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.

Pilot Performances

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

Frederick Haas

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

Stefanie Wakeman, Director of Community Partnerships, 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

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.