Organist to turn back the clock – The Daily Reflector





Thursday, October 31, 2013


Papadakos’ specialty is improvising accompaniments to silent movies, as was done in theaters when silent films first emerged in the late 1800s. Next Friday, she will accompany the 1929 film “Phantom of the Opera” at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church as part of the Fisk on Fouth Concert Series presented by East Carolina Musical Arts Education Foundation.

“The exciting thing about this,” said Andrew Scanlon, who is the director of music at St. Paul’s, “is not only that this is a unique experience that you don’t see every day, but you get to see someone compose music right there live in the moment.”

Papadakos was improvising jazz music at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York in the early ’90s, but was asked to step in improvising “Phantom of the Opera” at the last minute.

“I had three days to learn ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and create my own melodies for the characters,” she said. “The movie is 96 minutes long. I had never improvised for more than eight or 10 minutes at a time.”

Despite her early hesitation, Papadakos found that she very much enjoyed playing along with the film.

“I was about halfway through the movie and the skies opened and I was like ‘Oh my God, I have never felt more free in my life,’ I fell in love with it,” she said.

She has since been touring the world improvising accompaniments for silent films.

“Churches around the country started inviting me to do these movies and they started selling out,” Papadakos said. “So I said, ‘I’ll let all the other organists play repertoire. I’ll do the silent movies and improvise, because that’s how I’m happy.”

Her favorites to play along with are horror films like “Dracula” and “Nosferatu.” Lately, she has also done “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in Wilmington, where she lives. “Phantom of the Opera,” though, still holds a special place in her heart. She estimates that she has accompanied the film around 30 times since she started with it in New York, but she insists that it always changes.

“I love it because it’s different every time,” she said. “It’s never the same show — the organ is different, the audience is different.

“The organ really dictates how much freedom I have in my ideas. The bigger the organ, the more bells and whistles and toys, then the more variety I can get in sound.”

The performance in Greenville, therefore, promises to impress. The Fisk pipe organ at St. Paul’s, Scanlon said, is the finest anywhere east of the Duke Chapel.

“St. Paul’s is like a hands-on training ground where I teach my students,” said Scanlon, who is also the organ professor at East Carolina University. “They practice on this organ and they give their recitals here.”

“I rehearsed there a few weeks ago,” Papadakos said. “I was just blown away. This thing is just powerful, and the room has like this six-second echo. The sound just wraps you in this big sonic blanket. So, for the audience, it’s going to be really cool.”

Scanlon said he expects that some will come to the performance because it’s a unique opportunity. History buffs and old movie enthusiasts would likely make up a good portion of the audience, he estimated. For him, though, he’s most excited to see an artist at work.

“I’m looking forward to this one because of the tremendous artistry of Dorothy Papadakos,” he said. “It’s not simply that showing a silent film with an organ accompaniment is so unique, it’s that Dorothy is such an amazing artist. Just having the opportunity to bring her here to Greenville and to see her right here on this instrument make music with this silent film, that’s what’s exciting to me.”

Contact Natalie Sayewich at or 329-9596.

via The Daily Reflector.