Sports

Avalanche Organist Ready to Play Final Avs Games

Mark Castellano hits all the right notes for the Avs.
Mark Castellano hits all the right notes for the Avs. Courtesy of Mark Castellano
When Mark Castellano auditioned to become the organist of the Colorado Avalanche in 2016, the New York City native didn't have a lot of hockey experience under his belt.

"I played 'Charge' and other ones, and I thought it was just pretty fun to do the things that I had thought an organist would play after watching baseball for many years. I did not think that I was going to get that gig at all," says the 44-year-old Castellano, who auditioned at what was then the Pepsi Center after having attended his first professional hockey game just a few months before.

But the Avalanche staff liked Castellano so much that he was hired on the spot.

"I learned pretty quick. It became way more interesting and way more fun, and I became an avid hockey fan after that," Castellano says. "It’s been really fun to watch these guys go this far."

And like the team, he's now set to play the Stanley Cup Finals, as the Avs take on the Tampa Bay Lightning at Ball Arena on Wednesday, June 15.

Castellano moved from New York to Colorado in 2008 with an undergraduate studio composition and jazz degree from SUNY Purchase in hand. He then enrolled at Metropolitan State University of Denver and earned a master's degree in music education.

Castellano soon landed a job teaching music to middle and high school students at Alameda International in Lakewood. But after teaching for a while, he was ready for a career change.

"I started looking on Indeed, and I found that there was an organist job available," Castellano says.

After his successful audition, Castellano took over as organist for the Avalanche at the start of the 2016-2017 season.
click to enlarge Mark Castellano has an impressive view from his organist booth. - COURTESY OF MARK CASTELLANO
Mark Castellano has an impressive view from his organist booth.
Courtesy of Mark Castellano
"It was pretty dead in there," Castellano says of the atmosphere at the Pepsi Center. "The Avalanche weren’t doing the greatest back then. It was a great time for me to get my feet wet."

And to educate himself about hockey. "It was like learning about what’s an icing and when to play," Castellano recalls. "I learned a lot of minor songs the first couple of years, because we weren’t in a ton of games."

But that changed as the team went from bad to good to great in recent years, in an arena that has filled up with die-hard fans. "This is just off the charts," Castellano says of the atmosphere today. "The decibel level has gone up insane amounts. It’s extremely loud in there now. It’s super fun."

The organist works closely with a director, who decides which performer will be featured next: the drum squad, a DJ or Castellano. "Between the three of us, we’re the music," he says.

Aside from the basic repertoire of "Charge" and "De-fense," Castellano plays a variety of songs, including "Seven Nation Army" and "Blister in the Sun." He'll sometimes throw in theme songs from The Simpsons or The Addams Family, too.

"Lots of clappy things. My whole thing is getting people and the audience involved. That's my favorite thing about what I do — getting 18,000 people to clap and sing 'Tequila,'" he explains. "'We’re Not Gonna Take It' is another good one. They sing along to all that stuff."

Castellano also pays tribute to famous musicians when they pass.

"When Tom Petty died, we played a ton of Tom Petty. When Prince died, I added a bunch of Prince to my repertoire," he says.

At other times, Castellano will collaborate with Bernie, the beloved canine mascot of the Avalanche.

"For years, I've wanted to play 'Don’t Fear the Reaper' on the organ and have Bernie play the cowbell, so we organized it a couple of games ago, and I was like, 'Thanks for making that come true.' It was just some silly ideas that I have, and I'm like, 'Let’s do that,' and people will think that it’s clever," Castellano says.

The Stanley Cup Finals games will be Castellano's last in Ball Arena. After this season ends, he's moving to Philadelphia, where his fiancée is taking a job teaching graduate students in writing at Temple University.

"It's definitely sad," he says. "I'm leaving with a heavy heart, because I really enjoy doing this."

Castellano also does jazz gigs as a guitarist and pianist and teaches music lessons in his spare time. He'll continue that in his new home city, but is focused on vying for a job as organist for the Philadelphia Flyers.

"That would be awesome," he concludes.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.