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Dave Thomas | profile | all galleries >> Out and About in Southeastern PA >> Philadelphia Scenes >> Wanamaker Organ tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Wanamaker Organ

Wanamaker Organ 100th Anniversary

June 22, 2011, was the 100th anniversary of this instrument. It was first heard on June 22, 1911, amid much pageantry timed to coincide with exact moment of the crowning of King George V in England. A major event spanning several days celebrated the centenary, facilitated by Macy's, the owner of the store and the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ.

During the period between the demise of the Wanamaker store and the acquisition by Macy's, there were owners who failed to appreciate what they had, and the instrument nearly was lost. It had reached a point where only about 25% of it was operating. Of course, given there are over twenty-eight thousand pipes on a six manual console, 25% is still larger than most church organs, so it was played with many listeners not realizing how much was missing. An amazing number of organ builders who make their living building and tuning instruments have donated time to bring this instrument up to its true capability. The organ in the Grand Court is on the National Historic Register and valued at $71 million.

Macy's appears to appreciate what they have, and they did a bang-up job on this centenary event with special banners and window displays, as well as the immense detail that must go into having public concerts after hours in a functioning department store. This actually harkens back to the early days of the instrument when on one occasion, Charles Corboin played with Leopold Stokowski conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra - to an SRO audience of 15,000!

Being unsure of what restrictions might apply to photography, Ye Olde Photographer brought only his compact point&shoot digital, which he now regrets. He could have gone whole hog with his DSLR or other gear. He hopes he has been able to extract enough, in spite of slow shutter speeds and sluggish focus, to convey some sense of the day.

We began with a concert of pieces played by four different organists associated with the store, Peter Richard Conte, the Grand Court Organist, plus Rudolph Lucente, Michael Stairs and Colin Howland. A short excerpt was played by Conte with Jeremy Filsell on piano, a preview of the evening concert, and we were introduced to Peter Krasinski who would accompany a silent film later. This whole hour and a half was carried live on WRTI, the Temple University Public Radio station with Jill Pasternak doing MC duties.

The film mentioned was played in the Greek Room, a remarkable meeting space on the 4th floor. Indicative of Macy's commitment to these events, just within the past year, a Wurlitzer 2-manual 8 rank theater organ has been installed in this room. The instrument came from the Smithsonian in exchange for a historically sensitive restoration by the Friends group. The film was D. W. Griffith's Way Down East starring Lillian Gish. Peter Krasinski did an astounding accompaniment, improvising away for two hours with music that brought out the emotions seen on screen. The ultimate was during a scene of a New England barn dance with a fiddler sawing away, Mr. Krasinski picked up a violin and bow resting on top of the Wurlitzer console and played some fiddle tunes, accompanying himself on the organ pedals! It was quite a virtuosic and fun event.

After the 11:30 to 1:00 concert, there were tours of the orchestral division chambers on the second floor and the console. Following the silent movie, there was a tour of the string division chambers on the fourth floor - and that's only part of the instrument!

There was a major concert from 5:00 to 6:00 with Peter Richard Conte and Rudolph Lucente playing joined by the Philadelphia Brass and percussion and the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ Festival Chorus with a variey of music. The final event of the day was a concert at 8:30 pm, after store closing, with Peter Richard Conte playing his transcription of Richard Strauss' Suite from the Rosenkavalier, followed by pianist Jeremy Filsell playing Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto with the orchestral parts played as transcribed by Mr. Conte. It was a spectacular concert!

John Wanamaker Store
John Wanamaker Store
Organ Case Facade
Organ Case Facade
Michael Stairs at Console
Michael Stairs at Console
Swell Shades 1/3 Open
Swell Shades 1/3 Open
Swell Shades Open
Swell Shades Open
Jeremy Filsell - Piano
Jeremy Filsell - Piano
Under the Windchests
Under the Windchests
Electrics
Electrics
Reed Woodwind
Reed Woodwind
Metal Pipes
Metal Pipes
Orchestral Chambers
Orchestral Chambers
Wiring Header
Wiring Header
Shooting Up
Shooting Up
Looking Up
Looking Up
Large Regulator
Large Regulator
Orchestral Chambers
Orchestral Chambers
More Electrical Goodies
More Electrical Goodies
Regulator
Regulator
Winker
Winker
Wooden Bottom Octave
Wooden Bottom Octave
Metal Rank
Metal Rank
Six Manuals
Six Manuals
Swell Pedals
Swell Pedals
Left Side Stop Tabs
Left Side Stop Tabs
Console Interior
Console Interior
Eagle's Eye View
Eagle's Eye View
Chestnut Street Bike Rack
Chestnut Street Bike Rack
Mother and Anna
Mother and Anna
ladies - Ladies - LADIES!
ladies - Ladies - LADIES!
The Villain
The Villain
Wurlizer Console
Wurlizer Console
Wurlizer Console
Wurlizer Console
Peter Krasinski
Peter Krasinski
Office Lobby
Office Lobby
Shopping Space
Shopping Space
4th Floor Queue
4th Floor Queue
More Electrical Goodies
More Electrical Goodies
Division Photos
Division Photos
Approaching String Chamber
Approaching String Chamber
String Division Chamber
String Division Chamber
String Chamber
String Chamber
String Chamber
String Chamber
Regulator
Regulator
String Ranks
String Ranks
String Pipes
String Pipes
Spencer Blowers
Spencer Blowers
String Chamber
String Chamber
Wood and Metal Strings
Wood and Metal Strings
Tuning Keyboard
Tuning Keyboard
Metal Ranks
Metal Ranks
More String Ranks
More String Ranks
Many Ranks
Many Ranks
Horizontal Ranks
Horizontal Ranks
Blowers
Blowers
Boxes of Pipes
Boxes of Pipes
String Division Chamber
String Division Chamber
Metal Pipes and Miters
Metal Pipes and Miters
Large Pipes
Large Pipes
Pipes
Pipes
Horizontal Mounting
Horizontal Mounting
More String Ranks
More String Ranks
More Pipes
More Pipes
Horizontal 32-foot Pipes
Horizontal 32-foot Pipes
Metal Pipes
Metal Pipes
Pipes Pipes Pipes
Pipes Pipes Pipes
Horizontal Pipes
Horizontal Pipes
Office Lobby Escalators
Office Lobby Escalators
Brass and Choir Assembling
Brass and Choir Assembling
Console from 3rd Floor
Console from 3rd Floor
City Hall Sundown
City Hall Sundown
Evening Audience
Evening Audience
From Floor of Grand Court
From Floor of Grand Court
Anniversary Banner
Anniversary Banner
Rudolph Lucente
Rudolph Lucente
At the Console
At the Console
Organist and Organ
Organist and Organ
Jeremy Filsell
Jeremy Filsell