He’s ‘nerdy’, ‘passionate’ and ‘uniquely Warren’: Meet the Calgary Flames’ new organist
From his seat in the Calgary Flames organ loft, Warren Tse has a panoramic view of the Scotiabank Saddledome and the fans below.
He watches the mood of the crowd as the players skate, and when the whistle sounds, he gets to work.
Fingers slamming the keyboard in front of him, an organ version of wrong medicine by Bon Jovi echoes over the arena’s loudspeakers. Seamlessly, Tse transitions to a chorus of Come on Flames before the play begins again.
« One of my favorite activities is to slip a little something into the organ program, if you will, just to see who’s paying attention, » he says.
« Friends who were huge hockey fans would let me know if people picked up the latest Cardi B song I dropped or maybe the latest meme that exploded. »
Tse is the Calgary Flames’ new organist. He’s about a month away from his new gig, and as a musician and Flames fan, he’s pretty fired up.
But with his adrenaline comes some bittersweet reminders of what led him to this role.
Behind its keyboard, a large sign identifies the stand as « The Joos Box ».
To his left hangs a framed ‘Joosen’ jersey with a plaque just below. It reads: « Willy Joosen, March 23, 1956 – July 1, 2022. The memory of his smiling face and beautiful music will live forever in Rouge’s Do. »
Joosen started as the Flames’ organist in the 1988-89 season—the first and only year the Flames won the Stanley Cup—spending the next 34 years thrilling audiences at the team’s home games.
He died in July at the age of 66. Tse, his protege, came forward to fill the role.
« It’s super exciting of course, but it’s also a bit complicated, » he said in an interview with The last straight line earlier this month.
« Willy was my friend for about 20 years, and he was the master. I was the apprentice. »
‘It’s a tradition’
Tse first met Joosen at a Calgary Stampede event.
As « two nerdy guys on keyboards, » they quickly became friends, Tse explained. In their spare time, they tried to outdo each other musically by playing video game theme songs, whether it was Ms. Pac-Man or Super Mario Bros.
Soon, Joosen asked if Tse had any interest in filling Flames games.
« I said I’ve never done anything like this in my life, but OK. »
For about 15 years, Tse worked as an understudy for Joosen, spending most of his time playing Calgary Hitmen games.
After losing Joosen in July, the team launched their search for a new organist, someone who could carry on their legacy and high level of musicality.
Calgary Sports and Entertainment head of games presentation Steve Edgar said it became clear that person was Tse.
« He’s a very passionate person about the work, and he’s bringing new ideas about how we can incorporate this instrument and this position into our show series, and that’s really exciting for us, » he said. he declares.
Edgar says organ music is a staple at a hockey game, and the organization plans to keep the station running « for a very long time. »
« With a live performer, we’re much more adaptable, » he said. « We think it’s a tradition that still holds value, and there’s a lot of nostalgia there. »
« Only Warren »
Tse is now a few games into his new role, and he says there’s nothing like it.
He plays into those nostalgic feelings, leading raucous choruses of cheers and classical chants.
« These fans are like a living breathing instrument that I play with, » he said during a recent game. « The whole job is to see how much energy you can squeeze out of the crowd. »
Between two whistles, he is on the phone and responds to requests from the public.
This is part of a new program that the organization is running. At the start of each game, a graphic on the giant video board invites fans to tweet their song choices to @FlamesOrganist.
He knows a lot by heart, but if he’s not familiar, he just puts on his earphones.
« I would just like to listen to it and work it out at the same time as I listen to it, get the deals and stuff and roll it out in the next period, » he said.
« Nothing is beyond pallor to me. »
Choosing which songs and when to play them is a tricky task. Tse says he constantly gauges fans’ emotions, anticipating which piece of music will elicit the best reaction.
« Nothing lights up a crowd like pucks in the net, but you have to do your best, » he said.
Tse says he believes the right song — and the corresponding audience reaction — can bolster the Flames’ home team advantage.
This is something Joosen also believed. And Tse is proud to continue in his footsteps.
« Willy was a unique talent. He was a mad keyboard genius, and no one could ever replace him, » Tse said.
« If I try to play exactly like Willy, I’ll fail. And that’s what will make the music I play unique to Warren. »