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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward a doctorate in liturgical theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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“I have, on the other hand, retained several more or less traditional tunes, absolutely valueless and without merit from a musical point of view, but which seem to have become a necessity if a book is to appeal—as I hope this one will—to the varied needs of various churches.”
— A. Edmonds Tozer (1905)

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Exploring the World’s Largest Musical Instrument
published 2 June 2019 by Fr. David Friel

HE WORLD’S largest functioning musical instrument is a pipe organ, though not one in a church. It is the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ, first built for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and later expanded and installed in Wanamaker’s Department Store in Center City Philadelphia. Today, the organ is still played almost daily in the same building, now operated by Macy’s.

How big is it? That depends on how one measures. The Wanamaker organ consists of 28,750 pipes arranged in 464 ranks, stretched across 7 stories of retail space. The console features 6 keyboards and 168 finger pistons (plus 42 foot pistons), and the whole instrument weighs in at 287 tons. It took 13 train cars to transport it from St. Louis to Philadelphia. Its construction even bankrupted its builder (the Los Angeles Art Organ Company).

A great article with 7 interesting facts about the instrument was published earlier this week by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

An organization called the “Friends of the Wanamaker Organ” also hosts a full website replete with interesting background on the instrument. See the full stoplist here.

A small restoration project has just been completed on the Wanamaker Organ. The work was limited to the repair, cleaning, and painting of the instrument’s wooden case and its 117 façade pipes (none of which actually speak).

Next month, participants in the CMAA’s annual Sacred Music Colloquium will have the opportunity to hear the instrument live. A short walk from the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter & Paul, where the Colloquium is being held, the Wanamaker organ will be played in recital by Clara Gerdes at 12 noon on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. Gerdes is a fifth-year student at Philadelphia’s renowned Curtis Institute of Music.