Barker’s passing leaves Palace Theatre organ silent, for now
LAKE PLACID – Jeff Barker, a silent film organist who played at the Palace Theatre for many years, will be remembered this weekend after his death on New Year’s Eve, 2013.
A graveside service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the St. Agnes Cemetery.
“It was a shock to me; I never expected it,” Palace Theatre owner Reg Clark said of Barker’s death. “He told me he’d be coming up to tune the organ sometime after Christmas, and of course that never happened.”
This past Halloween, Barker once again performed on the Palace’s restored Robert Morton theater pipe organ during the 1920s version of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
“It was just amazing that he could take a silent movie and accompany it on the organ through his own ability,” Clark said.
Clark said the silent films will continue with a new organist this October.
The Adirondack Film Society wrote in a blog post on its website that Barker was “the whole show” and that the audience was appreciative of his performance.
“Jeff was at the organ when the Adirondack Film Society launched its first official event in October 1999,” the nonprofit group wrote. “The successful event provided a strong start for the inaugural Lake Placid Film Forum in June 2000. Every October since, Jeff has been at the organ for silent film events produced by the Adirondack Film Society.”
Barker was born in Manchester, England and grew up listening to his father play the trumpet in a dance band. His father encouraged him to play the piano, and he began doing so at age 5. Barker switched instruments in his teenage years and began to play the theater pipe organ, which he continued to play for the rest of his life. Barker would go on to study under, in his own words, “famous” theater organists in England.
Barker said in a video interview with Jack Moelmann that he came to the United States at age 21 for “just two weeks” but ended up getting a job playing the organ at the Surf City Hotel in Long Beach Island, New Jersey. He decided to stay in America and subsequently became a U.S. citizen.
Kathy Martin, president of the Garden State Theatre Organ Society, said he was “a very talented” organist.
“He was very well known as an organist, and he had a very English, British style of playing,” Martin said. “It had a bounce to it, an energetic way of playing.”
Barker was a member of the New York Theatre Organ Society and restored theater pipe organs in the New York and New Jersey area. Martin said he most recently restored and installed a theater organ in Wayne, New Jersey. The organ was removed from a theatre and is now being used by a church there.
Theater pipe organs, used during the silent film era, were no longer manufactured after the 1920s. The Palace’s was installed in 1926 but soon afterward passed into disuse when “talkies” made silent films obsolete, according to an entry in theatreorgans.com. Barker, along with Melvin Robinson, did the restoration work, and Barker played it upon its second debut on Oct. 8, 1998.