History of the Cathedral Organ

It was the last major pipe organ designed and constructed by famed organ builder Ernest M. Skinner (1866-1960) of Boston. Skinner was a pioneer of “electro-pneumatic action,” the technology that runs the organ. Each key on the organ triggers an electrical current that opens and closes valves that are connected to a series of 10,647 pipes.

Organ pipes are most visible in the Great Chior.

As the building grew, so did the organ. Except there was one problem: the original organ was too small to fill the growing Cathedral. Major renovations were conducted in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s to try and expand the organ’s capacity.

The result was an organ that was patched together with different parts and different operating systems. Mechanical systems were piled on top of each other, and after 85 years of near-daily use, key components of the organ started to break down, beyond the point where they could be repaired.

The Cathedral’s Musical Backbone

The organ has been the musical backbone for major moments of Cathedral history, including major funerals (Helen Keller and Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, Ford and George H.W. Bush); countless Christmas services; the national service after 9/11; the Washington Nationals’ 2019 World Series championship; and playing for special guests including Queen Elizabeth II, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama and even U2 frontman Bono.

Organ Demonstration with Tom Sheehan