Pizza parlor organist has a passion for playing

2010-11-15T00:00:00Z 2010-11-15T23:45:32Z Pizza parlor organist has a passion for playingBy Carrie Steinweg Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
November 15, 2010 12:00 am  • 

LANSING | Most junior high students with the ambition to make a buck might take a paper route, baby-sit or mow the neighbor's lawn.

That wasn't the case for Glenn Tallar. The Homer Glen resident was just 14 when he started playing the pipe organ at Beggar's Pizza, 3524 Ridge Road, and eight years later he still performs twice a week for diners at the Lansing restaurant.

It was Tallar's older brother, Tim, who noticed a newspaper ad for an organ player and auditioned. His brother began playing once a week and the younger Tallar soon joined him. The Tallar family is a musical one, with mother, Janet, giving early lessons to her two boys and daughter, Gionna.

Glenn Tallar later took formal lessons from a variety of musicians, some as far away as Racine, Wis. Once lessons were done, he had plenty of opportunity to practice on the pipe organ his father, Bob, had installed in their home.

"I play because I see people enjoy it and it puts a smile on their face," Tallar said. "If I can bring that type of art form to people, it makes me happy."

From his mother, Tallar learned to play, and from his father, he learned the inner workings of the instrument and how to maintain and repair it. As a youngster, he spent a lot of time in his father's workshop.

"I learned the craft behind it. When something broke, I knew how to fix it," he said.

When something isn't working on the Beggar's organ, Tallar jumps in to repair it, which sometimes involves making his own parts. He said he has a few people he sometimes calls on for extra help, including Allen Hoppel, who takes care of the building; Richard Sklenar, who is head of operations at the Historical Theatre Society in Elmhurst; and, occasionally, his father.

Tallar's father acquired an appreciation for pipe organs at the age of 14 when he first saw one in a movie theater. He then got involved with an organ players group and started collecting parts and pieces.

Although the pizzeria is housed in the building that was once the Lans Theatre, it opened long after the silent film era for which the organ was designed. The organ first appeared in Milwaukee's Oriental Theatre in 1927. From there it had several homes, including a roller rink in Moline, Ill., a Minneapolis pizza parlor (where it sustained damage in a fire) and a private residence in the Midwest.

By 1983 the Lans Theatre was gone, but new owners transformed it into a pizza parlor and arcade and named it Pipes and Pizza. The former Oriental Theatre organ was acquired from the private owner and added to the building. Pipes and Pizza went out of business in the early '90s and the building sat vacant for a short time before Beggar's Pizza took over.

Operating a pipe organ is a job in which, Tallar said, "you're definitely multitasking" by not just playing keys, but working everything from percussion units to lighting systems to the drum machine, sometimes while fielding requests.

"It's a true pipe organ with no speakers," he said. "The sound you hear is real."

The organ also has room percussions, including a xephone, marmiba, harp, bells, drums and sound effects, all of which are controlled by stops around the keyboards.

So what's it like on an average night?

"As far as playing there, you've got a lot on your mind -- what sounds to use, how to play the music, where to use the chase light, changing colors," he said. "Then there's the room noise itself or things that break you out of your zone to distract you. People ask you for a song while you're playing, but it's all in good fun. I love my job. I wouldn't have it any other way."

Except for a short hiatus in high school when he wasn't yet driving, Tallar has been playing at Beggar's since 2002. His day job is at the Fine and Performing Arts Center at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Heights, and he can be found playing for the Beggar's crowd on Tuesdays from 6 to 9 p.m. and Fridays from 6 to 10 p.m.

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