Listen To Those Pipes!

Awesome! Pop-Up Hallelujah Chorus at Macy.

Imagine browsing through a Macy’s store while a gigantic pipe organ is playing– cool, right? You can actually do this at a Macy’s store in Philadelphia, home of the largest pipe organ in the world, the Wanamaker Organ. This organ’s first phase was built in 1904, and it was added on to through the 1930s.

Now imagine hearing the organist start playing the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah— and 650 of your fellow shoppers break into song! This is exactly what happened on October 30th, and the results were electrifying. If you haven’t seen it already, the video link above showcases a slice of heaven on earth. This event is part of the Knight Foundation’s 1000 Random Acts of Culture: I love what they’re doing, including preserving our musical heritage.

I first heard Handel’s Messiah performed in a Portland church in the mid-1980s. I’ll never forget it. This piece, written in just 24 days in 1741 and first performed in Dublin in 1742, is a masterpiece. People who are only familiar with the Hallelujah chorus are missing out on an amazing three-hour musical journey through God’s plan of salvation. Components of it like Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs are sure to give listeners goosebumps.

I heard Messiah in a venue with a 1949 Wicks pipe organ with 69 stops and 2067 pipes. That organ was impressive. The Wanamaker Organ has 729 stops and 28,500 pipes. What an experience this spontaneous performance must have been! I consider the pipe organ the world’s first heavy metal instrument because of its power, and one of the first synthesizers because of its range. The Wanamaker is a titan among heavyweights.

The pipe organ was invented about 300 B.C. and had taken its modern form by the 1600s. Having a grandfather who plays pipe organ combined with going to many birthday parties at Pizza & Pipes in Tacoma as a kid has fanned my appreciation of these instruments.

Pizza & Pipes featured a 1930 Wurlitzer sporting a white console, with special features like a bass drum with Mickey Mouse’s face on it. The organists took requests and they played everything we kids threw at them, from Foreigner to Michael Jackson. I felt sick when the restaurant burned down in 1999; the console was destroyed and most of the rest of the organ was trashed.

In Seattle, many people have heard the Flentrop Organ at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral live. If you haven’t, the acoustics in this church are remarkable. Hundreds of people attend the Sunday night Compline service every week, which is also broadcast on the local classical station. As if hearing St. Mark’s all-male Compline Choir isn’t ethereal enough, some weeks there are informal organ performances after the services. They have some very talented organists come in and play.

Wow, what a great video, and what a brilliant use of sudden song. I hope the Knight Foundation sends some people to Washington soon, and that people develop a new appreciation of the pipe organ after listening to this!


The human voice is the organ of the soul. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


©2010 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/

Seriously, what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s