The Bob Baker Marionette Theater’s Director of Development Winona Bechtle interviews our Organist Mr. Fred!
afternoon! Tell us a little bit about yourself, Mr. Fred!
I am Fred Kolouch, and I play the organ at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater. I moved here about 3 years ago and I was just driving around town one day getting on the highway and I saw the Bob Baker Marionette Theater at a time when I was trying to find some cool places to check out. I was curious and looked it up later and ended up going for my birthday and was totally wowed by the show– I saw “Something to Crow About.” It felt like it was out of a dream, the fact that something like this would exist was mind-blowing. It’s so decorative and there’s something so cinematic about the lighting– everything about it is magical.
So I saw the show and was blown away, and another year went by and I signed up to volunteer. I poked my head in one day on a Wednesday evening to see what was going on and mentioned I was interested in doing some lighting… and I noticed the organ. It was kind of out of use and there were a couple of funky rattling sounds it made so I wanted to fix it. I spent one of my days opening up the organ and checking it out and taking out each later of circuitry, and I figured out that it was a broken speaker so I got it replaced and it started sounding great, so now I play it whenever I get the opportunity.
My first experience playing the organ was in middle school when my grandmother gave me a Wurlitzer.
Did you take formal lessons or are you self taught?
I’m self taught on the organ, but I started learning piano on this old Apple software called Miracle– it comes with a mini keyboard and you learn to play songs like “Tea for Two” and things like that, and it’s like Mario Teaches Typing but you learn how to play the piano. So you shoot ducks and stuff… it has really funny graphics, and from there I started writing my own compositions and then my parents signed me up for lessons. My first lessons were blues and jazz right from the beginning because that type of music encourages people to write their own music more freely as opposed to learning classical sheet music, so it complemented my ability to improvise and strengthened my ability to play on the keyboard.
Tell us about the selections you play at the Theater.
I currently play lots of the songs I learned back from taking piano lessons, like “St James Infirmary” and a lot of classic Fats Domino songs and old blues, rock ‘n roll type of songs… so there’s that, and my Dad would always recommend ideas for songs that might sound great for the organ. So when I was growing up and in high school and college he would introduce me to a lot of music that was from the 60s or 70s, lots of surf rock and things that he listened to as a kid. And I loved the tunes so on my own I learned the songs by just listening to them. And so with that I had the knowledge of improvisation from my lessons so I could figure out the basic structure of the songs which is how I pick up a lot of songs at the Theater.
Lately at the Theater I’ve been playing “Danse Macabre,” a classic Halloween song, I’m also playing “The Gonk” which is the song at the end of Dawn of the Dead. I also have been playing Telstar in Minor! It’s fun watching the Bob Baker shows after performing because I start hearing the songs and recognizing where Bob pulled them from, all of the music that is already played in the shows are songs that I’m familiar with and things I’ve listened to, so it’s exciting to learn the songs that I already gravitate toward.
What does the future look like for Mr. Fred?
Well I’m really thrilled and excited to continue playing organ music wherever the Theater goes! I went to the Old Town Music Hall and I loved the fact that the organ was kind of embedded into the Theater and there’s something almost “puppeteer-ish” about the glockenspiel and the things that go off with the black lights… there’s a weird synergy happening with that place and what you see at the Bob Baker. So I’m interested in how something like that might manifest in the new space.
And when you’re not at the Theater, where can we find you?
I have a background in a film, and I have a job working at the Planetarium at the Griffith Observatory. I run the shows there and we work with a live presenter, kind of like a lecturer. I project the stars and all that– I am also editing the new Planetarium show which will come out in 2020. So I’ve been behind the scenes with the animation crew and I’ve been cutting together this show called “Signs of Life” which is their next big show. It’s editing a lot of animation so it’s a really interesting new type of project for me.