The Washington area is home to dozens, if not hundreds, of pipe organs. Ultimately, it is the combination of the organ and the room (and, of course, the organist) that makes an unforgettable listening experience. Below are few of the best places in the area to hear organ music, based on interviews with local pipe organ recitalists:
Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. 400 Michigan Ave. NE,
This Schudi-built organ is an 18th century-style mechanical-action organ built in the German baroque tradition. It has two manuals, 25 ranks and 1,355 pipes and was dedicated in 1987. Although relatively small, the room has extraordinary acoustics that produce a warm, reverberant sound.
Church of St. Paul’s, K Street. 2430 K St. NW.
This Schoenstein-built organ is designed specifically to mimic the palette of orchestral sounds. It also includes two stops from the 1869 organ of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City. It’s a four-manual organ with a double set of so-called “swell shades” that enclose some of the pipes, allowing the organ to go from a roar to a whisper almost instantaneously.
Mount St. Sepulchre Franciscan Monastery. 1400 Quincy St. NE.
Built in the French style with a powerful sound, this Lively-Fulcher organ was dedicated in 2003 and has an unusual horseshoe-shaped console. There are three manuals, 38 stops and 2,319 pipes. The acoustics allow the sound to “swim” in the room and provide a reverberation of anywhere from five to seven seconds, depending on the humidity. There are monthly recitals as part of the “Music @ the Monastery” series at 4 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month, starting in September.
Virginia Theological Seminary. 3737 Seminary Rd., Alexandria.
One of the newest but also best organs in the D.C. area, this Taylor and Boody tracker organ was dedicated in November. The keys on its two manuals use a mechanical “tracker” to open and close the pipe valves, a direct, physical link from key to pipe that the organist can actually feel when pressing down the keys. In this case, the tracker is a carbon fiber instead of the thin wooden strips used in the past. (Most modern organs use an electric current to open and close the valves.) The seminary’s organ has 35 stops and 2,061 pipes.
Other organs. There are also organs well worth hearing at Christ Lutheran Church (5101 16th St. NW), which has a 1969 Beckerath mechanical tracker organ, and at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church (619 10th St. NW), which has spacious acoustics and a powerful, French Romantic-style 1994 Lively-Fulcher organ with three manuals, 42 stops and nearly 2,500 pipes. The music director, Ronald Stolk, who teaches organ at Catholic University, is one of the area’s great organ improvisers.