They shoot, he scores: a look at Maple Leafs organist Jimmy Holmstrom’s booth at the Air Canada Centre
If coach Randy Carlyle is the brain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, then Jimmy Holmstrom, the organist at the Air Canada Centre, is the heart. Holmstrom, who also works as a technology teacher at an elementary school in Brampton, provides the musical accompaniment to the dizzying highs and crushing lows of every Leafs home game. It’s a job he’s been doing without missing a day, he says, since September 1988.
He plays all the rink-organ classics—“Hava Nagila,” “The Bull,” “Zorba the Greek,” “Go, Leafs, Go,” and “The Walk”—live. When the game is tied, Holmstrom plays dramatic theme music. When the team is losing, he scales the tempo back. “You don’t whip the horse when it’s in 8th place in the Kentucky Derby with half a furlong to go,” he explains. “We want to motivate everybody in the building from the player to the usher. If I can’t motivate, excite, or invigorate, well, then I’m not doing my job.”
Best of all, when the Leafs score, it’s Holmstrom who gets the profound pleasure of activating the massive and deafening goal horn. The sound isn’t computer generated—it’s a real air horn, powered by a tank of compressed air beneath the ice. During a game, Holmstrom jumps from keyboard, to sampler, to goal horn and back.
“I get up here and I go from meek, mild Clark Kent to this crazed guy,” he says. “I don’t mean Superman, I become more like the Venom. Just crazed.” Here, an annotated look at his booth in the rafters of the ACC.
This grey button, taped to the top of a speaker, is the one that controls the goal horn. During the game, Holmstrom keeps watch for the goal light. “The horn is about 110 decibels,” he says. “I keep playing it until my ears bleed. And that’s just the way I love it, and that’s how the players like it.”
“This is Bobby Woods. He was a cleaner and a custodian at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1947. His job was to clean the pipes for the real organ that was in Maple Leaf Gardens in the ‘40s. When the organ was gone, I guess Bobby was gone.”
“Kenny Dryden gave us this. I was told it was the first clock that went into Maple Leaf Gardens, but it only lasted a year because it was all hand-controlled and people had to stand up there moving things.”
Holmstrom has three framed pictures of players who have stopped by the booth: Wendel Clark, Ken Dryden and Daryl Sittler. “You can’t ask—it’s against the rules—but they can offer,” Holmstrom says. “So that’s why I have three. I’ve had three offers in 27 years, so I’ll take what I can.”
Holmstrom uses this panel to control the clock at centre ice.
The booth contains several different types of audio devices. The blue machine has numbered buttons that play clips of popular songs. “I’ve got 50 different songs,” Holmstrom says. “The goal song, when we score, is called ‘Let’s Shake,’ an old Teenage Head tune.”
Holmstrom has two electronic keyboards. The Korg M1, in the foreground, sounds like a classic rink organ. His Roland G-1000, meanwhile, has more features, like drum sounds. “It’s all about sounds,” he says. “The more options we have, the better it will be.”
Everything except the match itself is precisely timed by the game operations team. The schedule on Holmstrom’s keyboard provides an overview of the entire evening, minute by minute. Among other things, it tells Holmstrom how long he needs to entertain the crowd during intermissions.
Steve Edgar oversees the entire in-game experience—everything from what appears on the big screen at centre ice to t-shirt giveaways. He tells Holmstrom when and how long to play and sometimes suggests tunes.
A red light glows when whatever TV stations are airing the game are on commercial.