November 10, 2017

From Yankee Stadium to Pleasant Valley Way

Michael Lurie ‘21

Although it is his first year teaching at Golda Och Academy, you may have unknowingly been in the presence of Mr. Alstrom, the new music teacher and choral director, long before this year. He has attended almost all weekend games at Yankee Stadium for the past 13 years, but not in the stands.
Alstrom has a special seat high up in the sound booth as the weekend organist, a hard-earned spot that is only shared by the weekday organist, Paul Cartier.
An avid organ player and baseball fan from a very young age, Alstrom said he loved the prospect of combining his talents with the sport he loves, but never expected to actually play in a major league ballpark.
“The idea of playing organ at a baseball stadium,” he said, “let alone playing for one of the New York teams was a dream of mine.”
Although very experienced and qualified for this type of job, he did not quite know how to pursue his dream, so it was left ignored for many years. But before the 2004 season, Alstrom’s wife managed to land him an audition to replace the legendary Eddie Layton, who had played at Yankee Stadium for 37 years.
“It’s a very odd gig,” Alstrom said.
Unlike a keyboard player in a band, the organ player at Yankee Stadium has the general freedom to perform whatever songs he or she wishes during their solo about 45 minutes prior to first pitch. Alstrom says he tends to stick to classic and recognizable rock and pop songs, but always starts off his set with “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra as a nod to Layton.
Additionally, during the game there are only few times to play that are given. Every game, Alstrom knows he will play a quick tune to give time for the players to leave the field, he will play “Happy Birthday To You” in the sixth inning, and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the seventh inning.
For the rest of the game, Alstrom fills in for any unforeseen breaks in play such as foul balls, mound visits, pitching changes and technical difficulties. He plays simple generic organ licks to pump up the crowd or lead a cheer for the home team.
Alstrom’s talents are not only limited to the baseball world as he has performed with many music stars such as legendary pianist Herbie Hancock, veteran Broadway actress Bette Midler and rock-and-roll greats Chuck Berry and Steely Dan. He also has experience in the theater field, conducting Broadway’s “Hairspray.”
“I’ve done some wonderful things that I’m very grateful to have done,” he said about these rare opportunities.
Although he continues to work for the Yankees during the season, Mr. Alstrom looks forward to starting a brand new way of expressing musical talent.

“Of all the things I've done, I never taught music full-time before in a school,” he said. “The Golda Och opportunity came my way and I thought it would be something new and a great challenge for me.”

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