Philadelphia’s pipe organs, and the sacred places that contain them, are some of the city’s greatest treasures. Yet, changing religious landscapes, musical tastes, and technology over the last 20 to 30 years are putting both sacred places and their historic pipe organs at risk. One expert estimated that nearly 50% of the instruments featured in the Organ Historical Society’s national convention in Philadelphia nearly twenty years ago maybe be partially destroyed, dormant, or unplayable.
Using new and creative approaches, the goal of Playing and Preserving was to generate public support for the preservation and active use of Philadelphia’s pipe organ heritage by building relationships between congregations, artists, music lovers, organ builders, and the broader public.
The project included three major components:
Partners collaborated with pipe organ students from the Curtis Institute of Music to survey nearly 50 historic pipe organs at risk in sacred places outside of Philadelphia’s urban core. Their findings, including audio recordings of the pipe organs and photos of the sites, will be incorporated into the database of the Organ Historical Society. A sample of survey data, including photos and audio recordings, can be found in this interactive map.
Training and Capacity Building
Eleven congregations participated in a capacity-building training program, to leverage their historic organ as a key physical asset of the congregation. Each congregation received a full conditions assessment of its instrument, a guide to repair and restoration, and direct assistance to catalyze efforts to fundraise and preserve their instruments.
Partners for Sacred Places collaborated with Astral and Play On Philly (POP) to organize a series of family-friendly, community concerts at St. Mary’s Hamilton Village, The Episcopal Church at Penn. In the weeks before these concerts, Astral Artists mentored the POP students during four short residency visits, building musical skills and relationships between student musicians and world-class artists. Each concert was preceded by child-friendly Experience Stations, designed to welcome us all to learn more about the pipe organ.
Friday, October 25, 2019 – The Organ At Home
Featuring: Project Fusion, saxophone quartet; Play On Philly Wind Ensemble; and Michael Lawrence, Director of Music/Organist/Choirmaster at St. Mary’s, Hamilton Village
Friday, November 22, 2019 – The Organ With Friends
Featuring: Thomas Mesa, cello; Greg Zelek, organ; Play On Philly Cello Ensemble
Saturday, December 21, 2019 – The Organ As Celebration
Featuring: Chrystal E. Williams, mezzo-soprano; Thomas Mesa, cello; Greg Zelek, organ; Play On Philly Symphony Orchestra
Advisory Committee Members
Jonathan M. Bowen, Organist and Choirmaster, St. Luke and the Epiphany
Michelle Cann, Pianist and Educator, Keys To Connect
Roy Harker, Executive Director, First Baptist Church Of Philadelphia
Dustin Hurt, Director, Bowerbird
Dr. Martha Johnson, Organist, Choirmaster, Educator
Alan Morrison, Haas Charitable Trust chair in organ studies, Curtis Institute Of Music
Patrick J. Murphy, Organ Builder, Patrick J. Murphy & Associates
James Straw, Past Chair, Partners for Sacred Places Board of Directors
Dan Visconti, Artistic Director, Astral Artists
Karen Whitney, Organist and Choir Director, Salem Baptist Church
The Diapason, December 2019, Partners for Sacred Places Announces Initiative to Preserve Historic Organs in Philadelphia, by Jonathan Eifert
The Pianist, December 3, 2019, The Latest Piano News from the USA: November, by Ellie Palmer
Phindie, Independent Coverage of Philadelphia Theater and Arts, November 25, 2019, PLAYING AND PRESERVING (Astral Artists, Play on Philly, Partners for Sacred Spaces): Beautiful music at St. Mary’s, Hamilton Village, Review by Margaret Darby
WHYY, Peter Crimmins, October 28, 2019, Hunting Philly neighborhoods for forgotten church pipe organs
Classical Post, October 25, 2019, Partners for Sacred Places Launches New Initiative to Preserve Historic Organs in Philadelphia
WRTI, October 25, 2019, On-air coverage.
Musical America, October 23, 2019, Partners for Sacred Places Announces Groundbreaking Initiative to Preserve Historic Organs in Philadelphia, Foster Community
Broad Street Review, Margaret Darby, October 22, 2019, The Playing and Preserving project aims to save Philly’s endangered historic organs
For information about Playing and Preserving, please contact Joshua Castaño at 215-567-3234 x. 18 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Major support for Playing and Preserving has been generously provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from Wyncote Foundation and The 25th Century Foundation.