Most members of GSTOS and NYTOS have had the good fortune to enjoy Ralph Ringstad, Jr. in concert at just about every theatre organ venue in the area.
We are sad to report that Ralph was found dead on Friday, December 24, 2010 on a remote path near his home in Whippany, NJ, where he took daily walks for exercise. He had fallen, hit his head, and died of exposure at age 49. He possessed tremendous natural musical talent, and will be terribly missed.
A native of Whippany, N.J., Ralph began his formal musical training at the age of seven. By seventeen he was performing along with mentor Frank Cimmino at the 3/17 Wurlitzer at the Suburbian Restaurant in Wanaque, New Jersey. By eighteen, while a student at Ithaca College from which he earned a degree in music, he had made his concert debut on the 4/31 Möller pipe organ at the New York Military Academy. Ralph loved to play show tunes from the 1930’s and 40’s delighting audiences with his memorable arrangements.
A multi-talented musician, his formal musical training included not only classical and theatre organ, but also piano, cello, French horn and tuba. He performed extensively on the tuba with orchestras and concert bands throughout New Jersey and New York.
Ralph concertized at many of the top theatre organ venues throughout the country including the Senate Theatre in Detroit, Long Island University, the Trenton War Memorial, the Thomaston Opera House, and Rochester Auditorium.
Forever innovative, he participated in several unique non concert endeavors. Silent Laughter, a live slapstick comedy performance with no speaking was accompanied by Ralph on an electronic theatre organ throughout its local run in 2003 and its off Broadway run in 2004. Ralph had also been pleased to play Christmas music at the NYTOS Allen touring organ at JFK Airport and at the Broadway Mall in Hicksville, Long Island.
He was well known at Loew’s Jersey where he developed a following of theatre patrons who arrived early just to hear the organ music. Ralph was one of the four organists who premiered the Bob Balfour Memorial Wonder Morton during Wonder Weekend at Loew’s in October of 2008.
His parents, Ralph, Sr. and Marie, have been long time members of GSTOS. Both Ralph and his dad served as GSTOS organ crew members at Loew’s Jersey and at Newark Symphony Hall.
Throughout his career, Ralph was Organist and Music Director for several churches in Florida and North Jersey – most recently, Advent Lutheran Church
in Warren, N.J.
In 1995 he recorded a popular CD, “One of a Kind,” at the Trenton War Memorial 3/16 Magnificent Möller. As one longtime GSTOS member aptly put it “We will miss his humor, his spontaneous wit and his ability to make any piece of music an exciting
We suspect that somewhere in the heavens Ralph Ringstad Jr. and Frank Cimmino are once again back together making beautiful music.
Our sincere condolences go out to Marie, Ralph Sr., and the family.
Losing a Friend
GSTOS has lost a friend in the sudden passing of Ralph Ringstad, Jr. I first heard Ralph when he began warming up for his lesson with organ teacher Frank Cimmino as I was exiting from my instruction. At that time I was humbled by the sounds that were already coming from the keys under his early-teenaged fingers, while I myself was struggling to get the organ to obey. It was evident from his early youth that Ralph had the natural expression of music in him. For all of us, Ralph was a regular guy who willingly shared his talent wherever and whenever he was present at any of our events or gatherings. Without pretense he hopped onto organ benches and began to extract beautiful sounds and expressions from pipes or speakers. People stopped and were captivated into listening to his masterful command of music. Now, his hands are stilled and we all share in the loss of his talent and of a friend. Michael Cipolletti
One of a Kind, CD, Midnight Productions, Inc. 1995, at the Trenton War Memorial Magnificent Möller, with Maria Zitko-Kaufman vocalist. Songs: With a Song in my Heart, One of a Kind, Stairway to the Stars, I Feel a Song Coming On, Getting to Know You, Pettin’ in the Park, Love Letters, Broadway Rhythm, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, Summertime, Roller Coaster, La Rosita, My Silent Love, Cheek to Cheek, So in Love, Ocean Grove Usher’s March, Shout Hallelujah ‘Cause I’m Home, Giannia Mia, They’re Either Too Young or Too Old, Adele’s Laughing Song, Sounds of Wonder, God Bless America.
The Melody Lingers On, Fond Memories of Ralph Ringstad, Jr, CD, DSP Recordings, Schaumburg Illinois. Limited Edition Recording 2014, at the Martin Residence Griffith-Beach, Little Falls, N.J. (Recorded posthumously from performances saved over the years on the organ’s computer.) Songs: California Here I Come, Blue Moon, The Carioca, Embraceable You & Paramount on Parade, Hollywood Party,
Meditation, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Italian Medley; Come Back to Sorrento, O’ Solo Mio, Funiculi, Funicula, Rondo In G, Walkin’ My Baby Back Home & There’s No Business Like Show Business, Singin’ in the Rain, Dancing in the Dark & Pennies from Heaven, Broadway Rhythm, Under the Double Eagle march,
A night at the Movies (A silent movie accompaniment) Loco Locomotive (Frank Cimmino, composer).
Click here to order this CD.
Ralph Ringstad, Jr. Memorial Program
Since 2008, when the magnificent pipe organ in the Loew’s Jersey Theatre was restored, the intense beauty of the instrument’s breath-taking range of sounds has been just as important a part of the experience of the Loew’s as the Theatre’s magnificent architecture or the shows on our stage and screen.
More often than not, until December of 2010, the man at the keyboard was Ralph Ringstad, Jr., who was the Loew’s first Principal Organist in 62 years.
He’d been a member of the dedicated team of volunteers who had spent eleven years painstakingly restoring the organ. And when that work was almost done, it was Ralph who literally breathed life back into the organ by playing its first notes and helping to tune its 1,800 pipes. Ralph was a talented keyboard artist who understood that all of the surviving theatre organs are a special kind of musical instrument with a unique power to dazzle and delight. He never failed to do this wherever he played. But Ralph and the Loew’s organ became a special team. Perhaps he’d gained a technical insight into it during all those years of working to rebuild it. Or, maybe, Ralph just understood the organ’s “soul” better than anyone else. Whatever the reason, when Ralph was at the keyboard, the Loew’s organ had a unique vitality.
Ralph greatly admired Ted Meyn, the man who had been the legendarily popular House Organist at the Loew’s in the 1930s and ’40s, and was keenly aware of the traditions he was helping to renew and perpetuate. “This theatre, this organ — they are timeless,” he once remarked. “Eighty years ago, they were both built to entertain the spirit and uplift the soul. They still do that. And they will always do that. I’m so happy to be a part of that!”
All of us who are involved in the ongoing restoration of the Loew’s can’t help but feel the continuum of history and the brevity of the present. We work to preserve and restore a landmark that was built and shared by people who came before us, so that generations yet to come will still be able to enjoy it. Nevertheless, it came as a terrible shock at the end of 2010 to learn that Ralph had unexpectedly become a part of the Loew’s past.
But while we still grieve for the loss of our friend, there is comfort in realizing that his energy, talent and dedication live on as part of the timeless legacy of the Loew’s that he himself so much admired. Thankfully, he left us with an impressive body of recorded work. But even more fundamentally — he left us with the Loew’s Jersey’s organ. Whenever it plays, whenever patrons are enjoying it, Ralph will be with us.
A special evening of entertainment was held on Saturday May 7, 2011 to remember Ralph. If the idea of a memorial and entertainment seem an odd mix, please understand that this is exactly how Ralph would have wanted us to remember him: his passion for his music, his desire to entertain and uplift his audiences, his dedication to theatre organs — and his special love for the Loew’s Jersey and our organ.
The program included:
- Entrance music by one of Ralph’s colleagues at the Loew’s, Paul Citti.
- A half-hour concert by Bob Maidhof at the organ that Ralph helped restore.
- An introduction of Ralph’s family, including his father, who was also a member of the crew that restored our organ.
- A 35mm screening of the classic silent short “One Week” starring Buster Keaton, with live accompaniment at the organ by Bernie Anderson, Jr.
- Shared memories of Ralph and his music.
- Exit music by Eric Fahner, another of Ralph’s colleague’s at the Loew’s
- Light refreshments in the Lobby.