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There is a long tradition of using the organ in religious contexts, especially in Christian and Catholic churches. This is perhaps because of its imposing and magnificent tone, which goes well with the majesty and seriousness of religious rituals.
Because of its use in churches, organs have been part of many religions’ traditions and cultures. Many universities and colleges all over the US have also secured their organ and even preserved using them all these times.
It’s crucial to remember that the organ is not just utilized in religious situations; it can also be found in a range of secular settings like schools, theaters, auditoriums, and concert halls. If you’re wondering which school chapels have the oldest and most amazing organs, you can check out the list below.
History of Pipe Organs
It’s important to understand first the origin of pipe organs. With its magnificence and omnipotent sound, it’s intriguing how this instrument came to be. If you trace back its history, you’ll have to recall the ancient Greek times, particularly in the 3rd century BC. There, the wind supply was produced by the weight of displaced water inside an airtight container.
It is believed that the first pipe organs were water organs, or hydrauli, which were created in northern Africa during that period. But, Byzantine organs were powered by bellows by the sixth or seventh century AD.
Some theories suggest that the mechanism of the water organ was initially designed as a means of emitting a steady pressure flow of air rather than as a musical instrument. It is said that the gadget made a musical instrument-like sound when it was demonstrated, with the air pumped through a pipe that was attached to demonstrate that the air flow’s pressure remained constant.
Fast forward to modern settings, manually inflated bellows are still used in the construction of new pipe organs. This is because the wind that a motor creates is inevitably erratic and eddied, which modifies the sound that is created as it travels through the pipes. Since the wind only blows in one direction, the music produced by the old approach is of higher quality.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Old Pipe Organs in College Campus Chapels
If you’re wondering why your school chapels still use pipe organs even in this current age and time, it’s best to dissect both the pros and cons of using this powerful instrument. For one, an excellent pipe organ has a richer tone than a digital organ. Though it’s also true that there are some awful pipe organs and that the greatest digital organs are superior to them, many music enthusiasts would argue with this statement.
To further discuss both sides of the fences, here are their advantages and disadvantages:
You can very much count on a pipe organ lasting a lot longer. In 200 years, it may very well still be played. On the other hand, unfortunately, it seems doubtful that a digital organ will survive for more than a few decades.
Pipe organs come with prestige and grandeur appearances that add more aesthetic value to schools’ chapels. They help beautify the environment of the chapels and attract more visitors, especially when the pipe organ comes with a long history.
Most of the historical and antique pipe organs come with hefty price tags that are impossible to buy. Even schools that would prefer to buy new ones would need to be willing to spare more money than buying digital organs. It’s best to compare costs before deciding which one to go for.
Like antique cars that have very high value, old organs also need tender love and care. Most likely, they will require an overhaul and upgrade every few decades. This would mean another cost for your tuning and maintenance.
Bulky in Size
Unlike modern organs, old pipe organs are bulkier in size and take up more space. Also, you have to consider that they would require some more people to move if you ever decide on changing their placements and locations in the chapel.
20 Oldest and Most Amazing Organs in College Campus Chapels
Trinity College Chapel at Trinity College in Hartford, CT
This old pipe organ from Trinity College Chapel comes with 4,416 pipes, and they range in size from pencil-sized to trees. The organ was a gift from Mrs. Newton C. Brainard in remembrance of her late husband. He was a 41-year college trustee and former mayor of Hartford.
With its lower 12 open wood pipes leaning against the west wall, the 32′ Untersatz is positioned in the nave. This Æolian-Skinner organ (op. 851) was first installed in the Chapel in 1932 and was housed in the now-vacant choir chamber, including these pipes.
Charles Nazarian, a 1973 organ designer, created the facade and casework. In 1986, it was placed after being crafted in his studio by skilled workers. The initial casework design was influenced by classical French organ cases and was modified to fit the existing Austin organ’s construction. Morgan Faulds Pike’s wood sculptures serve as the case’s centerpiece.
The Trinity College Bantam mascot, grotesques, unicorns, angels with trumpets and lyres, swallows, and griffins are among them. Paul W. Adams ’35 and Clarence Watters’ profiles are shown in two panels that are right above the console.
Rockefeller Memorial Chapel – The University of Chicago in Chicago, IL
This next organ is one of the best in the US, and it’s quite massive. A lot of people would fall in love with it. There are several opportunities to hear this organ play in their facilities. During the school year, the Skinner organ was performed during weekly recitals and Sunday services. Throughout the seasons, it is also performed for practice, academic and formal events, and special concerts.
Finally, in 2012, the Reneker organ—which was originally intended for the Chicago Theological Seminary—was moved to Bond Chapel. Built by Karl Wilhelm in Quebec in 1983, this exquisite Baroque tracker organ soon earned a prize for “divine design” in its new location.
On this particular date, Betty Reneker, who commissioned the organ in remembrance of her husband Robert Reneker—a former head of the University of Chicago board of trustees—and their son David, celebrated her 100th birthday.
The University of Chicago’s Brian Gerrish Organ Playing Series aims to spread the delight of experiencing top-notch organ playing. Since 2009, the yearly event at Rockefeller Chapel has become an endowed series honoring Divinity School professor Emeritus Brian Gerrish.
The Reneker Organ (Karl Wilhelm, 1983) at Bond Chapel was moved from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012, and this is the first performance played on it by Gerrish.
University of Florida College of Arts in Gainesville, FL
The University of Florida’s Auditorium’s pipe organ was made possible by a financial donation from Dr. Andrew Anderson. William Zeuch of Boston’s renowned Skinner Organ Company, which constructed and installed the instrument in early 1925, created the tonal designs. On June 7, 1925, the organ was performed in public for the first time.
It was a musical landmark in its day and embodied the pinnacle of orchestral-imitative or “symphonic” organ design in this country, as noted by Charles Callahan’s The American Classic Organ and Orpha Ochse’s The History of the Organ in the United States. The university organist Claude Murphree at that time performed 550 performances using this organ.
Unfortunately, as a result of institutional economic conditions during and immediately after World War II, the instrument itself did not receive the proper care it deserved. However, the instrument was rescued as soon as the Division of Music was established in 1948.
To restore the harm inflicted by aging and improper upkeep, the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company launched a mechanical restoration and tonal rehabilitation program under Bodine’s direction. Although the facility had undergone renovations and air conditioning by 1976, Aeolian-Skinner had ceased operations.
The meticulous restoration of the organ to its previous splendor as a teaching and performance instrument was carried out by P. Möller Organ Company instead. In January 2015, the College of the Arts presented Phantom of the Opera, featuring the newly renovated organ.
Newberry Organ, Woolsey Hall at Yale University in New Haven, CT
One of the most famous Romantic organs in the world, the Newberry Organ, towers over and behind the Woolsey Hall stage of Yale University. The organ bears the name of John Stoughton Newberry, and his family donated $50,000 to Yale.
About 5,000 pipes and other parts from earlier organs were recycled to create it. After the end of the Romantic era, orchestral transcriptions for the organ were no longer appealing to the public. Skinner organs that were not replaced or allowed to deteriorate during that period were either replaced. In its original form, the Newberry Memorial Organ still exists today.
Yale University Organist Harry Benjamin Jepson persuaded the Skinner Company to restore and expand Woolsey Hall’s magnificent Newberry Memorial Organ, which dates back to the hall’s 1903 consecration.
After undergoing reconstruction, the organ was consecrated in December 1929, making it the biggest organ to carry the Skinner nameplate. And finally, up until now, with its massive, heroic ensembles and heart-stopping ethereal effects, its more than 12,500 pipes rocked the Hall to its core.
Harvard The Memorial Church in Cambridge, MA
Daily and weekly sessions of worship were practiced at Harvard. Harvard’s worship has always placed a strong emphasis on music, with renowned pipe organs leading choirs and congregations.
Situated in side chambers above the Appleton Chapel seating, the original 1932 Æolian-Skinner instrument had a challenging task: it needed to be sensitive enough to conduct Morning Prayers in the Chapel yet strong enough to round a significant corner and reach into The Memorial Church.
It was envisaged that the new organ would be installed in the back gallery, with a second, smaller organ in the chapel for morning prayers, and in 1967, the Appleton Chapel became the home of the Fisk Organ, Op. 46.
The Chapel configuration was inverted, and the new organ was positioned in front of the Palladian window to make room for the freestanding Fisk instrument. Morning Prayers, which had formerly been bright and sunny, were now shrouded in darkness. But for the 74th anniversary of the Church, the Reverend Peter Gomes these two organs.
The Edythe Bates Old Grand Organ at Rice University in Houston, TX
With its unique identity and voice, the grand concert organ for Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music was designed from its conception to play four centuries’ worth of organ literature convincingly.
However, both an organ professor and builder concluded that an organ possessing the tonal qualities prized in eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth-century France would provide the most flexibility in playing the majority of the literature.
As an added benefit, this type of organ would be well suited to the music of many nations, whether from the past or the future. It was determined that a somewhat large instrument was needed in order to be able to provide all of the key voices required by a substantial portion of the organ repertory.
The creation of the organ that now gracefully fills the hall bearing Mrs. Edythe Bates Old’s name and the completion of its interior was made possible by her kind giving. Mrs. Old, a native of Highlands, Texas, was a talented singer, pianist, choral director, watercolorist, and educator. She spent many years teaching English, music, and art in Houston’s public schools and teaching Greek and English literature at the University of Houston.
Frieze Memorial Organ at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI
All the students and staff at the University of Michigan can use the Æolian-Skinner organ in Hill Auditorium for instruction, practice, and performances. The centerpiece of the auditorium’s distinctive parabolic interior is the organ, which bears Henry Simmons Frieze’s name. Frieze was a Latin professor and the first president of the University Musical Society.
Above the central skylight are the ranks in the Echo division, for a total of 7,600 speaking pipes behind the façade of non-speaking pipes.
Rebuilt, the Frieze Memorial Organ is now housed in Hill Auditorium. Famous American organ builder Ernest M. Skinner undertook a significant redesign of the organ in 1927. Skinner’s tonal design was distinctly “orchestral.” In the decades that followed, organ design aesthetics underwent a dramatic transformation, and in 1955, the organ was to be rebuilt in the style of an “American classic.”
Throughout the years, the non-speaking facade pipes have undergone several color and configuration changes. After a leaking roof damaged the organ in 1990, Nelson Barden and Company had to restore it further. Currently, the Frieze Memorial Organ is being curated by Professor James Kibbie.
Caruth Auditorium Fisk Organ at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX
Among the many exceptional instruments that C.B. Fisk is credited with creating are those found in installations at Stanford, Harvard, Wellesley, and the University of Michigan. With the help of other organs, Fisk’s varied instruments have become synonymous with national genres.
The voicing and design of their instruments are informed and inspired by historic construction principles and consideration for the entire body or organ repertory. Fisk blends skills from a wide range of fields with a dedication to workmanship and design to give each organ its distinct personality. C.B. Fisk is a wonderful example of modern pipe organ construction at its best.
In September 1993, this Fisk Organ was constructed by CB. The Opus 101, made by Gloucester, Massachusetts-based Fisk, Inc., is a three-manual, 3,681-pipe instrument with tonal design characteristics derived from French Romantic, German, and French Baroque and more contemporary sources.
A beautiful mahogany case combines eclectic tonal design with the enduring sound of the Fisk organ, which replaces the Aeolian-Skinner organ in Caruth. In collaboration with members of the Fisk shop, Charles L. Nazarian, design consultant, developed the visual design.
The Klais Organ at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, IA
The magnificent Klais organ that was just erected in the 700-seat performance hall at the University of Iowa’s Voxman Music Building may be the most noteworthy of all the new instruments. Plans were established to develop a new facility that would offer the next generation of music students access to state-of-the-art instruments as well as practice and performance facilities after the 2008 flood destroyed the historic Voxman building beyond repair.
Students at UI will experience a learning experience unlike any other. As soon as the decision was made to replace Voxman’s organ, a committee comprised of representatives from the School of Music and Facilities Management met to choose the best organ for the building.
Since they wanted an organ that could teach students, they opted for the Klais organ, which was designed by the German organ creator Mr. Orgelbau Klais. The Orgelbau Klais company was founded in 1882 and is currently being spearheaded by Philipp Klais.
They ended up getting the Shwerin organ. There are 3,883 pipes on UI’s Klais organ, measured at 24 feet long and less than 0.5 inches high.
The John R. Silber Symphony Organ at Boston University in Boston, MA
Throughout the years, the George Sherman Union’s Metcalf Ballroom has hosted a range of events, including award ceremonies, banquets, galas, conferences, and the university’s annual holiday celebration for professors and staff.
And just next to the 12,000 square foot ballroom on the second story of GSU, concealed in plain sight, is a unique musical instrument so huge it requires its own extremely large chamber. With its enormous size of thirty feet, weight of 22.5 tons, and 7,500 pipes, the John R. Silber Symphonic Organ is unlike any other organ in existence.
Located behind large glass windows in a hallway one flight of stairs above the ballroom, the “guts” of the organ are on display.
The symphonic organ was restored by Nelson Barden & Associates over 12 years. Two player organs from the early 20th century (instruments that play automatically without instruments) are combined into one to power six tremendous vintage turbines, totaling 33 horsepower. An early 1980s computer system replaced punched paper rolls to operate the organ. In honor of BU’s seventh president, John Silber, this organ is now called the John R. Silber Symphony Organ.
Practice and Studio Organs at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT
Brigham Young University is equipped with some pipe organs. The pipe organs found at these practice and teaching studios range widely in style, from those that are evocative of seventeenth-century instruments to those that include cutting-edge digital technology.
Organ Built by Kenneth Coulter in 1988
This is a nine-rank, two-manual tracker organ. Because of its extremely sensitive key action, it’s a great tool for practicing exact finger movements. The Great-to-Pedal coupler is the hook-down pedal next to the pedal keys on the right. This organ can be operated manually and comes with 58 keys.
Organ Rebuilt by Schoenstein in 1988
This organ has ten ranks and three manuals, with an electro-pneumatic key movement. These very few grades, albeit generous in their unity and confusion, are distributed among three manuals. This instrument is especially helpful for students studying organ pieces.
The Swell and Choir are the two expressive sections of this organ. This organ was originally located in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. A contemporary combination action was added to the console in 2022.
Organ Built by Kenneth Jones in 1988 at Choral Hall
This organ is in the Choral Hall and may be reached via a third-floor entrance next to the stairs. It comes with 23 ranks with key motion and must be manually operated.
Organ Built by Karl Wilhelm in 1987
Two people operate this six-rank tracker organ. It has a flat pedalboard, like the ones that are typically seen in Europe. The organist can adjust the shutters that surround the pipes, which resemble cabinets. There are hook-down pedals placed beside the pedal keys.
The Baroque Organ at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY
The renowned Charlottenburg organ in Berlin was sadly destroyed during World War II and was built by the renowned organ creator, Arp Schnitger, in 1706. This is replicated in the tonal design of this baroque organ at Cornell University.
In addition to artisans and musicians, specialists in the fields of fluid dynamics and metallurgy worked together to comprehend the various facets of the building of this historic organ. There are more than 2,000 pipes that were made by hand in Sweden, all of them under the supervision of Munetaka Yokota, the project designer.
Another German Schnitger organ models the enormous, elaborately carved wooden housing. Every detail is distinct and authentic. Cornell already owned many organs, but none of the size or style suitable for the works of the eminent 17th- and 18th-century German organist composers.
There was no outstanding instrument for performing music, particularly that of Johann Sebastian Bach and his Northern German forebears. Thus, the baroque organ is the best statement instrument for the school.
The organ, which the Department of Music commissioned, is ideal for J.S. Bach and his northern German forebears and is adaptable enough for music composed for solo and ensemble starting in the sixteenth century. The organ is a resource for Cornell’s finest organ students, artists, performers, and academics, complementing the department’s strengths in performance and research.
The Beckerath Organ at Stetson University in DeLand, FL
Rudolf von Beckerath, a renowned organ builder of the 20th century, constructed Stetson University’s organ. In fact, on the right, just inside the organ’s entryway, is a little framed picture of him. It was said that in his factory in Hamburg, Germany, he created the organ’s 2,500 pipes using a tin-and-lead alloy, cutting each one to tune.
Originally, the German builders placed bricks as weights on the organ’s reservoir. This is a large box that receives wind power from an electric blower to keep the instrument operating steadily. Neither when the organ’s elaborate housing was constructed in 1992 nor when a new console was added in 2004 did the placement of the bricks change.
An ornate case houses Stetson’s massive pipe organ in Lee Chapel at Stetson University. There are some shafts, pulleys, and wooden rods that make the pipes move.
The Curtis Organ at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA
With 161 sets of pipes totaling 10,731 pipes, this opulent and luxuriant Curtis Organ at the University of Pennsylvania can simulate the swells of an orchestra, the blast of strong trumpets, and, yes, even the melodies of a church organ.
Furthermore, the incredible instrument is practically inseparable from the Irvine Auditorium, where it resides. The vents that provide air to the Curtis pipes run through and beneath the structure; the pipes themselves are concealed behind big panels. They vary in size from the diameter of a pencil to 32 feet wide.
The music of the organ fills the spectacular Gothic structure’s nooks and crannies, as well as the vaulted ceiling, when it is played. The organ is perfect for the structure where it is placed.
This is the second-largest organ in Philadelphia. The Organ Historic Society has included this historic gem and is one among the 300 on their list. In addition to bringing these enthusiasts together, the organ has also connected them with fans from abroad.
Chapel Organ at Princeton University in Princeton, NJ
Considered the King of Instruments, Princeton University also holds its very own treasure. Princeton’s Chapel organ was unique among organs of the day when it was installed in 1928. It was created by E.M. Woolworth and given by Helena Woolworth McCann in honor of her father, the five-and-dime tycoon Frank Winfield Woolworth.
At the time, the nation’s top organ manufacturer was Skinner of Boston. The rich tone of Skinner’s “Romantic” organs was highly regarded. However, after World War I, American organists were enthralled with the organs they heard in France and England and returned home, talking about their strength and tonal purity.
Four keyboards, or manuals, make up the Chapel organ, sometimes referred to as the Mander organ for the firm that repaired it in 1991. The choir, the swell, the solo, and the great are in order of ascending order. The Swell runs pipes within a massive box with moveable blinds on one side, while the Great makes the biggest noise. The music intensifies substantially when the blinds are opened, even though it is only played at one volume.
Sharkey Corrigan Organ at Texas A&M University in Laredo, TX
A new, expansive Center for Fine and Performing Arts complex, with a new Recital Hall, opened its doors in August 2003 at Texas A&M International University. Dr. Ray Keck, the former president of the university, had always dreamed of having a beautiful pipe organ specifically made for the new hall. With the donation of the Sharkey Corrigan Organ in 2006, his wish was fulfilled.
The Kegg Pipe Organ Company of Ohio was selected to construct this historic instrument following a nationwide search. Fifty-two stops and 69 ranks make up the organ. Although its resource legacy is global, its approach to the adaptive utilization of those resources is distinctly American.
The goal of the tonal scheme is to give the instrument a unique voice that has the integrity to convincingly express to listeners of today the musical language of composers from all eras rather than merely replicating sounds from any historical time.
The Kegg Organ Company made sure to include four full choruses of reed and flue for this instrument, all of which are carefully voiced, scaled, and tailored to allow the music of J. S. Bach and his peers to gleam and sing with vitality.
As a result of combining these resources, a versatile romantic instrument is created that can be paired with a full orchestra, accompanying choirs, and a wide variety of contemporary and romantic organ literature.
The Hill Memorial Organ at Pomona College in Claremont, CA
One of the oldest structures on the Pomona College campus, Bridges Hall of Music, is home to a magnificent Fisk organ in the present time. Pomona College was the original member of The Claremont Colleges and began their teaching activities in 1887.
The 115th anniversary of the College’s foundation in October 2002 was done in celebration of this Fisk organ. This event marked the end of years of preparation that centered on the issue of how best to create a new instrument for an aging Hall of Music.
An organ for Bridges Hall at Pomona College was kindly donated by the Hill family from California. Surprisingly, the Department of Music found out about it just some years later. Pomona College alums John and Eugene Hill donated this organ to commemorate their mother, Carrie.
Following an examination of the bids from three distinguished organ builders, Pomona agreed to a deal with C.B. Fisk in 1996. Recognizing that all necessary work on the Hall should be finished before installing the new organ, the College established a committee to plan the refurbishment of Bridges Hall.
Estey Organ at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY
The Brattleboro, Vermont-based Estey Organ Company constructed the pipe organ that is located in Gunnison Memorial Chapel at St. Lawrence University. The Estey Company was one of the biggest organ manufacturers in the world at the time the Gunnison Organ was erected.
At the age of seventeen, Jacob Estey in the 1800s left an orphanage as a young man and started working as an apprentice plumber. He was a partner in a plumbing, lumber, slate, and marble firm by the time he was thirty-five. He saw a financial opportunity in 1852 and acquired a portion of a tiny melodeon company.
The firm started producing pipe organs in addition to reed organs, and this led to success in the organ industry. Jacob Estey’s sons took over the business after his death.
Owen D. Young, a university trustee, asked his friend Charles A. Coffin to contribute the pipe organ when one was needed for the new Gunnison Memorial Chapel. Since the Estey Company has an outstanding reputation for producing well-built instruments, Mr. Coffin picked them.
The Estey Pipe Organ was being erected in Gunnison Memorial Chapel by January 1, 1926. It came by train in pieces to be put in the chapel’s massive main organ chamber and the back gallery, where it was to be played from a console located in the chancel. The University Organist had organized a performance for the organ’s consecration by the end of January 1926.
Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, PA
The showpiece organ in Lang Concert Hall, which had been silent for years, is now ready to showcase its pipes again due to a year-long repair project made possible by a 2019 gift and donor challenge from the Lang family.
The instrument, which the Holtkamp Organ Co. constructed in the middle of the 1970s, has been in disrepair and unusable for a minimum of ten years. The 48-year-old Lang Music Building, which bears the name of the late College donor Eugene Lang ’38, H’81, underwent a complete makeover that included its restoration.
It’s been noted how significant the changes in the organ has made. A fraction of the total renovation budget was spent on the organ, but the work involved was substantial. Additionally, Patrick J. Murphy & Associates releathered two of the organ’s windchests and cleaned or repaired each of its 2,345 pipes.
Additionally, its mechanical action has been converted to electrical action, making maintenance easier, and its Neo-Baroque sound has been slightly mellowed to suit a variety of music styles better.
Senior Music Lecturer Andrew Hauze, who worked closely with the organ restorer and offered suggestions during the repair proposal process, claims that there is a significant difference between the organ of the past and the organ of the present.
Organist since he was fourteen, Hauze remembers a strenuous recital he gave during his last year at Swarthmore, the organ growing “heavier and heavier” to play as the performance progressed.
Chapel Organ at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, MN
Constructed in 1979, the organ was created by Lynn Dobson with input from chapel organist Arlene Hilding. The organ had 1,116 pipes, divided between two manuals and a pedal, 19 stops, and 21 ranks at the time. The organ was spoken on two inches of wind pressure and had pallet and slider wind chambers, mechanical key and stop action, and other features.
The cabinet has an oiled finish and is made of solid white wood. The doors come with padauk medallions and it also comes with hand-carved stop-action levers made of the same material. The sharp keys were constructed of rosewood with ivory caps, while the natural keys had ebony platings covering them.
However, in 1994, the organ was taken out of the ancient chapel and stored. It was assembled and reassembled throughout the summer and fall of 1995 in Dobson’s workshop in Lake City, Iowa, and placed in the new church in February and March of 1996. There are currently 1,200 pipes, 24 ranks, and 20 stops on the organ.
To help the sound project in the larger space, a gallery position was assigned to the organ in the balcony, a room that is substantially larger than the original 12′-6″ high room in which it was originally designed. A raised platform was installed to give the organ the height necessary for tonal projection and visual impact.
While churches and other religious organizations are commonly fond of old and aged organs, most universities and colleges can also take advantage of its numerous benefits when used in their chapels.
In both cathedrals and even school chapels, the organ is frequently utilized for formal events like weddings, municipal ceremonies, and significant liturgical celebrations like Christmas and Easter. For these moments, the organ produces a majestic sound.