The Man Behind the Organ

 The lights dim, stars begin to shimmer across the black curtained backdrop, and the audience members think the movie is about to begin. Suddenly, the thundering sound of “The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ” hits them. Moviegoers new to the Byrd Theatre are intrigued as they see an organ rising from beneath the stage but those familiar with Byrd Theatre tradition hope to once again be enthralled by the experience. Then the house organ player, Bob Gulledge, turns to the crowd and says, “You ready to sing?” The familiar tune “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” got the whole crowd singing along this past Saturday night.

         Gulldege can be found scoping out the crowd entering the Byrd Theatre on any given Saturday evening in Carytown. He explained that he walks around before the movie begins to evaluate the moviegoers’ mood, and then decides which songs he should play before the show. He also takes into account which movie is being shown and the age group of the audience.

      “This is the only place where in the course of 10 minutes you can go from Hank Williams to Puccini with just one key change. You just have to look and see who’s here,” Gulledge said.

        He explained that he wouldn’t play something like Phantom of the Opera for a group of children waiting to see a Disney movie. Gulledge added that he realizes he’s not up there to play for his own amusement, so he tries to end his show with a “kicker” to get the crowd singing along.

     The Byrd Theatre has been welcoming Richmond moviegoers for 82 years. In the past, Gulledge explained that the Byrd Theatre was a place where people went to get updates about world events by watching news reels. He said it was more than a casual movie experience because people got dressed up in their Sunday outfits and brought the whole family to see the movie.

     He added that the Byrd Theatre wasn’t nearly as large as the other theatres in town, like the Loews or the National. For what the Byrd Theatre lacked in size, Gulledge said it made up for in extravagance. Gulledge pointed out that the Byrd Theatre has the biggest organ in town, Italian marbled walls, and a Czechoslovakian crystal chandelier. He described the Byrd Theatre as a type of museum, preserving what the theatre stood for in 1928.  Gulledge explained that there have only been 13 house organists during the time the Byrd Theatre has been open.

     Gulledge has been the house organist for the Byrd Theatre for 13 years. He first came to the Byrd as a teenager with a church group, and was stunned by the size and the sound produced by the grand organ.

     “I was taking piano lessons at the time, and I saw the organ sort of thunder across the floor, and that massive console comes up on that lift in the pit. Of course that was new to me. I’d never seen anything like that, and it was like, you know what, I’ve got to do that!” Gulledge said.

     After seeing the grand organ being played in the theater, Gulledge asked Eddie Weaver, the house organist at the time, to give him lessons. Gulledge explained that Weaver was a musical and entertainment icon within the Richmond community for more than 50 years.

     “I didn’t get lessons right away. He sort of said, you go and take five years of piano lessons and then come back and we’ll talk about it. I don’t know if he was really thinking I’d come back, or if that was just a nice way of saying go away, but anyway it worked out” Gulledge said.

      Looking back, he realized the piano lessons allowed him to master the “fundamentals of music.” After taking five years of piano, Gulledge described the transition to the organ as almost natural.


Photo by Alix Hines
Photo by Alix Hines

He explained that the only differences between the instruments are having multiple keyboards for the organ and the addition of playing with foot pedals. Gulledge said that the unique part about the Wurlitzer organ found in the Byrd Theatre is that the piano on the left side can be played on the organ’s console. He said because organ has “multiple speaking voices” unlike the piano, the musician can be more creative and not worry as much about the technicalities of playing. Gulledge characterized the organ as an “expressive instrument.”

     “You can make them [organs] speak in a whisper and almost cry, or you can kick it up, and almost make it roar with rage,” Gulledge said.

     Gulledge expressed how remarkable it was that he was given the opportunity to learn how to play the organ from Weaver, who actually played the organ when it was essential to the success of a show. Gulledge honed his craft on the very same organ he plays today, an organ designed and scaled by the Wulitzer Organ Company specifically for the Byrd Theatre.  

     The Wulitzer organ found at the Byrd theatre is much larger than organs found in smaller theatres “because they had to compensate for the acoustics of the building in that dome,” Gulledge said.

     He explained that the organ is important because there are only about a hundred organs like the Wurlitzer in the United States. Many organs have actually been moved from their intended place, but the organ at the Byrd theatre has remained in its original spot all these years. He noted that organs like the Wurlitzer used in the Byrd Theatre are usually only found in grand houses like Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

     Although Gulledge said he doesn’t write his own music, he has come up with a few tunes unique to the Byrd Theatre. The introduction, as the organ is being lifted up onto the stage, was actually written by accident.

     One morning, Gulledge was trying to come up with a grand introduction that would capture the audience’s attention when the cleaning lady came into the theatre. She used a leaf blower to blow all the trash from the previous night to the side so clean-up would be easier. As she was cleaning, Gulledge said his music began to grow louder and louder until he had this grand entrance. He entitled it Opera’s Opus because the cleaning lady’s name was Opera.

     Gulledge recalled seeing the marquee for the Byrd Theatre as a young child, and being mesmerized by the entire “Byrd experience.” Now generations of people are returning to the Byrd with their children to see Gulledge play.

     “When I was in college at Virginia Commonwealth University, my friends and I came out for every sing along that he played, and it was just so cool to see people in the community out. You’re in a theatre with a couple hundred people singing Christmas carols at the top of your lungs or ‘Grand Old Flag’ with Bob playing, and he’s really important to the community,”  Hilary Montgomery, a Byrd Theatre employee, said.

    “Having Bob here is obviously a sense of nostalgia, but it’s also a wow factor, especially for younger kids who are just coming to the theatre… It’s a form of time travel where kids can come and see a movie like Pirates of the Caribbean for example, and that might be their first movie ever, but they get to see something and be a part of something that’s been around for 83 years,” Champ said.

     Gulledge, like so many others, was drawn to the theatre’s unique experience. He explained that people view the Byrd much differently than they do other theatres in the city because of its long history. The support of college students, as well as the appreciative audience, has helped the Byrd remain a commodity in the community according to Gulledge. He has high hopes that the people who love coming to the Byrd Theatre will continue to support it.

     “There’s an awe and a wonder about this place, and when they hear that organ for the first time, it’s not unusual on Saturday nights for people to just go crazy in here. They sing and they clap along with some of the music, and they seem to genuinely enjoy being here,” Gulledge said.

      Although Gulledge has no intention of leaving the Byrd any time soon, he is giving lessons to one student. Gulledge said that his current student “has an incredible memory and a natural sense of music.”

     When he isn’t at the Byrd Theatre, Gulledge also works at the Steinway Piano Gallery in Rockville, Md., as a sales consultant.

     When Gulledge has time off he loves playing in the Chesapeake Bay with his two grandsons, Tristan and Alexi.

     Gulledge lives near the Chesapeake Bay, so he usually arrives about 30 minutes before the 7:15 p.m. show to warm up. Although he doesn’t get to practice very much on the organ, he does practice on his piano at home in Virginia Beach.

     “He likes to please the crowd. He knows there are certain songs that are going to get a reaction based on certain crowds,” Damion Champ, a Byrd Theatre employee, said.

     As for his experience with the Byrd Theatre and the Richmond community, Gulledge said, he always enjoys meeting people from the audience that just stop to say hello and offer encouraging words. In addition, Gulledge said he appreciates the people that continually support the Byrd and make meaningful contributions to the preservation and restoration of the organ.

     Gulledge concluded that he tries to make the movie event all it can be, and that he is truly lucky to be a part of the whole experience.

VCU Swipes Student Meals

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011 | Filed under News | Posted by News Editor

VCU swipes student meals

Contributing Writer Alix Hines

After five months of waiting for the reintroduction of the round-shaped breakfast food to VCU’s meal plan, students who were originally told Einstein Bros. Bagels would open in the fall of 2010 were still thrilled despite the delay.

With the opening of the breakfast food chain, students once again anticipated having a delicious bagel breakfast courtesy of the Meal Exchange Program.

Photo by Alix Hines
Photo by Alix Hines

“Alpine used to swipe in the morning when it’s breakfast time,” said sophomore Ekta Patel. “I’d rather have swipes during breakfast time than during dinner time.”

However, Einstein Bros. Bagels do not accept swipes in the morning. Dining Sales and Services manager Tamara Highsmith explained that swipes are not offered at Einstein Bros. Bagels in the morning to allow customers paying with cash or credit to purchase a bagel at that time as well.

Highsmith added that only 25 percent of VCU students have a meal plan, so Dining Services must find a way to meet the needs of all students.

“We’ve seen it at Quiznos and we see it at Nao and Zen,” said Dan McDonald, assistant director of Business Services. “During those swipe periods, the line gets so long that if I’m one of those 75 percent of folks that want to make a purchase, I can’t or I won’t because the line is so long.”

Although swipes encourage more people with meal plans to participate in the Meal Exchange Program, students with cash or meal plans flock to VCU dining areas at fairly normal meal times, and students with meal plans are demanding more choices.

For breakfast, VCU offers the Meal Exchange Program at Subway and Pizza Hut. Shafer also offers breakfast, but many students prefer the ease of grabbing breakfast at Market 810-2-Go.

“I think the food at Einstein is much better than Subway breakfast,” said freshman Janie Milliron. “It’s just personal preference I would say.”

The prospects of adding Einstein Bagels to the morning Meal Exchange Program may be grim, but the future of breakfast at VCU is a bright one.

“We are looking at whether it would be too competitive with Einstein to bring a bagel product into Market 810-2-Go that students could use a block at that location,” Highsmith said. “I can’t tell you if it’s going to happen or not, but we’re looking into it.”

VCU also plans to add more breakfast options for students next semester with IHOP, Raising Cane’s and Croutons. Each of these food outlets will be included in the Meal Exchange Program that allows students to use swipes at certain times of the day.

As for the future plans for VCU dining, Highsmith said, “We are just encouraged and excited about the upcoming locations and the increased flexibility for students to continue to use dining plans in our new locations.”

A Journalist at Heart

By: Alix Hines

Photo by Alix Hines

Former middle school television station manager Brandon Agee is pursuing a career on the “Today Show.” Although Agee became a TV station manager at age 13 to producing the morning announcements, that break quickly led a greater chance for him to join a major news show after he graduates from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Looking back, Agee describes himself as an outgoing student in seventh grade. For most seventh graders, the morning announcements are just a routine, but for Agee the morning announcements placed him on the path to becoming a journalist. Agee recalls signing up to do the morning announcements because a few of his friends were doing it, but after becoming involved, he found the job exciting. He was eventually promoted to station manager in eighth grade and received the Distinguished Service Award for his work.

      “A bunch of my buddies had done it (the announcements) and got to get out of class so I was like I want to do it!” Agee says “Plus being on camera wasn’t a big deal because I wasn’t nervous.”

From the morning announcements, Agee’s interest in journalism blossomed. Growing up in Charlottesville, Va. allowed Agee to continue learning about journalism. He interned at CPA-TV in Charlottesville where he set up lighting, used robotic cameras and helped direct the the station’s programming. The small setting gave Agee hands-on experience in journalism. Agee readily accepted every chance to gain exposure in the field. He attended a camp at Virginia Tech the summer before his senior year of high school, and taking the design track, which explored newspaper layouts. Later he used his camp experience to help redesign “The Revolution,” Albemarle’s school newspaper.

Although Agee explored two other universities he was convinced that VCU presented the best environment to explore journalism. Here at VCU Agee teamed up with one of his friends from high school, Tommy Lopez, and another student journalist Ryan Murphy, to expand the Student Media Center. They created a sports website called Rams Review. Agee is the executive director of production and is responsible to recording and editing segments. The group produces a segment called the “Weekly Rewind,” which reviews VCU’s athletic performances throughout the week from the student perspective. Agee said his experiences in high school enabled him to have the skills to be able to film various sports and edit them quickly for appearances on the “Weekly Rewind.”

“His (Agee’s) prior experience in television and in videography has been instrumental in our progression as a group from both a product and teaching perspective.” says Lopez. “Without Brandon’s efforts, we would be lacking much of our know-how and professionalism.”

From there the team created two other sites, The Horn and Shafer Bird. The Horn is a website that focuses on music in Richmond, from both mainstream and upcoming groups. Shafer Bird is a website dedicated to critiquing food on the VCU campus and surrounding areas. The websites’ name is derived from the infamous bird that appears in Shafer, and of course students eating in Shafer all have something to say about the food.

Each website is a part of Mesh Media, a division of VCU’s Student Media. The sites offer students news and information happening on campus from the student perspective. These websites are an interactive way of getting students involved on campus and in the community.

“I would advise students to get their foot in the door as early as they can either in high school or right when they get to college.” Agee says, “Having prior experience is very helpful in class and as far as other organizations.”

As a child, Agee grew up watching the “Today Show” with his mom every morning. He wants to work as a director or producer for the morning show. Agee is optimistic that broadcast journalism remains strong. Although the “Today Show” would be his first choice, Agee is also interested in ESPN, given his experience as a soccer goalie for Albemarle High School.

“If I could interview anyone it would be Tony Meola,” says Agee, “because he was one of the most famous professional soccer goalies while I was growing up.”

Rumor has it…Spring trends are here

By: Alix Hines

Fashion is in the air this February with temperatures reaching highs of almost 70 degrees. VCU students are already

Photo by Alix Hines
Photo by Alix Hines

preparing for spring. Richmond offers a unique outlet for students to shop, whether they are bargain hunting or searching for the most fashionable stores, this city has it all. One of Richmond’s trendiest stores is conveniently located at 404 N. Harrison St. Rumors is a popular shopping spot for VCU students looking to trade in their old garb for a new chic spring look. Shoppers are welcomed with a variety of tunes blasting throughout the store. The music’s hip and so are the fashions. Rumors sells gently worn clothing, so everyone can get a great new look for less. Continue reading “Rumor has it…Spring trends are here”

Giving Thanks Around the World

Thanksgiving is a time when many VCU students travel home to be with their families to celebrate the blessings they have received throughout the year, but for International students this may be lonely time because they are far from their own families. Luckily, every year VCU places international students in the homes of area residents, faculty and students for the holiday. The program is called, “Share Thanksgiving Day with an International Student.”

“About 75 percent of the international students who study in the United States never enter an American home during their entire time of study here. We want to give students opportunities to be in American homes to meet Americans in the community. Our hope is that they will develop friendships, learn more about American culture,” says Pam Haney, the global student services coordinator at VCU.

“Share Thanksgiving Day with an International Student” gives International students a chance to not only learn about American culture, but to share their own culture with their hosts as well. Haney adds, “Most international students come here alone. They don’t know anyone. They have left their family and friends far behind so it can be a lonely time for them being without those support networks they have in their home countries.”

Ahmad Altarifi, an International grad student from Jordan, will enjoy his third Thanksgiving in an American home this year. He has attended Thanksgiving in two different households, and he remains in close contact with the families he meets each year.

“The first time when I went, I didn’t know the story or tradition behind this holiday. I was excited because it would be a totally new experience for me,” he explains.

Altarifi has not been back to Jordan in two years. He says that meeting with other families, sharing stories and problems has made it easier for him to live here without his family. By visiting an American home, he says that he is becoming more familiar with American culture and he is able to teach his host families a little more about his own culture.

Last year, Altarifi says, Thanksgiving fell on the same day as an important holiday in Jordan called Eid al-Adha. This is a time of celebration in Jordan where families visit one another bearing gifts. There is also a traditional slaughtering of sheep on that day, and the meat is then distributed to the poor as well as friends and family members. This year the holiday will fall on November 16.

According to Altarifi the best part of the experience is, “You (have) found somebody to trust and people that trust you.” He says he would encourage other international students to participate in this program to:

• Learn about American culture

• Form new Relationships

• Teach Americans about traditions in other countries

Altarifi points out, “There is not that big of a difference.” Taking a day to give thanks goes beyond American culture, it is deeply rooted in many cultures, and it is simply a matter of taking time to open our eyes to the world. For more information regarding “Share Thanksgiving Day with an International Student,” contact Pam Haney at or call 828-8309 by November 15.

Haunts of Richmond

Ghosts in bathrooms, vampires in a local cemetery, and people trapped in a tunnel – sounds like a horror movie, right?

Haunts of Richmond is a local group founded by Sandi and Scott Bergman that leads ghost tours around Richmond. If you’re into paranormal activity or just need something to do on the weekend, these ghost tours are sure to entertain you. Haunts of Richmond consists of four tours that explore the spooks in Richmond. There is a Pub Crawl for those 21 and older, but for everyone else, there is the Shadows of Shockhoe Tour, the Capitol Hill Tour, and the Church Hill Chillers tour. All four of these tours put a supernatural spin on Richmond history by engaging the tourists in eerie stories. The ghostly tales leave tourists wondering what’s lurking around the next corner.

French teacher and ghost tour guide, Marcia Skiffington explains, “If I have somebody on my tour that’s never been to Richmond before, I want them to, at the end of the night, to go, ‘this is a really cool town,’ and I’ve won. If I can scare (the tourists) in the process, that is just a bonus!”

The ghost stories originate from all parts of Richmond. Skiffington adds, “Every personal experience that someone has had is an addition to the tour.”

Skiffington explains that all the hype over shows like Ghost Hunters encourage people to believe in ghosts, or try to prove the stories wrong.  By beginning each of the tours at the Edgar Allen Poe Museum, she is able to capitalize on the tourists’ fears by letting them wander around the haunted garden before telling them about its unearthly inhabitants.

As Halloween approaches, Haunts of Richmond increases its tours to two tours per night on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. If the ghost tours capture your interest, Sandi Bergman also hosts the “Blood Lake Tour” through a haunted house during the Halloween season.

For more information regarding Haunts of Richmond tours go to .

Skiffington also reminds us, “It’s cooler in the Shadows.”

The Tipping Point: Tensions Between Three Powers

Dr. Eugene Trani provided honors students at Virginia Commonwealth University with valuable insight into impending American foreign relations policies involving the Russian and Chinese governments. “The Eagle, the Bear, and the Dragon: Relations between the United States, Russia, and the People’s Republic of China in the 20th Century,” was the title of the seminar presented by Dr. Trani, president emeritus and distinguished professor at VCU. On Friday afternoon, Trani addressed students as part of the Berglund Seminar Series offered to members of the Honors College.

Dr. Trani discussed former and imminent foreign policy issues regarding Russia and China, based on a book recently published by Trani and his colleague, Donald E. Davis, entitled “Distorted Mirrors: Americans and Their Relations with Russia and China in the Twentieth Century.” Trani pointed out that the book was being published in all three nations in the official language of each, and the illustration on the cover of the book was done by an artist representing each of the countries highlighted. Not surprisingly, each illustrator depicted the idea of “distorted mirrors” differently. The prospective publishing date in China has been put on hold because all books on foreign policy must be reviewed by the Government Publications Review Agency before being released. Parts of the book may be deleted from any edition sold in the People’s Republic of China by the government if they are found objectionable. Trani and Davis have yet to reveal their plan of action if this occurs.

In 1981, during a four-month visit to Moscow at the height of the Cold War, Trani gathered information about Russian views of American foreign policy while teaching at Moscow University. He admitted, “One of the causes of the book was, night after night after night visiting homes of Russians where inevitably there was too much vodka served, and you would sit around the table and they would lament largely Russian relations, the state of the American relations, and what happened to these two great allies that defeated Hitler in World War II.”

Photo by Alix Hines
Photo by Alix Hines

Trani also outlined an upcoming honors module he will teach during spring semester of 2011.  He described the course as rigorous, but said that students will delve into American, Russian and Chinese relations in the 21st century.  Part of the coursework will include having students interview their families to assess their impressions of Russia and China as part of writing assignments on Russia and China.

Following the seminar, Katie Mutilin, a Ukrainian-American honors student, commented, “My mom said that the propaganda that was spread at the time (of the Cold War) was that America was a cruel capitalist society that didn’t care about their people. But my family didn’t actually believe that. We came here because we believed this would be a better place to have a future.” Mutilin explained that the way Trani described his stay in Russia mirrored her experiences in the country.

Honors student Danielle Blankenship said of the experience, “Well, I was interested in going (to the seminar) originally because the president we had for 19 years at VCU was speaking, and I had heard that he was a very interesting individual. I thought it was interesting to hear him talk to a small group of college students about his experiences and what he is doing.”

Blankenship also pointed out that a political cartoon Trani shared with the audience depicts how the United States is currently inadvertently pushing Russia and the People’s Republic of China to become allies.

“Clearly, American and Chinese relations are going to be the relations of your generation and probably your children’s generation, and American- Russian relations were the major part of your parents’ generation. If we inadvertently drive Russia and China together, that will become the major event of the 21st century in terms of the undoing of America’s dominant role in foreign policy,” concluded Trani.


Story by: Alix Hines

Pictures by: Alicia Garcia

Community is a word with strong connotations, but the Intervarsity community at VCU is bringing a whole new meaning to the word. Intervarsity at VCU left campus on September 24 for a weekend retreat at Camp Rudolph in Yale, Va., to explore how the basis of religious values and beliefs can bring students together to form a tight-knit community, a family connected by faith.

Photo by Alicia Garcia
Photo by Alicia Garcia

Focused on community building at the retreat, the group spent the weekend attending worship services led by the worship team, gathering into small groups for prayer and playing games. The group also participated in a retreat of silence. Saturday night was a special night dubbed “gender breakouts.” Male and female participants separated into gender based groups to pray for one another. Afterwards the entire Intervarsity community reconvened for a night of s’mores and songs by the campfire.

At each worship session, a speaker was chosen to give a testimony. The speakers– Luke Sjogren, Sara Tyer and James Denison all addressed their own struggles as Christians, and then discussed how they were able to overcome those struggles through the word of God. Sjogren focused on a community of joy, Tyer discussed doubt and Denison discussed self-humbling and boasting in the Lord.

Alicia Garcia, a junior in Intervarsity, said that the experience taught her that “God is big enough to handle every single problem and anything you have going on in your life. He wants to hear about it; he wants to be with you when you’re joyful and he wants to be with you’re not joyful.”

Photo by Alicia Garcia
Photo by Alicia Garcia

The retreat of silence was an important event for everyone who attended the retreat. It provided the group with a time for self-reflection and prayer. “It’s just good because at VCU and on campus with school and stuff, it’s easy to be around so much noise and be busy, but there it’s like a set time for you to just be still and read scripture,” explained Garcia.

As master of ceremonies, sophomore Rinu Ramesh was able to see another side of the retreat. She and other members of the worship team met for  15 minutes before the rest of the group arrived to rehearse. Ramesh commented, “It was definitely a blessing. I felt like even though it was student led, there was authority there. In a sense we were making sure that God was still there. We were still emphasizing him.”

Senior Tony Harris was involved in planning the retreat. “We didn’t want it to be the typical Christian youth group type of thing. We want to actually get to know each other, invest in each other and actually become that family inside Intervarsity.” There was an abundance of time set aside for games and other activities designed for group bonding. At one point, the group was split into teams and was given a list of tasks to complete, including doing the Limbo under the volleyball net, playing with a parachute, shooting five free throws, and even duct-taping a member of the group to a tree. Through these activities, the group gained a sense of community spirit with one another.

IV 3
Photo by Alicia Garcia

According to Ramesh, “A lot of people I know come into Intervarsity with uncertainty. I feel like having each others’ stories being shared and everything gives us hope. That’s when community becomes an important factor because we are there to encourage people and lift them up to a Godly perspective.”

The weekend gave new members a chance to become acquainted with older members and build faith in God through one another. Many of the members of Intervarsity have attended services held by other Christian organizations on campus, but all agree that the Intervarsity community is family. “We are brothers and sisters of God, and if we don’t take time to get to know this other person who is my brother or sister in Christ, then you’re breaking down the kingdom of God,” Harris concluded about the experience.