Berkshire Organist Guild Celebrates Turning 70 With Silent Films

Jun 16, 2017

The Berkshire Chapter of the American Guild of Organists kicked off its 70th anniversary with an evening of silent films and music by a world-renowned organist visiting from Boston.

Peter Krasinski is a jolly man. He scurried on his tippy-toes into the lavish nave of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Pittsfield to a rather complicated instrument abutting the altar.

The organ has pipes and nozzles and buttons and peddles and nobs – all of which Krasinski flicked, bopped and played seamlessly.

It was a night of celebration. The Berkshire Chapter of the American Guild of Organists turned 70 – which called for an evening of fun and silent movies featuring Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman and other short family films.

It was Krasinski’s job to play the background music, but the audience seemed to be more fixated on the tall, jovial man banging on the organ.

In the film, Keaton and his lady are at a Mardi Gras parade at Luna Park in Coney Island.

It’s bustling and Keaton can’t see the parade, so he climbs a streetlight for a better look.

Keaton claps and laughs ….and falls.

How do you get such an old, eclectic sound resonate with the average everyday person – make them say wow?

“Well I think that emotion is the main answer for that. When you are hearing music it really doesn’t depend on the instrument so much as what the musician is doing. Is the musician saying something? Is it something that is relevant to at that moment of your life? Is it giving you solace? Is it showing something that might not be comfortable, that’s helping you get through something?” Krasinski says.

“And I think the organ that has always sort of been an instrument that has sort of been able to speak to the beyond as well. Speak to this feeling of, you know, beyond self – that we are part of a bigger picture. It is not just about us. The organ has this feeling, and some people like to think of that in religious terms and other people like to think of it in philosophical terms or scientific terms.”

And it’s true – organs are usually seen in houses of worship, and Krasinski has played in many. Some of his favorites are Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Trinity Church in Boston and Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

“But the instrument, I think what makes it able to translate into all of these emotions is that it is got a complexity of sound. Every one of those little knobs that you see, when you pull one out that’s an instrument. It’s an instrument that is available to an organist to use, and the more color you use the more interesting it will become. If you are going to play boring music even on a guitar or even on a drum set it’s going to be boring, and if you are going to play exciting music, it really isn’t going to matter,” Krasinski says. “Louie Armstrong said ‘it’s not the instrument, it’s how you play it.”

And boy does Krasinski look animated when playing it. His hands and feet moving wildly, his face gets red, his grin widens, and his thick handlebar mustache curls from sweat.

Krasinski says the truth is he hopes people enjoyed the movie …

“And if they forget I was playing, I have actually accomplished my goal.”