In 1999, representatives from the Capital One Arena, then the MCI Center in Washington D.C., visited a music retailer in College Park looking to buy an organ.
At the time, Bruce Anderson worked at the retailer, Jordan Kitt’s Music, as its director of education. The store’s owner asked him to play a few tunes for the arena officials to test how the organ sounded.
A few months later, Anderson got a call.
The Washington Capitals, who play in the arena, hadn’t yet hired an organist, and their first National Hockey League preseason game was fast approaching. “Could you come down and play?” Anderson remembers them asking.
“Sure, I’ll give it a shot,” he said.
Anderson, a long-time Lutherville resident who grew up in Towson, would play as the Capitals organist for 22 seasons. He was a constant at home games, riling up stadium fans with renditions of “Let’s Go Caps!” and getting creative with pop or classic rock.
“I had a great time,” he said.
Last week, when Anderson announced on social media that the Capitals would no longer be using a live organist to entertain fans at games, hundreds of people responded to convey their disappointment at the decision and support for him.
“Who takes the organ out of hockey???” one Twitter commenter asked.
“Organ music is an historical enhancement to the game,” another wrote. “This lessens the game experience for my grandson, who is just beginning his journey of Capitals fandom.”
“Let’s start a petition to keep Bruce!” someone else said.
The reactions from fans, Anderson said, blew him away.
In a statement, a Capitals spokesperson said the team is “continuously finding ways to transform the in-game experience, including having professionally recorded organ songs and prompts. We thank Bruce for his contributions to the organization and wish him the very best.”
In March, the Associated Press reported that only six of 32 NHL teams don’t feature a live organist at games. The Capitals will now be added to that list. Since then, the Vancouver Canucks also let go their organist, who had played there for over two decades.
Anderson says he’ll miss the job and the fans, though he says “I’m not bitter at all.”
He says he’s had a great run.
In 2018, Anderson watched the Capitals win the Stanley Cup, playing the organ during their home games. He even received a Stanley Cup ring, he said.
During television coverage of Game 4 of the championship series,longtime professional hockey broadcaster Mike Emrick let the sound of the organ play for a few seconds. “You know they go to the trouble to play organ music,” Emrick said. “I just like to hear it.” That was a highlight, Anderson said.
At the parade down Constitution Avenue following the Capitals’ Stanley Cup win, Anderson said he was about 15 feet from the stage, where the team was celebrating.
“Considering how many people were there, it was pretty lucky to be that close,” he said. “It was just amazing.”
Anderson also got to play the organ at the 2015 NHL Winter Classic, when the Capitals took on the Chicago Blackhawks. The game was played outdoors at Nationals Park in D.C.
“That was a great experience,” he said. “That place was packed.”
Anderson said his favorite part of the job was interacting with fans “and getting them all to chant and cheer along.”
A crowd favorite is “Let’s Go Caps!” Anderson said. He guesses it’s the song he’s played most over the years, and it gets the whole arena cheering.
He also played pop and classic rock. He looked for songs that would work on the organ, he said, such as “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd or “Shout” by Tears for Fears.
“[I] just try to keep it something different,” he said.
In 2019, after the Washington Nationals baseball team won the World Series, he said the team came to a Caps game. Before it began, someone told him he should learn “Calma” by Pedro Capó, a favorite of the Nationals. He played it on a break, and “they were all, like, dancing and drinking beer to it. So that was a cool experience.”
He said that starting during the NHL playoffs two years ago, his playing time was cut back and “a lot of the main creative things that I would do I was not able to during the games anymore.” That included a little flourish that he liked to play after a goal was scored, which was cut last year, he said.
Anderson is involved in music in other ways. He owns the Lutherville Music School and the Lutherville Rock School. He also writes music for the St. Francis Episcopal Parish & Community Center in Timonium.
“Music is my life,” he said.
Anderson started playing the piano when he was 5. He said he actually considers himself more of a pianist than an organist. He learned the organ while working at a music store after college in Florida, where he studied music at the University of Miami. In the 1970s and ’80s, home organs “were all the rage,” he said.
In high school, he played the trumpet in the Baltimore Colts Marching Band, he said.
But playing the organ for the Capitals, he says, is still his “claim to fame.”