Can't beat Wurlitzer

LOWELL SOUCIE

, Last Updated: 10:26 AM ET

Horace Gladstone Lapp (1904-1986) is a name to remember, one that I will forever associate with Maple Leaf Gardens.

Though Lapp never set foot on the ice, he was a major player in the history of the Carlton Cashbox. And, more to the point, a pioneer in the field of in-house musical entertainment. (Billy Bob from Barrie: Turn that dial -- you don't need to know this.)

In the early 1950s, my dad took me south from New Liskeard to visit family in Mimico. Uncle had tickets for a Leafs-Bruins game, and so, an excited teenager's first streetcar ride was to the Gardens.

The moment we entered the shrine, I could both hear and feel Horace.

Scaling the heights to greys in a corner, I couldn't care less how bad the seats were, the girder in front of us a shared obstruction. Lapp was playing La Golondrina (The Swallow) as the teams warmed up, swooping and gliding over the ice. With the power of the Mighty Wurlitzer organ at his command, his glorious sound resonated through the very wood beneath you, shivering your timbers.

Now and forever, it was the ultimate in piped-in noise.

I recall hearing a few bars of the Skaters Waltz during a protracted brawl, an abbreviated chorus of You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby as a combatant headed to the dressing room trailing blood from a high stick to the chops. Other than that, Horace restricted himself to playing mini-concerts between periods, an early apostle of less-is-more, no surprise that one of his first gigs was accompanying silent films.

Leafs owner Harold Ballard ripped out both the portrait of the Queen and the Mighty Wurlitzer from the end zones to make way for more seats, claiming they weren't paying the freight. Pal Hal ushered in an era of on-the-cheap, amateur organists who couldn't carry Horace Lapp's jockstrap in a bushel basket.

Where once silence was golden -- the game the thing -- we now find ourselves talking about whether the loudmouths who have taken over the airwaves and the sound systems should be further allowed to distort reality, to crank up the volume to unbearable levels.

Speaking for old guys, we have the option of tuning out or turning down the sound on our hearing aids. But even your Billy Bobs from Barrie recognize aural manipulation when they hear it. I recommend as an antidote Horace Lapp's version of Your Cheating Heart between whistles.


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