Four years ago, I went to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. with my oldest daughter, on a school trip. While we were in Philly, a tour guide told us that the Macy’s nearby held a huge organ. My interest was piqued.
Two years ago, I took the same trip with daughter #2. By now, I’d researched the organ a little. We were really close, but as one of the tour guide
nazi teachers in charge told us, this is not your personal vacation! You cannot leave the group! Darn. I guess I wasn’t going to see or hear that organ.
Just a few weeks ago, I went on the trip yet again, with my youngest daughter. This time, I was prepared. In April, I’d had the opportunity to hear the Wanamaker organist play when he visited my town to give a concert. I found out that he’d be playing on Friday night at 7. We were supposed to be in Philadelphia at that time. I gathered my courage and emailed the less nazi-like teacher guide and explained the situation to her, asking if I could ditch the walking tour to hear the organ.
She said yes 🙂 — on the condition that I didn’t tell the other teacher.
So, after dinner, I took off on foot for Macy’s, which is right downtown.
I walked in, and it was the coolest thing. The organ was playing! I looked up, and there was the organist, just up and ahead!
He played for 45 minutes, both classical and more popular fare, and I strolled through the store enjoying the sound. The beautiful music and building were an odd contrast to the merchandise and customers. Clothing was really messy and strewn about, and the customers seemed pretty oblivious to the music as they shoved through racks of merchandise.
I didn’t care. I enjoyed the music.
The Wanamaker Organ got its name when John Wanamaker bought the organ for his Philadelphia store and had it installed there in 1911. It was originally made for the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair. It has over 28.000 pipes and 6 keyboards. The smallest pipe is 1/4 inch long; the largest, 32 feet (a publicity photo featured a Shetland pony standing inside this pipe).
After the concert, the organist let interested listeners come in to see the organ console. Amazing to imagine the expertise needed to play such an instrument, making use of all its capabilities!
Check out a free concert next time you’re in Philadelphia! I’m glad I got the opportunity.