music.”

The Red Wings brought live organ music – albeit an actual electronic keyboard – back to home games for the first time since the mid-80s. The organ music is expected to be used for special occasions. For now the idea is just for games against Original Six opponents.

“Hopefully, if it works well we can add some more games throughout the season,” said Calendine, a staff organist at the Fox since 1993. “But for right now, we’re starting with the Original Six.

 “It will be a lot of fun. We’re all here to have fun and I love hockey, so this is just great.”

Calendine, an Ohio native, started his musical career with the player piano when he was just 3-years-old. By age 9, he was playing at his church, where he eventually taught himself the organ.
He first played a theatre organ at the Akron Civic Theatre when one evening after watching a movie in the 2,000-plus seat movie house, management let him play it. Shortly after, he was hired by the theatre as one of their house organists. The youngest person to ever hold the position, he entertained audiences there for more than three years.
After leaving Akron, Calendine continued to play at venues featuring theatre pipe organs such as the Organ Grinder in Toronto, and Shady Nook in Cincinnati.
In 2000, he traveled overseas on a solo concert tour through Germany and Switzerland. For the past nine years, Calendine has played for the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, featuring the world-famous Rockettes.
Caledrine, who now resides in suburban Detroit, never had the privilege to play the old organ at Olympia Stadium or the one that was first used at Joe Louis Arena in 1979. But he has seen the old Olympia relic.

“A friend of mine has the (old Olympia) organ in his house,” he said. “He plays for his own personal amusement. I’ve not played it yet. I have pictures of the old Olympia that shows the organ console just hovering out over, and I’ve had the pleasure of playing the old and new homes of the Chicago Stadium.”

He would love to see the Wings bring back an actual pipe organ, but for now, Calendine is just thrilled to be entertaining hockey fans.

“Being a keyboard, I don’t have the foot pedals, but I’m doing my best to do with a keyboard that I normally do with an organ,” he said. “And it’s still a lot of fun.”

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