Theatre Organist: Ralph Ringstad, Jr.

Ralph Ringstad
Ralph in 1983 at age 22

CLOSING CHORD

Most members of GSTOS and NYTOS have
had the good fortune to enjoy
Ralph Ringstad, Jr. in concert at
just about every theatre organ venue
in the area.

We are sad to report that Ralph was
found dead on Friday, December 24,
2010 on a remote path near his home in
Whippany, NJ, where he took daily
walks for exercise. He had fallen, hit
his head, and died of exposure at age
49. He possessed tremendous natural
musical talent, and will be terribly
missed.

A native of Whippany, N.J., Ralph
began his formal musical training at the
age of seven. By seventeen he was
performing along with mentor Frank
Cimmino on the 3/17 Wurlitzer at the
Suburbian Restaurant in Wanaque,
New Jersey. By eighteen, while a
student at Ithaca College from which he
earned a degree in music, he had made
his concert debut on the 4/31 Möller
pipe organ at the New York Military
Academy. Ralph loved to play show
tunes from the 1930’s and 40’s
delighting audiences with his memorable
arrangements.

A multi-talented musician, his
formal musical training included not
only classical and theatre organ, but
also piano, cello, French horn and tuba.
He performed extensively on the tuba
with orchestras and concert bands
throughout New Jersey and New York.
Ralph concertized at many of the top
theatre organ venues throughout the
country including the Senate Theatre in
Detroit, Long Island University, the
Trenton War Memorial, the Thomaston
Opera House, and Rochester
Auditorium.

Forever innovative, he participated
in several unique non concert
endeavors. Silent Laughter, a live
slapstick comedy performance with no
speaking was accompanied by Ralph on
an electronic theatre organ throughout
it’s local run in 2003 and its off
Broadway run in 2004. Ralph had also
been pleased to play Christmas music
recently on the NYTOS Allen touring
organ at JFK Airport and at the
Broadway Mall in Hicksville, Long
Island.

He was well known at Loew's
Jersey where he developed a following
of theatre patrons who arrived early just
to hear the organ music. Ralph was one
of the four organists who premiered the
Bob Balfour Memorial Wonder Morton
during Wonder Weekend at Loew’s in
October of 2008.

His parents, Ralph, Sr. and Marie,
have been long time members of
GSTOS. Both Ralph and his dad served
as GSTOS organ crew members at
Loew's Jersey and at Newark Symphony
Hall.

Throughout his career, Ralph was
Organist and Music Director for several
churches in Florida and North Jersey -
most recently, Advent Lutheran Church
in Warren, N.J.
In 1995 he recorded a popular CD,
“One of a Kind," on the Trenton War
Memorial 3/16 Magnificent Möller
Theatre Pipe Organ.

As one longtime GSTOS member
aptly put it “We will miss his humor,
his spontaneous wit and his ability to
make any piece of music an exciting
event”.

We suspect that somewhere in the
heavens Ralph Ringstad Jr. and Frank
Cimmino are once again back together
making beautiful music.

Our sincere condolences go out to
Marie, Ralph Sr., and the family.

Ralph Ringstad
Ralph at Wonder Weekend - October, 2008

LOSING A FRIEND

GSTOS has lost a friend in the sudden passing of Ralph Ringstad, Jr. I first
heard Ralph when he began warming up for his lesson with organ teacher Frank
Cimmino as I was exiting from my instruction. At that time I was humbled by
the sounds that were already coming from the keys under his early-teenaged
fingers, while I myself was struggling to get the organ to obey. It was evident
from his early youth that Ralph had the natural expression of music in him. For
all of us, Ralph was a regular guy who willingly shared his talent wherever and
whenever he was present at any of our events or gatherings. Without pretense,
he hopped onto organ benches and began to extract beautiful sounds and
expressions from pipes or speakers. People stopped and were captivated into
listening to his masterful command of music. Now, his hands are stilled and we
all share in the loss of his talent and of a friend.

Michael Cipolletti

Calla


Complimentary Admission


Since 2008, when the magnificent pipe organ in the Loew's Jersey Theatre was restored, the intense beauty of the instrument's breath-taking range of sounds has been just as important a part of the experience of the Loew's as the Theatre's magnificent architecture or the shows on our stage and screen. 

More often than not, until last December, the man at the keyboard was Ralph Ringstad, Jr., who was the Loew's first Principal Organist in 62 years.

He'd been a member of the dedicated team of volunteers who had spent eleven years painstakingly restoring the organ. And when that work was almost done, it was Ralph who literally breathed life back into the organ by playing its first notes and helping to tune its 1,800 pipes. Ralph was a talented keyboard artist who understood that all of the surviving theatre organs are a special kind of musical instrument with a unique power to dazzle and delight. He never failed to do this wherever he played. But Ralph and the Loew's organ became a special team. Perhaps he'd gained a technical insight into it during all those years of working to rebuild it. Or, maybe, Ralph just understood the organ's "soul" better than anyone else. Whatever the reason, when Ralph was at the keyboard, the Loew's organ had a unique vitality.

Ralph greatly admired Ted Meyn, the man who had been the legendarily popular House Organist at the Loew's in the 1930s and '40s, and was was keenly aware of the traditions he was helping to renew and perpetuate. "This theatre, this organ -- they are timeless," he once remarked. "Eighty years ago, they were both built to entertain the spirit and uplift the soul. They still do that. And they will always do that. I'm so happy to be a part of that!"   

All of us who are involved in the ongoing restoration of the Loew's can't help but feel the continuum of history and the brevity of the present. We work to preserve and restore a landmark that was built and shared by people who came before us, so that generations yet to come will still be able to enjoy it. Nevertheless, it came as a terrible shock at the end of last year to learn that Ralph had unexpectedly become a part of the Loew's past.

But while we still grieve for the loss of our friend, there is comfort in realizing that his energy, talent and dedication live on as part of the timeless legacy of the Loew's that he himself so much admired. Thankfully, he left us with an impressive body of recorded work. But even more fundamentally -- he left us with the Loew's Jersey's organ.  Whenever it plays, whenever patrons are enjoying it, Ralph will be with us.

And so, we are inviting all of patrons and friends to come to the Loew's on Saturday, May 7 at 7PM to remember Ralph with a special evening of entertainment at the Loew's. If the idea of a memorial and entertainment seem an odd mix, please understand that this is exactly how Ralph would want us to remember him: his passion for his music, his desire to entertain and uplift his audiences, his dedication to theatre organs -- and his special love for the Loew's Jersey and our organ.



The program will include:
  • Entrance music by one of Ralph's colleagues at the Loew's, Paul Citti.
  • A half-hour concert by Bob Maidhof on the organ that Ralph helped restore.
  • An introduction of Ralph's family, including his father, who was also a member of the crew that restored our organ.
  • A 35mm screening of the classic silent short "One Week," starring Buster Keaton, with live  accompaniment on the organ by Bernie Anderson.
  • Shared memories of Ralph and his music.
  • Exit music by Eric Fahner, another of Ralph's colleague's here at the Loew's
  • Light refreshments in the Lobby.