A Cathedral just wouldn’t feel like a Cathedral without the soul-trembling power of an organ. Its distinctive sound leads the congregation in song, but it also sets the tone for the entire place: Mighty. Magnificent. Majestic.

After nearly 85 years of daily use, the Cathedral’s organ is showing its age and needs to undergo a top-to-bottom renovation. By 2029, the organ will be fully restored and ready to lead worshippers into a second century of Cathedral worship.


Pulling Out All The Stops

While this King of Instruments undergoes much-needed refurbishment, you're invited to learn more about the history of the organ, how all its component parts work together, and our plans to maintain organ music for the duration of the project.

Digital Pipe Organ

From 2024-2028, the Cathedral will deploy a custom-built, fully-digital organ provided by the Walker Technical Company in Zionsville, Pa. With speakers placed strategically throughout the nave, this fully-digital instrument produces such rich sound that it rivals the sound of the old organ (which contains some digital components).

Cathedral Organ History

The Cathedral’s pipe organ was originally installed in 1938, when the building was only about one-third complete. It was the last major organ designed and constructed by famed organ builder Ernest M. Skinner (1866-1960) of Boston.

Organ 101

A pipe organ isn’t just a massive instrument; it’s a modern marvel of mechanical engineering, electrical wizardry and computerized precision. The dizzying array of possible sounds, and possible combinations of sounds, means that each experience with the same organ can be completely unique.

Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Cathedral Organ

Explore unseen parts of this grand instrument with Cathedral Organist Thomas Sheehan.

Organ Renovation FAQ

It’s old, and it has so many broken pieces that it is beyond repair. After 85 years of near daily use, and hodgepodge layers of modifications and fixes, about one-third of the organ no longer functions. It has reached the point where the only solution is a complete overhaul and renovation.

Our partners at Foley-Baker Organ Co. will try and repurpose as much of the original organ as they can. One goal of the project is to make the instrument one cohesive system, instead of the series of fixes and additions that were cobbled together over several decades. The new organ will retain the best parts of Ernest M. Skinner’s original design, but will reflect changes in technology that will make the organ easier to maintain.

The renovated organ will actually be slightly smaller but will be able to produce a louder, slightly warmer sound. The new organ will be powerful but less “aggressive.” The location of the pipes will be reconfigured to project the sound out into the nave rather than in on itself, and new pipes will be added further into the nave to allow the sound to travel more efficiently.

The new organ also will have two identical consoles – one in the Great Choir, and one closer to the congregation. That way, the organist will be able to hear the same sounds the congregation hears.

As part of the overall project, we’ll be using an electronic organ built by the Walker Technical Co. in Center Valley, Pa. It’s a fully digital instrument that is able to mimic the size and power of the pipe organ, but doesn’t rely on pipes to produce music. It’s attached to many speakers located throughout the building, and most people won’t be able to tell the difference between the original pipe organ and the temporary electronic organ.

Winter 2024
Crews will erect scaffolding to reach the highest and hardest-to-access parts of the organ, to prepare for removing all the various parts of the instrument. A temporary digital organ will be used while the pipe organ undergoes repair.

Summer 2024
All the pipes and mechanical pieces of the organ will be carefully removed and shipped to the Foley-Baker Organ Co. in Tolland, Conn., for restoration and repair.

Skilled technicians at Foley-Baker will rebuild the instrument from top to bottom, using as much of the original instrument as possible. New and replacement pieces will be supplied by organ builders in England, Germany, Pennsylvania, Ohio and California.

The Cathedral’s newly-renovated organ will be ready to resume its place as the King of Instruments.

Particularly during winter 2024, the Cathedral nave will be an active construction zone. While we are attempting to keep interruptions minimized, it is important for you to know what to expect:

  • Some areas of the building will be inaccessible, including St. John’s Chapel and the Great Choir/High Altar.
  • Clanging/construction noises are to be expected.
  • We encourage you to explore other areas of the Cathedral, particularly the lower level (crypt) and, when available, the 7th floor Pilgrim Observation Gallery.
  • We also encourage you to download the Bloomberg Connects app, which includes tours and activities on the building’s exterior.

By Easter 2024, most of sightseeing interruptions will end. We’re grateful for your patience and understanding.

Over the years, different mechanical systems were wedged together inside cramped spaces, which made it hard to repair the organ without also tackling the air conditioning or electrical systems. As part of the Cathedral’s Life Safety initiative, all the various systems will be separated and protected to ensure easy access and clear separation between organ equipment and the Cathedral’s mechanical systems.

The $14.5 million project to repair and restore the Cathedral’s organ is part of A Cathedral for the Future, a five-year, $150 million initiative to sustain the Cathedral and its ministries for the next generation. This comprehensive campaign is raising money to tackle several capital projects, as well as to fund ongoing Cathedral programs and activities.

A lead donor generously seeded the necessary funds to rebuild the organ instrument. This transformative gift has already inspired more generosity, bringing the total amount raised to over $13 million.

We need your support to finish this project, and to make needed repairs to the nearby Life Safety systems that will ensure the Cathedral’s safety for decades to come. Please join in this important work and make your special gift to the “Organ Restoration Fund” on our campaign website.