Back to Top ▲

Reminiscences in the feminine.

By Louise Macdonald

Louise Macdonald organist
Having been the only lady organist in Ireland for some years, it was suggested that I should write something of my experiences there.
Many people have rather hazy ideas about Ireland. In fact, on a recent holiday in Cornwall, I overheard two Londoners discussing how the cinemas in Ireland segregated the sexes into separate parts of the auditorium .
Well, I should just hate to think what the box-office returns would be if that were so! At any rate being a cinema organist in Ireland is much the same as playing anywhere else, and tastes in music are also similar.
A question I have been constantly asked is how I came to take up the cinema organ. At the beginning of the war I was a pianist with a salon orchestra in the restaurant of a large cinema in Northern Ireland (The Tonic). Very shortly after I commenced there the organist (Believed to be
Stendal Todd Stendal Todd is advertised as organist at the Tonic from June 1937 until October 1940. He was also the manager of the cinema.

Ballymena Weekly Telegraph
Saturday 10 August 1940 Image © Johnston Press plc.
Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.
) left, and although persistent attempts were made by the management to secure an organist from England, it became apparent that they would be of no avail, owing to the permit regulations. In the meantime the three manual Compton looked very tempting and I obtained permission to practice.
A few weeks later we had a guest organist for six weeks - Joseph Seal, organist of the Ritz, Belfast - and for the first time I became really interested.
My mind was now quite made up, and the management told me definitely that the post was mine if I cared to have some training for it immediately. A course of lessons was then arranged and I was hurried into the job inside three months.
I'm afraid I must have worked rather too hard, because about a fortnight before I was due to commence interludes I had a nervous breakdown and had to take a holiday. However, I recovered in time to open on the Easter Monday to a record number of holiday makers, and all went well. Many people think I had an easy time of it. Far from it . . . because with a change of film twice weekly, I was doing two shows each week for four years. Yes, it was pretty hard going, but very enjoyable too, and, as so many service people were stationed in Northern Ireland, I used to get hundreds of friendly letters from all over the world.
I remember one young lady in the town who must have made a point of asking every young man she met, to write to me for a request item for herself. It took me some time to discover that so many were coming in for the same girl, after that I followed the course of her conquests with interests. Another letter which I will always keep as a memento was from a parson, in which he said that my music helped him in his work. I can't imagine why (unless the relaxation did him good)
On looking back at my musical career perhaps it was inevitable that I should drift on to the cinema organ sooner or later. Being a pianist for so many years in all sorts of jobs- dance and straight, solo concert work, broadcasting etc. gave me unlimited experience.
I started piano lessons at the age of six, fully intending to become a professional musician, and later on had a year or so on the violin. Percussion instruments have always interested me, and while studying at the Royal Manchester College of Music, there was one memorable occasion when I played the tympani for three nights at the Free Trade Hall, for a college performance of the opera "Madam Butterfly."
On these occasions it was customary to augment the college orchestra with a few players from the Halle, and having only been playing the tymps for three months I felt somewhat nervous standing behind my three large instruments, with two Hale drummers beside me playing cymbals and side drums. I was the first lady timpanist the college ever had, and it seemed to cause a lot of amused attention.
It was about this time also that I had a season playing drums in a ladies orchestra, chiefly because lady drummers were so scarce that it was impossible to get one at the time. The piano accordion was another side line of mine.
I shall always look back with pleasure on my first four years as a cinema organist, and I really don't think the feminine point of view greatly differs from the masculine. After all, what the public wants is enjoyable entertainment, and to that end any organist must be prepared to work.

Go to the Louise Macdonald profile
Extract from Theatre Organ World, by Jack Courtnay