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Have organ will travel, Olympic music director rocks the Bolshoy Ice Dome

The Canadian Press
Ray Castoldi, the music director at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, is constantly taking the temperature of the fans below. If they are already on their feet or chanting, he leaves them alone. If the atmosphere needs a jolt, he turns to his organ or sends White Zombie's "Kernkraft 400" or Darude's "Sandstorm" pumping through the PA to get the party started. It's a skill that has taken the 51-year-old Castoldi from the Super Bowl to the Sochi Olympics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Neil Davidson
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Ray Castoldi, the music director at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, is constantly taking the temperature of the fans below. If they are already on their feet or chanting, he leaves them alone. If the atmosphere needs a jolt, he turns to his organ or sends White Zombie's "Kernkraft 400" or Darude's "Sandstorm" pumping through the PA to get the party started. It's a skill that has taken the 51-year-old Castoldi from the Super Bowl to the Sochi Olympics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Neil Davidson

SOCHI, Russia - Perched high in the Bolshoy Ice Dome, music director Ray Castoldi is constantly taking the temperature of the fans below.

If they are already on their feet or chanting, he leaves them alone. If the atmosphere needs a jolt, he turns to his organ or sends Zombie Nation's "Kernkraft 400" or Darude's "Sandstorm" pumping through the PA to get the party started.

It's a skill that has taken the 51-year-old Castoldi from the Super Bowl to the Sochi Olympics.

His day job is music director at Madison Square Garden, where he plays the organ and DJs at Rangers, Knicks and Liberty games. But he has travelled the world with his keyboard and laptop.

Over at the nearby Shayba Arena in Sochi's Olympic Park, friend and colleague Dieter Ruehle controls the music. He's the music director for the Los Angeles Kings with 24 NHL seasons under his belt. Ruehle's resume includes the U.S. Open tennis championships, 13 seasons with the Lakers, six NBA all-star games and five Olympics (2002, '04, '06, '10 and '14).

Both Castoldi and Ruehle play the organ and DJ, a skill set that keeps them in demand.

These are Castoldi's third Olympics after Salt Lake City in 2002 and Turin in 2006 and he admits having a soft spot for the Games.

"For me, there's nothing like the energy that you get when you bring in people from all over the world," he told The Canadian Press. "Everybody's supporting their country's team so you have a very partisan atmosphere. Friendly but partisan."

An idealist at heart, he sees the Games as building bridges across cultures. He's doing his part, reaching into a diverse musical menu to get people involved in the action.

His keyboard facing the ice and DJ laptop to his left, he provides the musical soundtrack to the Olympic hockey story unfolding below. While he plays the keyboard, he's mentally queuing up the next song to play and vice-versa.

Castoldi won Canadian fans over when he played an organ version of Stompin' Tom Connors' "The Hockey Song" before the Canada-Finland game.

"I'm trying not to play any favourites," he said. "I try to get a tune or two on the organ from whichever country happens to be playing."

For Norway, he has Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" in his back pocket.

On Tuesday, in addition to Norway, Castoldi had to peak the interest of fans from Slovenia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Russia with three games at the Bolshoy scheduled for noon, 4:30 and 9 p.m. local time.

"We've done four days of three games a day so we're kind of in a groove right now," he said.

Still, maintaining focus can be a problem as games and teams run into one. Castoldi often talks to himself in the cramped booth, reminding himself who's playing and what's happening on the ice.

"As long as these days go and as many games (as there are), they go very fast," he said. "They're so exciting. You really can't beat it."

His music for the players coming onto the ice for warmup has been Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls," taken from the Olympic committee's sizable music library.

"I think it sets a nice tone, to come out with something on the hard-rocking foreboding side," he said. "A little bit of angry energy."

Castoldi has to constantly change his game here. The crowd for Canada and U.S. games may take the bait of a clapalong beat like "Clap, clap, clap your hands, everybody clap your hands."

"If I play those to European crowds, they don't know this. They're not familiar with them."

As an organist, Castoldi is eclectic and likes to rock out. He has offered up everything from Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" to Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" and The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again."

During the Games here, Castoldi and Ruehle have been in constant contact, sharing what worked and what didn't.

The gig requires constant homework on what's new in music, from hip-hop to the club scene. Castoldi put himself through a crash course in Russian pop music and classics before the Games.

Back home in New York, Castoldi also edits music for videos and the assorted dance squads for the MSG teams. He DJs at New York Giants football games and moonlights playing organ at 20 to 30 Mets games in the summertime.

Castoldi is coming off his eighth Super Bowl.

"It's an incredibly stressful event because the stakes are so high ... You want to get everything right," he said.

"Football in general is a very intense event because there's so few games," he added. "It almost seems like every game is life and death."

His job is to get the Olympic crowd into the game. So if they're chanting "Rossiya, Rossiya," his job is done. He happily steps aside until it's time to help crank up the noise again.

The Connecticut native was DJing and producing techno music in New York when he heard of an audition with the New York Knicks for an organist and DJ.

"I'm like 'Well I'm kind of doing that already. I'll give that a shot.' I figured it'd be something I'd do for a year or two and then move onto something else."

That was in 1989.

He's a member of a select group who play organ and DJ. Many arenas have one or the other, with some using taped organ clips.

Not surprisingly Castoldi doesn't like the taped material.

"There's something about the emotion that you can put across when you're playing it live. When you play something back it's always the same tone. And it may not be the right tone (depending on the stage of the game)."

Castoldi, who studied classical piano and went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, is already part of Rangers lore. He wrote the anthemic music "Slapshot" played after each goal by the Broadway Blueshirts.

Eleven days into the Olympic hockey competition, he has had one day off. There were no games scheduled Monday so he toured the town of Sochi and found a German beer hall.

Then it was back to work high above the ice, with no complaints.

"Really it's a terrific job. You go to work and you don't really know what's going to happen. That's the beauty of live events and sports."

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Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version stated "Kernkraft 400" was by White Zombie instead of Zombie Nation.

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