The most powerful organ sounds

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City

One of the most thrilling emotions an organist can experience is playing on full organ — that is, playing with the loud stops drawn. You can be a very small person and can make a big sound with little effort, simply by pulling out the stops, playing a chord and holding on for dear life. There is a tremendous sense of power that you can feel which is unlike the playing of any other instrument—the “WOW” factor.

When the late Carl Crosier and I were in New York City in 1996 for the Centennial of the American Guild of Organists, one thing we experienced was standing underneath the horizontal trumpets (en chamade) at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine during a performance of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. You can hear this piece in the video below with Bill Randolph, the assistant organist at the cathedral, showing off this amazing instrument’s big reed stops. including the world-famous State Trumpet. (Unfortunately, the sound is rather distorted as played on my computer speakers, but I guess that’s what you get when try to record such a loud sound). In fact, this recording was made from the choir area, 600 feet away!

Can you imagine how loud it was standing underneath these trumpet pipes! Yes, it was painfully loud. We tried to escape by ducking into the gift shop, and my ears were never the same again!

The Cathedral itself is the fifth largest Christian church in the world, with a length of 601 feet and height of 201 feet. It was designed in 1888 and construction began in 1892. It is sometimes called “St. John the Unfinished” because of the ongoing construction and restoration. There are altogether six pipe organs in the cathedral, the largest of which was built by Ernest M. Skinner in 1910, rebuilt and added to in 1954 by G. Donald Harrison.

On December 18, 2001 there was a massive five-alarm fire which destroyed the Cathedral gift shop and forced the removal and cleaning of the large pipe organ. It was then painstakingly restored by the firm of Quimby Pipe Organs.

On the church’s website you can read:

The Great Organ is widely considered to be the masterpiece of American pipe organ building and is an acclaimed national treasure. It is a four manual and pedal, seven division, electro-pneumatic action instrument of 151 ranks and 8,514 pipes. The Great Organ has several extraordinary features, including the world famous State Trumpet above the Cathedral’s West End, one of the most powerful organ stops in the world.

So, it is to no one’s surprise that former student, Joey Fala, is there playing a recital this weekend—Sunday, October 15 at 5:00 pm! Here is the description from the website:

Joey Fala’s concert at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is Sunday, October 15 at 5:00 pm.

They still list him as from New Haven, CT, but he is now in Durham, NC as the Organ Scholar of Duke University.

Go, Joey! Wonder if he’ll play on the State Trumpets?!


About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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One Response to The most powerful organ sounds

  1. Johannes Bendtz says:

    Hi Kathy,

    The State Trumpet had been taken down awhile back due to issues with the wall behind it. It is hoped that it will be reinstalled within the next year or so. Yes, I try to follow what goes on with that instrument – It being my absolute favourite of all the big organs in the US.

    Best regards,


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