Phantom of the Opera at First Baptist Church

Just in time for Halloween, Savannah-area residents will be treated to a screening of the silent film “The Phantom of the Opera,” with organ music performed on a 100-year-old grand organ by an organist from theater.

The classic black-and-white film stars Lon Chaney as the deformed ghost that haunts the Paris Opera and will be presented by guest theater organist, Scott Foppiano, on Sunday, October 23 at 5 p.m. at the First Baptist Church, 223 Bull St. The event is part of the Church’s Centennial Concert Series, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the installation of the EM Skinner Pipe Organ at the First Baptist.

The concert series, which began earlier this year, has many purposes, one being to “expose the church to the community,” explained Justin Addington, minister of music and organist. The film will be projected on a large professional cinema screen with an overhead projector.

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Lon Chaney in the 1925 silent film classic "The Phantom of the Opera".

“We wanted to do something unique that would appeal to a wider audience,” Addington added. “Knowing that organs were used to accompany movies in the 1920s when our organ was installed and knowing that our organ contains some of the same ‘bells and whistles’ as theater organs of that era, we thought it would be a nice nod to the history of the instrument and a nice addition to the series.

The unique event is free and open to the public. Donations will be accepted at the door for the ongoing maintenance of the historic organ.

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The guest organist for the film screening is a lifelong fan of organ music. In fact, Foppiano fell in love with a 1928 Mighty Wurlitzer organ as a teenager.

His formal education was in organ performance with a double major in voice and a concentration in choir conducting. He also studied with the late Tom Hazleton, who is well known in church music circles. Foppiano served congregations throughout the country and accompanied choirs in Italy where they sang at the Vatican.

Scott Foppiano

A resident of North Carolina, Foppiano is a church choir organist, synagogue organist, sales associate and tonal director for AP Farmer Organ Co., representing Allen Organ Co. of Pennsylvania. He also owns a 1927 Mason & Hamlin Model AA grand piano and an Allen Str-4 theater/concert organ.

The First Baptist Skinner Organ is both part of the church’s history and an interesting addition to Savannah’s history. In 1920, major renovations were made to the interior of the historic church, which faces Chippewa Square.

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A generous donation came from George Armstrong’s wife, Lucy – who became Lucy Armstrong Moltz when she remarried several years after George Armstrong’s death in 1924. The donation enabled the award of a contract for an instrument “which would be one of the . . . the finest organs in all of the Southeast,” according to the book “Pilgrims Through the Years,” a First Baptist story.

Music Minister Justin Addington plays the EM Skinner pipe organ at First Baptist Church Savannah.

George Armstrong was a wealthy merchant navy executive who built a mansion on Bull Street which his widow and daughter later donated to the city of Savannah for an institution of higher learning. (Ms. Armstrong lived primarily in Lake Toxaway, North Carolina, but always loved Savannah and is buried alongside her first husband in Bonaventure Cemetery.)

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The Armstrong Mansion became part of Armstrong Junior College and, after the college moved to the South Savannah neighborhood, served as offices for a law firm. The mansion is now owned by conservative hotelier Richard Kessler and is called the Armstrong Kessler Mansion.

The first Baptist organ became known as the Camp Memorial Organ, in honor of Mrs. Armstrong’s parents. Mrs. Armstrong also paid to remodel the attic of the sanctuary to accommodate the pipe chambers and paid an organist’s salary for a year.

For more information about the Centennial Organ Concert Series at First Baptist, visit fbc-sav.org/music.

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