“Doing some of the best work anywhere in the state…” - SouthernMinn Scene
"The theatre was so beautiful it made me catch my breath…Everyone was friendly and welcoming… [and] the evening was unforgettable.” – Audience Comment (Trip Advisor)
The Organ’s History
The Sheldon is home to a now rare Kilgen Theatre Organ. Built in 1926 by the Kilgen Theatre Organ Company to accompany silent films, this instrument with its original console still in use is a piece of living history.
During the first quarter of the 20th century, as the new art form of cinema took hold in America, technology changed rapidly. At the height of the silent film era, from the mid-teens to the late twenties, the theatre organ was developed and became wildly popular as theatre managers sought less expensive ways than hiring live musicians for every screening to score increasingly popular films.
Manufacturers such as Wurlitzer and Kilgen rose up to meet the demand for these unique instruments. “Theatre organs are also known as “Unit Orchestras” as they can emulate many different sounds from the orchestra – from pipe organ violins to flutes, oboes, trumpets, clarinets, and so on. Also unique to theatre pipe organs was the inclusion of tuned percussions such as chimes, marimbas, pianos, glockenspiels, xylophones, vibraphones, etc.” (For more information, visit American Theatre Organ Society at www.atos.org)
The Sheldon’s organ was installed in 1926, just one year before the introduction of “talkies” with the release of Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer” in 1927. Films with soundtracks became mainstream around 1930, and like many theatre organs across the country, the Sheldon’s quickly ceased to be used.
In the mid-1980s, during the Sheldon restoration, the organ was dismantled, restored and rebuilt. It was increased in size with the addition of more pipes, plus percussions, and reinstalled in two chambers on either side of the balcony and behind the proscenium arch at the front and above the theatre.
At present the organ includes 12 sets of pipes (1,020 total pipes), plus its percussions with marimba and glockenspiel, xylophone, drums and cymbals, and a “toy counter” with birdcalls, a doorbell, a siren, sleigh bells, horns, a train whistle and other sound effects.