Becoming Tech’s organist: Taking a chance at hockey games
I followed the advice of Bob, the ice arena’s manager. The following week I spent a lot of time in the arena. For me, it what was a major event in my life. Not only did I have to become comfortable climbing that ladder, but I had to “learn” that Wurlitzer. It offered a lot of challenges but the practices paid off. There was a hockey game coming up, and I needed to be ready.
Michigan Tech has a huge, phenomenal student Pep Band. They are dressed in the Michigan Tech black and gold colors, and all the musicians wear mining helmets. They play at all the hockey games. The director and some of the musicians resented having to put up with an organ stealing some of their thunder.
It took a bit of negotiating to have “organ music” added to the entertainment. We agreed that the organ would play before the game, and stop about five minutes before the start of the game. The band had traditionally played all the “music spots” (referee timeouts, delays, injuries, fights, etc.)
In places where hockey arenas had pipe organs (such as the Forum in Montreal and the famed Chicago Stadium) those spots were handled by the organist.
When I suggested,“now that we have an organ, I am able to do those spots instantly, rather than having to wait for the band to get organized and losing the opportunity to play.” That idea was overruled quickly. I was asked to do a “peppy kind of music” before the game, and do a “mini-concert” consisting of a mix of semi-classics and great show tunes after the game. From that day on, I became “The Michigan Tech hockey organist.”
Playing before the game was fun, but I also realized that folks were not there to just hear organ music; after the game was different. I tried to do a varied program of show tunes and light classics. It didn’t take long before I started getting requests. Most of the requests were for show/pop and movie classics, but there were requests for favorite classics also. I tried to satisfy all requests. It was gratifying to see the number of people who would linger.
Because we were living in a quasi-Finnish environment, I decided that my finale for each mini-concert would be the theme from Jean Sibelius ‘ “Finlandia.” It worked beautifully. The loud trumpets and other reeds gave the song a very exciting, very loud symphonic sound. One of the assistant professors, Mike Chase, was an organ enthusiast. He only played a little, but he knew and loved every facet of the instrument. Because of his love for the Wurlitzer Organ and, as he told me, that “he really liked my style of playing,” he agreed to maintain the instrument. He did the tuning and minor repairs when needed. He sat with me by the organ for every game.
Whatever success I had I owe to him, and I will be forever grateful.
The Michigan Tech monthly magazine, “Alumnus,” did a wonderful two page article with pictures, entitled, “Just like the Montreal Forum.” It was about me and my personal struggle to “climb that ladder,” and the joy that the Tech organ brought to all. When I was leaving the Copper Country to move to Hastings, Minnesota,The Daily Mining Gazette ran a lead editorial with a picture saying, “You’ll be missed, Gerrit Lamain.” I was also cited as “The Michigan Tech hockey organist” in “The American Organist” magazine.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Gerrit Lamain is a former Copper Country resident who served as a music professor at Suomi College. He was also the organist for the Michigan Tech hockey team before moving on to the Minnesota North Stars.