Affiliate News
October 09, 2014

Profile: Keeping the tradition alive

Chicago Federation of Musicians member Frank Pellico has the best seat in the house.

Profile: Keeping the tradition alive

One can tell that Chicago Blackhawks organist Frank Pellico loves his job. He walks proudly through the offices of the United Center, smiling and greeting everyone as he makes his way through the workplace.

And then there's his office. He describes it as if he has a typical job, but it's no standard office cubicle.

In the corner sits his custom made Allen organ, as well as a stunning 270 degree overhead view of the gleaming ice, complete with windows that slide shut.

He said it is part of his job to maintain the ice hockey tradition of an organist, playing to the crowd and hyping them up, especially in Chicago, which formerly housed one of the largest pipe organs in the world at the old Chicago Stadium.

“My job here is to keep 20,000 people up and excited,” he said. “There is not one prerecorded CD that can get the crowd hollering ‘Let's go Hawks.’ It's an immediate reaction when I play. People love when I play songs from way back, and they love the organ.”

His favorite song to play is the Hawks’ rollicking goal anthem that has propelled them through the 2010 and 2013 championships: Chelsea Dagger, by the Fratellis.

“When I play that, I know we're up there. It's the greatest thing since sliced bread,” he said.

Of course, fans are a big part of the game, and the Blackhawks are flush with fans these days. Pellico loves to show fans his Stanley Cup Championship rings, and even lets them try them on.

“It's a wonderful feeling, to share the rings with people who haven't seen them,” he said.

But the fan base wasn't always as large for the Blackhawks and Pellico, who played in the old Chicago Stadium since 1991, when the Hawks had many a winless streak.

“It was a slow uphill climb since Rocky Wurtz took over. He brought this game alive. Now everybody likes the Blackhawks. And of course, it's fun to come back to work after a championship. The Stanley Cup is very cool,” he said. “The fan response from up here when the Hawks score is unbelievable.”

Still, Pellico claims he’s never seen a game from his office.

“I have to pay attention to my playing. It’s challenging and difficult.” he said.

Sometimes he has five people talking in his ear during a game, directing him on which song to play next.

“We’re ahead of what's going on on the ice,” he said. “It’s choreographed and spontaneous at the same time.”

His style can be described as wringing big sound out of the organ. He said while he can play the piano well, he prefers the organ because it can produce a lot of sound with little effort.

“With a piano, you have to play hard to play it loud. With an organ, it’s a matter of this massive, big sound coming out of not a lot,” he said. “You have to be talented with your hands and fingers, it doesn’t just come out; you need emotion.

Pellico currently owns four organs, three of which reside at his church, where he plays them frequently.

He has been a member of the Chicago Federation of Musicians union since the 1960s, and has played varying jobs ranging from playing the Chicago Cubs’ organ, to playing in posh hotels downtown. His favorite music to play is a Latin American style, because he says it is interesting.

The union has helped him along the way, opening doors for Pellico that he said would not have been opened otherwise.

“In Chicago, the union is extremely important. If it were not for the union, I wouldn’t have the jobs I’ve had. It has helped me immensely in my career,” said Pellico, who also praised the forming of his pension when he started. “They started a pension way back when, and I’m thankful for that.”

Now back to those huge, heavy, diamond encrusted championship rings, which Pellico proudly wears while playing. (And he never needs a warm-up, either.)

“Let's win some more, I’ll be like Liberace, playing with a ring on each finger,” he joked. “I can’t wait.”