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The Weld hall organ began as a Wurlitzer organ from 1925, installed in the Rialto Theater in Buffalo, New York. The organ shifted around from church to church until it was purchased by the RRTOS in 1980 by then President Lance Johnson for $500.
This came to fruition after Lance and Dave Knudtson were asked to play silent films on a piano at Weld Hall (Minnesota State University Moorhead) for teaching film students about the silent film era. After a bit, Lance asked then head film instructor Ted Larson if he wanted an organ to be installed in weld. Permission was granted and the instrument was set to be installed.
Since the original pipework was lost over the history of the instrument Lance, owner of the Johnson Organ Company, produced several ranks of pipes and took out other ranks from other instruments totaling 7 ranks of pipes alongside the console from the Wurlitzer.
Lance also produced a glockenspiel assembly and found a 1920s era Aeolian home organ Chrysaglott. All of that added up to a two manual 6 rank instrument that was installed in weld hall in 1981 with a formal dedication in 1982.
Weld Hall itself was built in 1915 and is the oldest building on the Minnesota State University Moorhead campus built to replicate a typical theater of the time with a balcony and all. After a renovation the balcony was removed and sits as it is today. It was not built with an organ and the first organ was installed in 1981.
On June 14, 1982 a new annual series was produced by the RRTOS, the “Summer Cinema Series.” This series consisted of silent films played in Weld Hall narrated on the organ by Lance Johnson and Dave Knudtson. This series continued all the way through 2018 and ended with the death of Dave that year.
Other than The Summer Cinema series the organ was used by the film department to teach students about the silent film era and film music and its history with the organ playing a big role in the teaching. It was also used for Halloween silent films in October playing movies like Phantom of the Opera, Valentine's Day movies, and for chapter meetings where such people as "The Incomparable" Hildegarde Kraus, Lance Johnson, Dave Knudtson, Lloyd Collins, Ryan Hardy, and Alex Swanson played the instrument. In fact, Alex regularly practiced on the instrument in between classes while he was attending MSUM from 2014-2018.
In 1995 Lance led an expansion including a complete revoicing of the instrument, alongside adding a third manual (keyboard) and solid-state relay. The last main improvement being a redo of the tremulant system. He also added 3 ranks of pipes. With all of this the instrument was at its final size.
In 2000 after the passing of Ted Larson the organ was renamed to the “Ted M. Larson Theatre Pipe Organ” and rededicated on July 15, 2002. About 10 years later, the Fargo Theatre Wurlitzer's 1926 Concert Flute was added to the Weld Hall Organ as the Fargo Theatre Organ was undergoing a major expansion.
As mentioned the Weld Hall Organ had 9 ranks, 3 manuals, and 2 chambers.
The main chamber housed the Violin, Violin Celeste, Diaphonic Diapason, Tuba Horn, Concert Flute, and the Chrysaglott. The solo chamber housed the Vox Humana, Trumpet, and Tibia Clausa alongside the toy counter (assembly with drums, cymbals, and other rhythmic percussion), the Glockenspiel, and the English Post Horn.
The beginning of the end for the instrument started in 2019 when MSUM unveiled plans to renovate the hall, with no intention of reinstalling the instrument. Many ideas were formulated as to what to do with the instrument. One idea included donating the instrument to the City of Moorhead, or even installing it into a science museum that was in an initial planning stage, but had not yet been built. A farewell to the weld concert was planned for May 17, 2020 but was canceled due to covid.
The instrument sat turned dormant and un-played for two years and only used one time between the last Summer Cinema Series and removal, and that was for a chapter meeting on July 12, 2020. After this meeting the instrument would sit dormant for another two years
Originally the intention was to reinstall the instrument somewhere, but at a meeting of the RRTOS on July 11, 2021 it was voted to sell the instrument as a whole or in parts. Then and there, the instrument's fate was sealed.
Before the instrument was to be removed there were two ranks that were of interest to the RRTOS. First rank of interest was the English Post horn. This rank was an originally an Oboe revoiced by Lance Johnson, however had a very prominent crack and bright sound better then Post Horn in the Fargo Theater Wurlitzer. This rank was supposedly originally installed in the Fargo Theatre and moved to Weld Hall in the early 2000s. The intention was to replace the English Post Horn rank in the theatre with the Weld Hall Post Horn. However, after it came to light that rank of pipes was voiced on 5½ inches of wind pressure instead of the standard 10 inches made the fate of this rank certain that it would be destroyed if installed at the theatre.
The second rank of interest was the Concert Flute. While the Post Horn history was theorized the Concert Flute's history is known. This Concert Flute is a Wurlitzer rank original to the Fargo Theatre from 1926 and was installed in Weld Hall after being swapped for another flue in the Fargo Theatre when that instrument was expanded in the mid-2010s.
While having the same issue as the Post Horn the Concert Flute is much cheaper to get revoiced and has its historical significance to the Theatre backing it. This rank will be reinstalled in the Fargo Theatre’s Wurlitzer upon completion of the Capital Campaign.
On October 31, 2022 the removal officially began with 4 people; Alex Swanson, Alex Moe, Dylan Thiele, and Jean Hellner. On that day the Wurlitzer was played for the last time with the organ being recorded one last time with the final song appropriately being “We’ll Meet Again.” The first worked completed that day was removing the English Post Horn and its wind chest and the Concert Flute. Each of these was transported to the Fargo Theatre to be stored until reinstallation. The instrument was then put up for sale with no buyers so the decision was made to take apart everything and sell in parts.
On April 14, 2023 Alex Moe and Dylan Thiele cut cables and removed the driver board rendering the organ unplayable. The rest of the day was preparation for removal with moving around pipes and getting a general plan for removing the instrument.
The first big day of removal was on May 1, 2023 with a team of 3; Alex Moe, Alex Swanson, and Dylan Thiele. A lot of the large bass pipes were removed from the chambers along side regulators, pipe racking, traps (i.e. snare drum, bass drum, a couple windchests, tremulants, and the glockenspiel). Everything was laid out on the stage and ready to be moved on day 2.
Day 2 was on May 3, 2023 with the same team. The goal was to complete as much work as possible. The first thing done was traying pipes for transport, clearing the chambers of any pipes. Clearing the stage was the biggest priority due to there being an event the next day. All of the ranks were trayed along side the bass pipes and the percussion assembly's except the chrysaglott were loaded on to a trailer. All of that was taken to Alex Swanson's farm to be stored until a buyer is found or a plan is in place for the instrument. The trash was also dealt with to finish off day 2, only leaving windchests, the chrysaglott, and the console for day 3.
Day 3 of the removal was on May 30, 2023 with Dylan Thiele and Alex Moe. The goal was to remove everything else that being the console, windchests, and chrysaglott assembly, however technical difficulties made it so that the console was the only thing that came out. The console was delivered to the house of Dylan Thiele.
The only things remaining in weld today from the organ is some windchests and the chrysaglott a bitter-sweet ending for a instrument with so much historical significance to the society. However all is not lost for the instrument.
The console as mentioned was taken to RRTOS member Dylan Thiele’s house. There the key tops were redone and converted into a Hauptwerk instrument. As well the console receiving a new nickname affectionately renamed “Ted” named after the man that made this instrument possible, Ted Larson.
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