The ‘Phantom of Madison Square Garden’ Is a Westchester Resident

Since 1989, Pleasantville's Raymond Castoldi has orchestrated Knicks and Rangers games at Madison Square Garden.

There’s one musician who’s played more shows at Madison Square Garden than the iconic Billy Joel. (That’s if you count Knicks and Rangers games as a show – and who wouldn’t?) Raymond Castoldi, commonly dubbed the maestro of The Garden, has served as the director of music for MSG for the past 35 years. From the 1994 NBA finals and the ‘94 Stanley Cup Finals to this year’s riveting Knicks and Rangers playoff run, Castoldi has borne witness to a handful of memorable franchise moments.

“The ability to go to these games and make a career out of it and get to watch Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Patrick Ewing for his whole career, and Jalen Brunson, boy it’s really something,” says Castoldi.

Since the ‘90s, NBA and NHL arenas nationwide have undergone substantial upgrades. For starters, the introduction of video boards (and non-smoking laws) has proven to be a necessity when questionably timed baskets were called game-winners. Lighting, music, and dance teams collectively play a role in creating the modern shows that fans know and love today. One enduring element throughout NBA and NHL history is the presence of a lively stadium organist dishing out familiar jingles.

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Since the venue’s inception in 1968, music has been an integral part of Madison Square Garden’s identity. The oldest arena in the NBA and the world’s most famous arena has always been home to an organist. A few notable mentions include Gladys Gooding, Eddie Layton, Toby Wright, and Ashley Miller. The tradition runs deep, and Castoldi took over the reins in 1980 after auditioning to be the organist for the Knicks and, a few years later, the Rangers.

“Every one of us [stadium organists], we pinch ourselves that we have this job, and we get to be a part of these teams that people love,” says Castoldi.

Ray
Ray Castoldi. Photo courtesy of MSG Sports

Whether you’re on your feet chanting “defense,” celebrating with Castoldi’s “Goal Song,” or finding comfort in Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind, you’ll find emotions are at an all-time high in the Garden. Orchestrated with the help of Castoldi, the ambiance and ecstasy surrounding Madison Square Garden is uniquely special and shared among both generational-long fans and tourists.

“You can feel the emotions clearly in the room, so it’s kind of like picking what to play on the organ that is going to amplify those emotions,” says Castoldi, adding, “you can get that energy and give it back to the players and push them on.” Castoldi is a longtime New York sports fan but never imagined dipping his toes into the sports scene professionally prior to becoming the stadium organist. Before starting at MSG, he traveled throughout Manhattan playing gigs with his band and as a solo DJ.

Now, Castoldi is seated far up in the rafters underneath the Ranger banners, where he heads into game night a few hours prior to warm up his fingers. Once the music setlist – which boasts hip hop, EDM, and classic rock – is established, he anticipates the night’s game and its opponents. Is there a big rival? (We’re looking at you, Boston.) Is it a holiday? Or maybe there’s a hot new track Castoldi wants to play for the fans. No matter what, every detail is accounted for once the face-off or tip-off commences.

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“It’s really a lot of fun. In some ways it’s fun being behind the audience and not in front of the audience. They’re here to see the sports, and my job is almost kind of live film scoring,” Castoldi observes.

 

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After this year’s duo playoff run at the Garden, Castoldi notes that the team is exhausted.

“You put your heart and soul into those weeks,” he says, reflecting on the recent six-week run where fans eagerly filed into the Garden to await that night’s battle. If New York won the game prior, Castoldi shares that superstition loomed heavy within the production meetings.

Everyone had to sit in the same chair, in the same order for the following game, he explains. Nobody got to move. Members of the production team would even take it as far as eating an identical meal on game day for fear that one slip-up might cost them the playoffs.

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Castoldi tries not to get wrapped up in the superstitions. That being said, he does admit that if the Rangers score a goal while he’s sitting in a chair, he will continue to sit in that chair until the “Goal Song” plays again, and then again throughout the speakers.

“I really am just a fan up there like everybody else, just with louder toy, a louder voice. I’m trying to drive the Knicks and Rangers along to victory as much as I can, just as much,” says the Phantom of Madison Square Garden.

Related: A Look Into the Struggle for Sportsmanship in Westchester

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