7,000 pipes of sound

On Friday our office closed early and as I was wandering past a nearby church I noticed people entering.  Being curious, I went in to see what they were doing and so began a lovely hour listening to an organ recital.
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The National City Christian Church grew out of an earlier congregation, the Disciples of Christ, which dated from 1843.   Fundraising for the new church began in 1919 and building began in 1929.   It was designed by John Russell Pope in the classic basilica style and built by the George A. Fuller Company.   (John Russell Pope was also the architect of the National Archives building, the National Gallery of Art and the Jefferson Memorial.)
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The weather-vane stands at 200 feet above the street and there are eleven Ionic-style columns on the portico. IMG_1482
The interior of the church is 180 feet long, 70 feet wide and 57 feet high: ..
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Stained glass windows include two installed during a renovation in 1980-81.  One dedicated to President James Garfield: –  IMG_1402
And one for President Lyndon Johnson whose state funeral had been held at the church in 1973 :  IMG_1362
And a nice bright one that caught my eye…  Dr. J. Warren Hastings was a minister at the church 1942-1960 :IMG_1398
An Opus 824 (Skinner Organ Company) was installed in 1930.  By 1960 it was developing age-related mechanical problems and the “tonal aspect” of the organ was viewed as outdated and unenlightened but it took until 1974 for enough money to be raised to rebuild the organ and alter the tone.   The older pipes were “revoiced” to work on lower pressures, reeds were given new tongues and the layout and placement was redesigned.
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The first organ had been hidden behind curtains but the new installation boldly displayed exposed pipework and windchests. IMG_1368
In 1980-81 the Pearl Neugent Nordan Gallery Organ was installed – 16 ranks housed in a case towering up the rear wall.  The Gallery organ was controlled by its own two-manual and pedal tilting tablet console.   It was also playable from the main organ through general pistons.  This organ was used to accompany operatic soprano Leontyne Price at the state funeral of President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973.IMG_1404
In 1985 the Chancel organ was enlarged to reach its zenith in pipe count – a 141-rank instrument.  The organ has been re-voiced, rebuilt and renovated to its current 7,592 pipe,  five-keyboard Moller organ with more than 300 controls.   (For comparison, Washington National Cathedral’s organ has 189 ranks and 10,647 pipes).
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Both chancel and gallery pipe organs have their own blowers to produce the pressurized air needed to make the pipes produce a sound.  The chancel organ blower is two floors directly below the pipe organ chamber in a sound-proof room.   It was manufactured in 1930 by the Spencer Turbine Company and looks like a 747 jet engine.  The blower measures 50″ in diameter, has over a dozen steel turbines inside it and produces 15 hp of energy.  The blower could support another 2,000 pipes!  IMG_1397
The gallery organ’s blower is 2 stories above the organ pipes in the church’s tower.  It measures 30″ in diameter and looks like a small oil drum.  It only has 7 horsepower of energy.
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The hour-long program was performed by organist Julie Vidrick Evans who is currently Director of Music at The Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church here in DC.  The program was titled a Soul Juxtaposition:  JS Bach and the Negro Spiritual.    My favourite was Swing Low, Sweet Chariot with Wo Soll ich Fliehen hin BWV 646 IMG_1372
Ms. Evans was dwarfed against the backdrop of pipes and it sounded as though she used all 7,000 of them!   IMG_1379
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24 responses

  1. Wow. This is really cool. I love the idea of the program they did, the Soul Juxtaposition sounds like it was great or at the very least, interesting! That is one impressive organ! (that’s what she said!)
    Thanks for the history lesson and ths pics.

  2. I love organ music played in a cathedral-like setting. The height of the ceiling combined with the stone usually lining the interior creates an acoustic like no other: you can almost feel the music pulsing through your body.

    I’m glad you had the time to enjoy this performance. It’s fun to explore parts of the town you live in but don’t normally stop by to visit.

    • I totally agree about the acoustics. Last year we went to a Smithsonian Jazz performance in a church and it was fantastic and one Christmas we heard Handel’s Messiah in a church in New York.

      I’ve been walking past this church twice a day for nearly 2 years and it’s never occurred to me to walk inside it before and, if we hadn’t been let off work at noon, I still would not have been inside.

  3. What an amazing place! When I lived in France, I spent most free time exploring churches. They were small and dark and very unrenovated but still lovely (and free to visit).

    • I love how the churches in Europe are free, unlocked and just so wonderful to explore. I don’t think I’d find many of the every-day churches in DC unlocked these days (I don’t know that for sure though as I haven’t tried to enter any).

  4. What a wonderful treat to just happen upon! I adore pipe organs. In San Diego’s Balboa Park, we have the Spreckels Organ, one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs, built in 1914 for the Panama-California Exposition. It has 4,530 pipes ranging in length from the size of a pencil to 32 feet and is housed in an ornate vaulted structure with highly embellished gables. Since 1917, San Diego has had a civic organist, who performs free weekly Sunday concerts. http://www.balboapark.org/in-the-park/spreckels-organ-pavilion

    • How lovely it would be to visit an outdoor pipe organ – thank you for the link – I’m sure it must be a very popular way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I’ve been to San Diego but we did not make it to Balboa Park though it was on my list of places to see – definitely next time.

  5. A really great post Emjay…..I have so many wonderful memories of pipe organs music in the church of my youth, and delighted that you were able to take all those photographs inside the church…..many churches these days don’t encourage it.

    • When I was a kid the rector’s wife used to play the organ in our church – it was not a fancy pipe organ and she played atrociously (I’m going to hell now!). This church is very proud of their pipe organ and they had display boards at the back with the history of the organ and photos of the hidden workings. I asked the lady handing out programs if I could take photos because you are right, many churches frown on it. I went up and shook the organist’s hand at the end of the performance – it was a really nice friendly atmosphere – not stodgy-religious.

    • It’s pretty spectacular sound-wise – that many pipes reverberating around a relatively small space (compared to the National Cathedral for example). That ‘vertical”-ness is in my photo – I wanted to get the weather-vane in the shot which meant turning my camera sideways & tilting it . And, because of the traffic circle/road I had to stand at that angle to the church which meant excluding some of the “wings” at the side of church – they give it balance when you’re looking at the it.

    • I also enjoy looking at churches Alicia. There used to be a time you could just wander into one but most are locked now unless there’s a service. I love wandering around graveyards now….. (though a lot of those are locked between sunset & sunrise).

  6. Pingback: Pipe Organ Music – How It Contributes to Church Music | Music Catholic

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