Irvine Auditorium – Look at Those Pipes!

Colin Hennessy

During a recent shopping trip to Macy’s in Center City, I learned that the Wanamaker Organ is the largest operational pipe organ in the world. As I wondered the store listening to the organist, thinking how cool it is to listen to live music versus the thump thump of a top 40-radio station, I recalled another set of astounding pipes – those of the Curtis Organ on Penn’s campus.

A quick Google search shared loads of information on the renowned 1926 organ that would eventually make its home in the walls of Irvine Auditorium.  Named for Cyrus H. K. Curtis, a publisher, the Curtis Organ is one of the largest pipe organs in the world and has nearly 11,000 pipes.

Interestingly, the organ was not always destined to fill Irvine with music, but rather to take the stage at the Sesquicentennial Exposition of 1926. The Exposition was a world’s fair, set to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and hosted in Philadelphia. When the exposition went bankrupt, Curtis purchased the organ and donated it to the University to be built into Irvine Auditorium at the time of construction.

Pipe organs are fascinating instruments and much of what makes them sound the way they do is hidden from sight. When on display at the Sesquicentennial Exposition, the Curtis organ’s pressurized chamber under the pipes that is required for the organ’s mechanics was supposedly large enough to comfortably seat 100 for dinner.

I hope you’ll take an opportunity to listen to the Wanamaker Organ the next time you’re in Center City on a Saturday afternoon. In my opinion, there is no better way to shop than to enjoy live music on the largest operation pipe organ in the world. Also, keep a look out for the next screening of the classic silent movie The Phantom of Opera set to live music played on the Curtis Organ in Irvine Auditorium – you won’t be disappointed.

Information about The Wanamaker Organ can be found here.

Information about The Curtis Organ and Irvine Auditorium can be found here.


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