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Dick Leibert was at RCMH from the day it opened in 1932 till somewhere in the early to mid 70’s when he retired to Florida. I knew him for several years before he retired, a gracious and gentlemanly fellow, with a wicked dry sense of humor. I took many a date with me to the Music Hall, Dick would let us in at the 51st street stage door and let us watch the show from the wings of the stage….always impressed the girls, let me tell you! The last time I heard him play was at the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, NJ on both the pipe organ there and a Baldwin electronic. He did some endorsements for them I think. He took a lot of criticism in those later days for using his own set combinations and not experimenting… true, but gee he was playing for 40+ years at that point. And, the organ was in bad shape, it had suffered from several “experts” who tried their own gimmicks – one even cut some pipes up as I recall. You had to use big combinations both because so much didnt work by then, and to be heard. The organ speaks from behind grillwork, so at its best it sounds muffled. Dick always played a standard that fit the movie, I remember ‘Stardust’ before some space picture, and usually had a current pop tune worked up.
Even my classical organ professor (who studied with Fred Swann – that’s credibility) agreed no one could do rapid finger substitutions like Dick – watching his fingers move chromatically up and down the keyboard for a tibia slide was just unbelieveable…. what technique he had. Even in the last years he practiced constantly in his dressing room on an old upright piano.
So when Communion is over in church, and I keep taking stops off the Swell to just a celeste as I move the harmony up the scale, fading out to just a 32'in the pedal – only my wife knows its really a Leibert ending before the movie starts!