Renowned organist returns to IU to accompany silent film

Alumnus began playing 'Phantom' show in 1969

POSTED AT 12:00 AM ON Oct. 31, 2006 


What once was a 21-year tradition will return to the IU Auditorium this Halloween for the first time in 15 years. Dennis James, the world-renowned organist and IU graduate, returning to IU tonight to play the pipe organ as accompaniment to "The Phantom of the Opera" silent film.

During his absence from IU, James has played in other venues all over the country, such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. However, he said he cannot wait to come back and perform at IU.

"After playing this show at IU for 21 years, I think coming back and playing this Halloween will let me experience the true definition of nostalgia," James said.

James recalls his first show at the IU Auditorium, when he was an undergraduate student.

"It was 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War," he said. "I remember going out and stamping 400 tickets for the performance, but 4,000 people showed up, so we just kept reselling those tickets at the door over and over," he said. "However, we had to shut down about five minutes into the film. With all the marijuana smoke, the image didn't make it onto the screen."

June Tomastick, a graduate student and a regular attendee of James' past performances, said she remembers lines extending around the block when this event used to be a regular Halloween tradition.

"I think the line was due to curiosity and the fact that this was a great event for all ages. However, I don't think there will be a line this time," she said. "There is so much going on in the city, and those of us who love him have already bought our tickets."

Tomastick, also a professional organist, said she is impressed with James' skill.

"As a musician myself, I think he is a theater organ genius that absolutely anyone can appreciate," she said. "I am also impressed that he takes the time to research authentic music for the movies. The organ is an awesome instrument that will send shivers down your back."

During the performance, James will accompany the 1925 silent film version of "The Phantom of the Opera" starring Lon Chaney. He will play the IU Auditorium's Roosevelt Pipe Organ, which holds more than 4,500 pipes. IU Auditorium Director Doug Booher said the movie is more of a horror film than a love story, making it a perfect event for Halloween. Everyone is expected to come in costume, and there will be a costume contest in which the audience votes, with prizes for the winners, Booher said.

Booher said he expects the revival of this old tradition to be a great and entertaining night for all involved.

"We want to see the tradition of this performance come back. We wanted to give students an opportunity to have fun together and get all dressed up," he said. "People will be really entertained by the organ, the movie and the way that they will go together."

IU students can purchase tickets at the IU Auditorium Box Office or through for $7-$13. General public seats cost $13-$16.


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