Hitting all the right notes since 1972

16 October 2020



This column is about celebrating the phenomena that are the Tauranga music scene. Introducing you to some of the interesting characters and events that have shaped the intriguing, ever-evolving theatre of musical entertainment in this area through my own experiences or stories related to me by the characters themselves.

I am what may loosely be described as a “rocker!” A local musician with a few years experience in the rock/blues music fraternity, therefore my knowledge and experience of a “wurlitzer” are limited to the swirly writing on the front of a juke-box.

The Wurlitzer Organ - what a fascinating and mysterious creature she is! I say creature because she is an organic, living thing, tended and nurtured by its supporters. She has the ability to “grow” and attain new “voices” according to and attributed to the activity of its care-givers!

The Wurlitzer at the IYSFF 2019 - Photo Credit: Merkin Media 

What other instrument do you know that has her own “society” or group, dedicated to its health and welfare! What other instrument has a dedicated PA (personal assistant) with the auspicious title of “keeper of the organ?”

To me, she has the aura of a 1940s murder mystery, or of a secret society like the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes or the phantom of the opera.

We’ve all been to Baycourt before, so where does she live? Where are all the pipes and stuff?

The Wurlitzer organ was shipped to New Zealand from North Tonowanda, New York, USA in October 1926 and was installed in the De Luxe Theatre Cinema, Courtney Place, Wellington, and made her debut in 1927 with Sydney organist Emanual (Manny) Aarons. Her main function being the accompaniment to the silent movies of the era. With the demise of the silent movies, she was put up for tender in 1958.

Some crazy guy from Tokoroa (Mr Eddie Aiken) scored it, and installed it in a “Honey Shed!” where he held many concerts for friends and locals until 1967. (No disrespect intended Mr Aiken, but I can’t think of any other way to describe installing a monster like this in a honey shed! Wherever did you find room for the honey or the bees for that matter!?)

Next stop Tokoroa High School before coming up for tender in 1971 when the now extinct community service group “The 20,000 Club” purchased it and after over 5000 voluntary man-hours, and tremendous material support from sponsors, installed it in the Tauranga Town Hall.

When the council demolished the Town Hall a new home for her was found in Baycourt, and the inaugural concert was held on 17th December 1988. The organist, Dennis James, came from the USA for this very special occasion.

The organ society was formed in 1987 to provide support, and continual maintenance for the organ now working closely with Baycourt management and friends of Baycourt to meet the needs of the grand old girl.