This past June, I took a week-long trip to Philadelphia, where I had the opportunity to hear some of the largest and greatest organs in the world. Of course, there are some very notable instruments that I was not able to hear, but that always leaves me with the excuse to go back to the city, right?
While I was in Philly, I took advantage not only of the organs in Philadelphia proper, but also of a couple of instruments outside the city, namely at Longwood Gardens, and the world's largest pipe organ (by number of pipes), the famous Midmer-Losh organ in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall. I'll talk about these in a separate post. For now, I'll just concentrate on one organ in particular.
This organ is, of course, the world famous Wanamaker Organ, the world's largest fully functioning pipe organ. It is also the world's largest pipe organ by number of ranks, while the organ in Atlantic City is the largest by number of pipes. I was fortunate enough to be able to visit on Wanamaker Organ Day 2017, and enjoy all the associated concerts and festivities. The only thing I missed were the chamber tours that morning, since my flight was delayed about two hours, and I barely made it to the first concert at 11am.
The Wanamaker Organ can produce a richness of sound that is unrivaled by other instruments. Where else can you find a 7-stop Vox Humana Chorus or a string division that has not only string mutations, but CELESTES of the mutation stops, and many stops that have both a sharp and a flat celeste? The effects you can get from this instrument are absolutely breathtaking. I think they would be the most breathtaking from the 2nd or 3rd floor of the Grand Court, as the sound is much more direct. Sitting on the ground where we did for the concerts, you don't really get quite the directness or clarity of the sound that you could if you were sitting more directly in front of the pipework. It is, however, still thoroughly amazing.
Here's the view of the main facade from where I was sitting for the Grand Evening Concert. You can see that I am indeed quite far below the pipework, as the lowest speaking pipework is behind the first level of the golden facade.
I also noticed a couple of things about the architecture. First of all, the floor just in front of the organ (which is where visiting choirs perform) is not finished. I imagine this is probably a cost consideration, but it seemed a bit odd to me, as everything else in the entire room is exquisitely appointed. Second, there is a winged, golden angel at the top center of the facade, who is playing two trumpets. It reminded me a bit of the Angel Moroni often found atop LDS Temples, which I thought was pretty cool. If the angel is a Woman, I honestly couldn't tell, the shiny gold made it difficult to make out the details of the figure. Both of these (floor and angel) are shown in photos below:
There were many pieces played over the course of the day, everything from our National Anthem, to Handel, to Franck, to Sousa, to the classic song "Tea for Two". Nothing else--save perhaps the Midmer-Losh, once its restoration is finished--is closer to a one-man orchestra than this organ, it is simply stunning. My favorite piece played the entire day was Dr. Steven Ball's arrangement of Debussy's "La Cathedrale Engloutie" ("The Sunken Cathedral" in English), which he played during the Grand Evening Concert. He used the organ's sustain function to great effect, and his transcription was most artful. Dr. Ball was probably my favorite performer of the day, and that's saying something when you're joined at the console by such accomplished musicians as Peter Richard Conte and Todd Wilson, whose performances were also outstanding. By the end of the day I was so tired, having been awake for over 24 hours, but it was well worth it.
I took a few more photos, but they're basically just the same images you'll see anywhere else on the Internet, except worse, because they were taken with a temperamental smartphone camera rather than professional equipment. So, here are a couple of selfies, with the facade and console of the Wanamaker. The image with the facade behind me was taken at the console. It is on the 2nd floor protected by an ornate wooden fence, which they had open for the special occasion, so anyone, such as a twenty-something from Utah, could come and take a closer look.
Here are my selfies:
I will also add that I attended the best silent movie I have ever attended, Harold Lloyd's Safety Last, accompanied by the aforementioned Dr. Ball on the Wurlitzer in the Greek Hall in the Wanamaker building. I haven't laughed that hard in a long time! I encourage you, if you ever have the chance to attend a silent movie with organ accompaniment, DO IT! It's so much fun!
Here are a couple of photos of Greek Hall and its organ. I believe this is an 8- or 9-rank organ (don't quote me on that!), and the pipework is behind the movie screen on the right. There was originally an organ at the opposite end of the room, and there were other themed halls in the building (e.g. Egyptian) that had their own organs. I'm not sure what has become of the amazing rooms, but the organs are long gone. The organ in the photos is an original Wurlitzer that was moved from its original installation.
Anyway, how's that for an update? I hope it was worth the wait! I'll make a couple more posts about my trip over the next few weeks, then a few more from things I've done before that. Thanks for your patience with my delays, and have a fantastic day!