You can put a piccolo in a pocket. Pipe organs can weigh tons and need the space of a mansion. They are the biggest musical instruments in the world. Electronic imitations can be much smaller and these days similar in sound, but the old physical pipes last longer and have the prestige of historical character.

The world’s largest pipe organ is in the convention hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, but it is not entirely working. The biggest operating instrument is in Macy’s department store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This is the Wanamaker Organ, installed over a century ago in the store under that name. There also have been many large organs in movie theaters like Radio City in New York.

Despite these examples, most pipe organs are in churches and are associated with rituals, including weddings and funerals. The famous composers of music for the organ were church musicians like J.S. Bach and Cesar Franck. The famous organ at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was not damaged by the recent — it is housed in the tower section that survived.

These instruments are so large because there needs to be a number of pipes for each note of each keyboard. There can be many keyboards as well as pedals, and many ranks of pipes to provide variety of sound and volume. Although there are some very small portable instruments, most installations have a minimum of a couple hundred pipes and it goes up from there into the many thousands (over 28,000 in the Wanamaker).

For those of us who cherish the pipe organ there is nothing so thrilling as the roar of sound it can produce. But it can also whisper and dance with a rush of notes. It can make sounds from the top to the bottom of the range of human hearing. Recordings can’t do this justice. Find a real pipe organ to hear as soon as you can.

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