Our organ recital series features some of the finest organists playing one of America’s great organs.
Sundays at 4 pm. Suggested donation $10.
About the cathedral organ
No other single musical instrument has the power, the near-orchestral range, and the sonic variety of a great organ. Grace Cathedral’s 7,466-pipe Aeolian-Skinner instrument, the Charles B. Alexander Memorial Organ (1934), is one of the first and finest American classic style organs, and is among the largest church organs in the West. Although listed as Opus 910A of Ernest M. Skinner, America’s greatest organ designer of the early 1900s, the Alexander organ was largely designed by Englishman G. Donald Harrison (1889-1956). One of Aeolian-Skinner’s first major organs in the West, it was one of the earliest and finest examples of what Harrison dubbed the “American classic organ”. Balancing Baroque and orchestral sounds by using a broad mix of pipes and stops, the American classic organ could accommodate the eclectic repertoire of church music that developed in the early 20th century, while also expressing the brighter and more crisp sounds of earlier styles.
When built, the organ had five divisions: Choir, Great, Swell, Solo and Pedal, and 6,077 pipes, and a 20-horsepower blower in the crypt of the Cathedral. Thanks to the sustained interest and generosity of Harrison and his successor Joseph S. Whiteford, additions and minor tonal alterations were made in 1952 and 1956, raising the total to 7,286 pipes. Swain & Kates made further alterations ca. 1959. Display pipes in the lower screen openings were removed in 1962. Two new divisions by Casavant Frères of Ste.-Hyacinthe, Quebec, were installed in 1974: one in the rear gallery and the other (the now-silent Bombarde) in the apse. A high-pressure Tuba Major was added by the venerable local firm Schoenstein and Co. in 2000, making the current pipe total 7,466. The console, too, went through several incarnations. In 1968 the original console was replaced by Fratelli Ruffatti of Padua, Italy. The console was mobilized in 1984, so that it could be rolled onto the choir floor and turned to any position for concerts. An electrical “umbilical cord” links it to the organ’s mechanism. Edward M. Stout, Bay Area organ curator emeritus, now retired, worked with often-limited resources to restore and repair the great organ during his 42-year tenure. In 1998 Schoenstein created a new console with digital memory and combination action. Today, the organ is the fifth-largest in California (by manuals and ranks) and the fiftieth-largest in the world.
View the specifications of the Grace Cathedral organs here.