Mr. Tom, Me &
October 23, 2005
AT THE FOX!
and me, both enthralled with Larry Embury at the Might
I had known about
going to the Fox Theatre*** for well over a week … and I
didn't share it with anyone except Tommy until a day or
so before we were to go. But Mr. Tom Phillips (the
wonderful old man at Brookhaven UMC who was my biggest
fan, and who shared a love of pipe organs with me ...
although more so for theatre organs) called to tell me
that his daughter, Sharon, had arranged for us to sit in
on a rehearsal with
Larry Douglas Embury*** playing the world’s 2nd
largest theatre organ, THE MIGHTY MO***. He is the
organist in residence at the Fox, and Mr. Tom said maybe
I would get to play! Let me tell you, I dared not dream
that I would. I know many churches that won't let
strangers TOUCH their pipe organs, and I could only
imagine it would be the same at the Fox. For
practically a lifetime I have wanted to play The Mighty
Mo at the Fox Theatre, even just TOUCH it; but I would
not allow myself to even talk about the possibility.
NOTE: before Tommy came into my life, Mr.
Tom and I went to organ concerts and he would take me
out to dinner ... most times at the famous Atlanta Fish
Market in Buckhead (well I would drive and he would
pay!). He said he wanted to hear me play the Mighty Mo
before he died ... he is now 89.
So ... we drove to his
daughter's home to pick them up. I had packed ... in a
nice, large, shaped black bag (by that I mean it wasn't
one of those flimsy, cheap tote bags), a big white
envelope, my wallet, 2 pairs of glasses (different
magnification strengths), my camera, a black 3 ring
notebook with only a copy of “The National Anthem”
in the Key of A flat, and a pair of
lovingly-used blonde suede moccasins (my organ shoes),
JUST ON THE OUTSIDE CHANCE I might be allowed to play
the Mighty Mo - but I wasn't going to think or talk
about it! If I didn't … I would have control over my
Sharon handed me an email
from Mr. Embury, so I would have the phone number to
call on our arrival - I noticed that he had written to
her that HIS father died earlier in the year and would
have turned 99 on October 23rd. We pulled up at The Fox
on October 23rd!!!
When Mr. Embury answered,
he told us that “Peanut” would meet us at the stage
door. She is a security person with a beautiful smile -
and was extremely nice to us. Right behind her was Mr.
Embury welcoming us to the FABULOUS FOX!!! From then on
he was Larry! He explained that he had just completed
giving a student a lesson and that they would be staying
while he played for us - I was temporarily disappointed,
but I need not have been (more later). Yet another man
was amongst the four people who joined us. Larry
introduced us to JOE PATTON *** and this was someone
beyond belief ... this man helped save the Fox and
single handedly restored the Mighty Mo. My lord how
many blessings can a person have in a single afternoon?
I was to have more!
We walked into the theatre,
and there she was ... all caged up!!! Who cares? In or
out of a cage, she still is the most beautiful creature
in the world!!! In the past I had seen her coming up
out of the stage floor amongst the lights flooding her
and in the midst of her glorious sounds ... and now I
was in the presence of the man who was making those
glorious sounds, PLUS the man who restored those
glorious sounds, and the mighty instrument who ALLOWED
those glorious sounds ... I was overwhelmed in glory!!!
Larry hopped up on the
bench (NO MUSIC) - turn on the power - and there she
was, all lit up and rising up, as he played a show tune
... and at the end, he turned and said he'd take
requests!! I had thought we would be there to
attend his rehearsal (he is playing for
RiverDance in a couple of weeks, and then will
go into Rockette's Christmas and The
Nutcracker Suite), but he put on a show for us
like you would not believe ... certainly I wasn't
believing it! Now when you can take Autumn Leaves and
play it as a ballad with falling leaves, et al, and then
turn it into an addendum to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in
D minor ... WOW!!! He asked for requests (oh please!)
and Mr. Tom asked for "I Talked To the Trees" ... I
looked at him, sitting beside me, and he had tears
running down his face (I DO love this man!).
Tommy found out from Joe
Patton that he had recently located and bought an old
400-pound railroad bell from Pennsylvania Station. When
the Mighty Mo was built, they planned to put one in ...
but didn't. So there was room in the chambers for one.
When Tommy told Mr. Patton that Mr. Tom ALSO loved
trains ... he went up and asked Larry to demonstrate ...
and demonstrate he did! Suddenly there was a real live
train in that theatre ... I swear!! The bell, the
steam, the chug, chug and the clickity clack and
SUDDENLY … Chattanooga Choo Choo!!! I thought about my
voice student Lex who sings that number in a wonderful
medley of songs of that era ... he would have LOVED IT!
So did Mr. Tom! Tickled him and all of us to death!
He asked Larry to play
something with 32' pedals. This is the next deepest and
lowest sound an organ can make - and the pipes are huge
in height and circumference. He thought a minute and
turned and blew our minds away with "Battle Hymn of the
Republic" - using those low tone pedals that resonate in
I thought we'd hear about 5
or 6 pieces and then be dismissed ... but Larry likes to
GIVE GIFTS to people ... none of this highfalutin
musician snobbery like so many I have known in my life.
Not only is he a brilliant musician ... he is a
wonderful conversationalist ... another gift to us! At
a certain point, he excused himself for a break, and I
took that opportunity to go over to a very young man
sitting with 2 adults ... he confirmed he was Larry’s
student and they were his parents, and that he had just
taken his 2nd lesson. I asked if he played classical
organ works, and he said yes, but he was also interested
in the improv of theatre organ. He said he had just
turned 13! A well-mannered, very bright young man! I
told him he was a dying breed. A minister told me not
too long ago that there are approximately 30 organ
majors in the U.S. ... sadly, churches are getting away
from organ music and turning to electric keyboards
and/or bands. I had a delightful conversation with that
neat young man!
The sound of the organ
caused me to turn. Huh? The March of the Marionettes?
It was Sharon, Mr. Tom's daughter, SITTING AT THE MIGHTY
MO ... I stood in disbelief and my heart skipped a beat
... oh my God ... maybe there is a chance!
I walked back toward Tommy
and he was smiling .... BIG!!! He told me to go on UP
THERE! Strangely, I STILL felt hesitation ... like if I
went up there, there would be something to stop my
Now let me digress and tell
you about the white envelope ... it held two of my
stories ... the "Moccasin and Gifts" story, and my piece
on "Our National Anthem, Pure and Simple" - and clipped
to the outside was a thank you note to Larry, thanking
him for making Mr. Tom happy - as well as the rest of
So when I went down the
aisle to get my music and moccasins, I took out the
white envelope as well, and handed it to Larry - with
the explanation that he would understand WHY I was
putting on (GOD FORBID) moccasins to play the Mighty
Mo!!! You see - purists DO NOT wear moccasins … oh my
NO!!! It was a priceless moment when Larry turned to
his young student and commented that I had written an
explanation as to WHY I was wearing moccasins!!!
My Old Moccasins on Mighty Mo’s
So I climbed up on the
bench, put my music up on the rack and showed him what I
was going to play and said to him - I want a BIG
sound!!! “Mo” has four manuals (keyboards) -
Note: I had a 4 manual Kilgen when I played at
Covenant Presbyterian in Albany (for 3 years). It was
an old theatre organ converted into a church organ by a
local organist. So Larry showed me which
manual to play, and he selected the appropriate stops
(an organ is like an orchestra at your fingertips - one
“stop” will be flute, another brass, etc. and putting
several together, you have an orchestra!!!), and I drew
in a deep breath and started my dream!!! I played the
opening lines of the National Anthem and when I got to
... “and the rockets red glare” - he introduced the
snare drums (I think … all I know is there was
percussion and I was getting turned on and when he did,
I shouted “YES!”), and then when it got toward the end
... I literally yelled ... “BIG” ... and he turned on
the big guns ... TUTTI ... ALL!! And I finished with a
flare!! And when I finished with the last crashing
chord, I threw my arms around Larry and said ... Oh
thank you! I NEVER DREAMED …!!!! I was close to tears!
Beverly at the Might Mo … Fox Theatre, Atlanta GA
asked if I wanted to play something else - and I said I
didn't play anything without the music but "Jesus Loves
Me.” So he let me play that. I asked for a music box
sound, tiny and bell-like. Note: I play Jesus Loves
Me for the children to come forward for their special
time every Sunday morning, and play it in the style of
Mozart or Clementi. So he selected a wonderful
delicate stop (like a glockenspiel) - have no idea what
it was, and I played. When I finished that, he said -
let's play a duet using that. So he started, and then
told me when to come in and ... oh folks ... what a
delight!!! At the Mighty Mo with Larry and Jesus!!!
Mr. Tom had asked Larry to
demonstrate a tibia and a vox humana sound. (Though Mr.
Tom has never played an organ - he knows a lot about
them.) The latter is the closest thing to an
instrumental human voice - and to me ... the tibias are
the main sound that creates the sound of a theatre
organ. So we had that demonstration and suddenly he
was playing "Sweet, Sweet Spirit", the hymn I recently
arranged for my vocal student, Helen, and ironically, I
selected it for a benediction response at church this
entire month to tie in with our "Team Spirit" theme. OH
BROTHER - what an improv he did on THAT number!!! Then
went on to do a medley of Christian melodies ... "His
Eye Is On The Sparrow" and a rousing finish with "Oh For
A Thousand Tongues” ... and I thought I was going to
take off and fly!!! It was THEN that the tears came.
Then it was time to go ...
the student and family said their goodbyes, as did Joe
Patton; and Larry walked us to the stage door and
outside and was still telling incredible stories, such
as ones of Virgil Fox, etc. I could have listened
forever. He said to come back if he was practicing ...
And we loaded up the car,
still overwhelmed by what had just taken place and
headed for Atlanta Fish Market!!! Had a wonderful meal
- then headed back to Sharon's, dropped her off, and
then took Mr. Tom home. I told him, that just because
he finally heard me play the Mighty Mo, he still had to
(Sadly my dear friend, Mr.
Tom, died December of 2007)
I am still having a real
problem with the reality of this dream come true. Last
month we went to an annual gathering of high school
friends, and we had a lively discussion on “degrees of
separation.” I look at this happening as degrees of
opportunity, and even THAT is not the word I want. Here
is why: I went to Brookhaven UMC 4 years ago because at
that time, I could not find a church to serve (as a
director), and I truly SETTLED on this church because it
had a pipe organ. I started playing there on the
staff in August. On my birthday Sunday, which is
usually around Halloween, I always play the first and
last sections of the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor
to celebrate BOTH!!! And someone told me afterwards
that Mr. Tom was standing over to the side just beaming
... it was shortly thereafter that I began to know him
as a friend and mutual organ lover. So there I was, in
the first degree of an unknown opportunity in a place
I didn't want to be ... meeting a man (another
degree) who has a daughter who is very attentive and
loving to him ... and she (yet another degree), because
of her love of a man I love, reached out to (another
degree) a giving man, Larry, who made my dream
possible! The lesson: sometimes we don't know why God
closes doors, until we realize he has found a way to
open up a dream for us!!!
And that's my story, and
I'm happily sticking to it!!!
I cannot conclude this
episode without paying tribute to my dear husband.
Tommy made me feel so special ... I would be
hard-pressed to chose between the thrill of playing the
Mighty Mo and the look of pride on his face when I
finished. Thank you my darling!
Links to websites connected with Mighty Mo ... if you
Larry Douglas Embury:
The Mighty Mo:
wonderful images of the pipes and chambers, etc.)
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