Meet the man behind Tampa Bay Lightning's thunder (w/video)

Originally from Poland, Krystof Srebrakowski’s love of jazz brought him to the United States. He studied at Berklee College of Music and is classically trained with a diverse background.
Originally from Poland, Krystof Srebrakowski’s love of jazz brought him to the United States. He studied at Berklee College of Music and is classically trained with a diverse background.
Published March 15, 2015

TAMPA — As the lights dimmed at a Thursday night game against the St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning organist Krystof Srebrakowski played a pulsing orchestral adaptation of The Avengers theme song.

His final note ended with a crack of lightning. He threw up his arms in triumph.

He is the thunder.

"I'm almost like an invisible team member," Srebrakowski said, "but the loudest person in the building."

Originally from Poland, Srebrakowski, 51, classically trained with a diverse musical background, is in his third season as the hockey team's organist. His love of music began at 5 when his parents introduced him to the organist of their church. He knew from that moment he wanted to be a musician.

"I was always sensitive to sound and music," he said.

His love of jazz brought him to its place of origin — the United States. He studied at Berklee College of Music and settled in Central Florida afterward, beginning a career as a musician and orchestrator for Disney. He served as band leader for Animal Kingdom's "Tarzan Rocks" show for seven years, playing Phil Collins songs from the film.

Srebrakowski's love for hockey started in high school, but his fascination with organ music at games came after watching the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. A nudge from a friend turned him on to the Lightning's search for a player for its new theater organ.

He thought: Why not?

In 2011, the Amalie Arena — then the St. Pete Times Forum — installed a digital organ with five keyboards and a 300-speaker sound system. Designed by the Walker company, it is one of the largest electronic theater organs in the world and one of the largest instruments in the NHL.

Organ music is rooted in the game's history, but John Franzone, VP of game entertainment for the Lightning, thinks Srebrakowski and the organ bring something special.

"It anchors our Lightning game presentation as kind of 'connective tissue' … linking a new generation of Lightning fans to hockey's long, great past, while serving as a fresh addition to our show," Franzone said.

The choice of pop tunes like I Can See Clearly Now and Jimmy Buffett's Volcano makes the arena a "hockey paradise," he says.

Srebrakowski was intimidated by the organ at first, but got comfortable after programming its sounds. Above the five keyboards and under his feet, tabs and pedals switch on and off, letting horns, strings, percussion and the like accompany the boom of the pipes.

He has, at his fingertips, an entire orchestra.

"It's a magnificent sound that is unique to our arena," he said. "I wish I had the whole symphony orchestra … (but) we utilize technology for our benefit."

Srebrakowski filled a notebook with his adaptations and personal compositions for the games — a mix of Hollywood hits, modern twists on classics and plenty of tunes for clapping hands and stomping feet. He composed seven hockey-related pieces including Neutral Zone, Palace of Ice and Lightning Strikes Back.

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Before the game starts, Srebrakowski gets the crowd amped with movie theme songs and chart hits — Pharrell's Happy and Bob Marley's Three Little Birds. The most important rule: Once the puck drops, the music stops.

Connected to the rest of the entertainment team via a headset, he keeps informed of game happenings and when to start and stop. Between plays, he gets a quiet crowd pumped with Let's go Lightning! A Bolts goal calls for Fanfare.

When he's not the god of thunder for Tampa Bay, Srebrakowski spends his free time at his home studio practicing and composing pieces. He still plays for Disney, mainly weddings and at Downtown Disney. He's written music for independent films, and dreams of writing movie music full time once the passion for live performing fades.

At the game against St. Louis, he works his whole body into playing "this amazing instrument." Not a minute goes by when he is not smiling, watching for crowd reactions, cheering on his team through his music.