Real People: Fox organist has ‘best gig in the world’

Update: Larry-Douglas Embury, longtime the official organist for the Fox Theatre, died Friday, Feb. 19, 2016. This article below was originally published in 2013. Read more.

For the last 10 years, Larry Douglas Embury has held one of the most unusual jobs in the world. As the official organist in residence for the Fox Theatre, the Druid Hills musician has the pleasure of rising out of the orchestra pit on the bench of the gold-gilt Moller organ to enchant audiences with the instrument’s versatility.

“I can throw anything at it, from Bach to boogie, and ‘Might Mo’ can handle it,” said Embury. “When I play, I prepare something that’s up, fast and furious, followed by something sweet. I can go back and forth with a potpourri of sounds.”

Embury first sat on the “Might Mo” during his initial visit to Fox in 2002. After playing for about 90 minutes, he turned to the people he was with and remarked, “The old broad is a lovely lady!” Not long after, he was offered the job of playing the organ before the Fox’s summer film festival.

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In the fall of that year, Embury gave an organ concert at the Fox, after which the theater’s management asked him to become the permanent organist in residence. His responsibilities have since grown beyond the summer festival to include performances about an hour before curtain time for most major shows. For the last seven years, he has staged “Larry, Carols and Mo,” a holiday concert with a movie that has become a family favorite.

A native of Canada, Embury brought a long musical tradition to the job. His work included various assignments as a church organist, concerts, accompaniments and commissions. The chance to play the historic organ on a regular basis has been a highlight, he says.

“This 1929 concert pipe organ is the second largest in the U.S.,” he said. “And it’s the only gold leaf in the theater; all the rest is only painted to look like gold.”

Embury’s decade at the Fox has also been highlighted by meeting stars such as Tony Curtis and Robert Goulet when they’ve been in the theater. But his favorite memory is playing as part of the orchestra during a performance of “The Sound of Music.”

“I played the theme when Maria gets married, and it was really thrilling,” he said. “The next night, the conductor asked me if I could play it louder, and I told him, ‘I could peel the graffiti off the wall in the men’s room if you want.’ I did, and it was amazing.”

Throughout the summer, Embury will be at the keyboard before the theater’s summer film festival. And though he’ll be busy putting the organ through its sound effects - from a train whistle to thunder - he welcomes special requests.

“People can definitely talk to me when I’m playing,” he said. “I’m very approachable, and anyone can request a song. I have some regular patrons, and I know their favorite songs, so when I see them I may play Bach or ‘Over the Rainbow.’ ”

One thing Embury always shares with visitors is how thrilled he is to play Might Mo.

“I tell people I have the best gig an organist can have in the entire world,” he said.

Every other Wednesday, H.M. Cauley brings you positive stories from our community. To suggest a story idea, call 404-514-6162 or e-mail hm_cauley@yahoo.com.

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