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Organs Around the World

Large organ pipes within a cathedral
Photo by Sole D'Alessandro G. on Unsplash

As musical instruments go, there is nothing nearly as unique as the organ. With multiple manuals (sets of keys, like those on a piano), pedals, and a dizzying array of stops (which change the sound of the pitch), the organ sounds impressive. But what makes the organ look impressive is its pipes. Pipe organs have been around since at least the 1400s, and there is only one organ in existence now that dates back that far. Traditionally used in church accompaniment, many organs are still found in churches today. Here is a small sampling of the many unique organs worldwide.

Wanamaker Organ—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

The world’s largest playable organ can be found in a Macy’s department store in Philadelphia. This organ was originally built for the 1904 St. Louis World fair and has 6 manuals, 28,750 pipes, 464 ranks (which are the visual divisions of the pipes), 401 stops, and weighs over 200 tons! It has been dubbed the “King of the Organs” because of its size and because it was first played at the exact moment when King George V was crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1911. It is an impressive looking and an impressive sounding organ, worth a visit for any organ fan.

Disney’s Organ—Los Angeles, California, USA

Perhaps one of the most unique organs in the world is in the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. This organ has pipes that stick out in slanted angles, leading many people to call it the “French Fries.” It was designed by architect Frank Gehry, who worked with LA organ designer and builder Manuel J. Rosales. Gehry wanted to create a fanciful design for the organ, but Rosales wanted an organ that was actually playable. The result? The French Fries—a design that is both fanciful and functional. This is an organ that’s worth visiting because of its unique design.

Sydney Opera House Grand Organ—Sydney, Australia

The world’s largest mechanical tracker-action pipe organ is located in the famous Sydney Opera House. It has 5 manuals, 10,244 pipes, and 131 stops. While not nearly as big as the Wanamaker organ, this unique organ is a tracker-action organ—pressing on the keys plays the pitch connected to the pipe. This contrasts with other organs, where the action is completely electric or electro-pneumatic—this organ has both electric and mechanical functions. If you’re near Sydney, stop by the Opera House and visit the Grand Organ.

All these organs are worth a visit for their unique sounds and histories—they have been delighting audiences for many years.