THE WANAMAKER ORGAN
PART THREE: CONCERT DAYS
The first Organ Concert given in the Wanamaker Department Store outside of business hours took place in the Grand Court on 27th March, 1919. These concerts sadly came to an end in 1926 with the death of Mr. Wanamaker’s son, Rodman. Over the years, despite the two recitals still being given each day, the overall state of the Organ began declined and by the 1980s, the Organ fell into such a state of disrepair that a number of Ranks failed to function.
THE GRAND CONCERT THAT DID NOT TAKE PLACE …….
The following is a reflection by a member of the audience at the very special concert given at The Store to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of R.H. Macy’s & Company and the restoration of the Wanamaker Organ that took place on 27th September, 2007. I am very grateful to The Enthusiast for allowing this reflection to appear here:
In 1926, Rodman Wanamaker commissioned Joseph Jongen to write a Symphony to be performed following the third expansion of the Wanamaker Organ, which was to bring the organ approximately to its present size of 461 ranks and 28,482 pipes and controlled by a 6-manual console.
The Symphonie Concertante Op 81 by Joseph Jongen (1873-1953) was especially commissioned by Rodman Wanamaker in 1926 and was intended to be played at a special concert to celebrate the third expansion of the Wanamaker Organ to its approximate present day size of 461 ranks and 28,482 pipes controlled by a 6-manual console. The concert premiere was scheduled originally to take place in early 1928 with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski (1882-1973) and with Charles M. Courboin (1884-1973) at the Wanamaker Organ. Unfortunately, as a result of a number of forces working against the performance, including the death of Rodman Wanamaker and later the deterioration of the Wanamaker Organ, the concert was abandoned.
In 1991, The Friends of the Wanamaker Organ was founded to support the preservation and musical mission of The Organ. Since then, The Friends, in conjunction first with Lord & Taylor and then with R.H. Macy’s & Company, have committed to the restoration and preservation of the instrument. Thanks to the hard work and diligence of The Friends, Lord & Taylor and Macy’s, the restoration process has not only revived the instrument, but has also improved the quality of sound now heard throughout The Grand Court.
Included in the restoration work was:
1. Acoustical improvement: This allowed added reverb to the magnificent experience heard by the audience present in the Grand Court. The heightened audio presence with quality was achieved by the installation of transparent glass panels to enclose the galleries of the upper level store elevations surrounding the court perimeter.
2. Relocation of the 37 Rank Orchestral Division to its own chamber: The chamber was especially constructed by the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ and the Symposium Organ Restoration team and is present on the fourth floor of the Juniper Street side of the Grand Court. This work was led by Chief Curator. Mr. Curt Mangel, and under his direction, the team undertook and completed all of the restoration activities with the except for some pipe work, which had been contracted to certain specialists of organ pipe refinishing techniques for the much-needed refurbishments.
3. Relocation of the nine Vox Humana Chorus Ranks (plus a tenth donated Rank): The relocation of these Ranks was to a set of chests that had been installed behind the façade (i.e. faux organ pipes) thereby allowing them to be better heard.
4. Refinishing of the Wanamaker Organ Console: This work involved the wiring, keyboards, stop tablets, pneumatics, relays, and other interior parts of the six-manual Console. In addition, a beautiful refinishing of the exterior woodwork was also undertaken to complete the project.
……. UNTIL A MAGICAL EVENING IN THE AUTUMN OF 2008
Once the long and significant restoration process had been completed, the Wanamaker Organ was ready to be heard in its renewed glory! A live Grand Concert was planned to be held on Saturday, 27th September, 2008 to coincide with the 150th Anniversary of R.H. Macy & Company and of the many highlights of the magical evening, resident organist, Mr. Peter Richard Conte together with the Philadelphia Orchestra, was to play the intended premiere of the Jongen Symphony, which had been originally commissioned in 1926 by Rodman Wanamaker.
The Concert Programme
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor – J.S. Bach Cortege et Litanie (Opus 19, No. 2 ) – Marcel Dupre Fanfare – Howard Shore (World Premiere-commissioned by Macy’s)
Symphonie Concertante – in 4 movements – Joseph Jongen: I. Allegro: Molto moderato II. Divertimento: Molto Vivo III. Lento Misterioso-Appassionato Tempo IV. Toccata (Moto Perpetuo): Allegro Moderato
Encores: Pomp and Circumstance – Sir Edward Elgar (Military March in D Major – opus 39, No. 1) and Happy Birthday Macy’s – impromptu, partial orchestra & organ with dropping confetti
Organist: Peter Richard Conte; Conductor: Rossen Milanov
These pieces may be heard at Grooveshark.com
This photograph of The Concert setting appears with permission of The Enthusiast
I would like to thank The Enthusiast for his contribution to this piece.
THE 2014 WANAMAKER ORGAN FESTIVAL AT MACY’S
Throughout the time when the Organ was less than ideal while the store, the daily recitals continued.
Once I discovered the Organ and the Store, I knew that I had to plan a visit. And once I discovered that each year, R.H. Macy’s & Company in conjunction with The Friends of the Wanamaker Organ sponsor a Grand Evening Concert together with a weekend of Festivities, I was determined to attend the next one.
This photograph appears through the courtesy of wanamakerorgan.com
The Wanamaker Organ Festival at Macy’s is not just a one day affair, but includes a number events on the Friday before the Grand Evening Concert given on the Saturday evening and includes tours of the Organ Pipe Chamber and Organ Shop and a Grand Court Recital given by young organists from the Wanamaker Organ Camp. In addition, in 2014, a showing of the new DVD produced by The Friends of the Wanamaker Organ was to be presented.
This information appears through the courtesy of wanamakerorgan.com
Concert Day is also filled with interesting events that lead up to the piece-de-resistance, the Grand Evening Concert. It should be stressed that these events are by no means secondary events and include additional tours of Pipe Chambers, a Grand Opening Concert simulcast on the radio station, WRTI, and a Pops Concert featuring the Friends Wurlitzer Organ housed in Greek Hall, which was to be followed by a showing of the silent movie classic, Mark of Zorro with Douglas Fairbanks, and with musical accompaniment played on the Wurlitzer Organ. In the early evening, there was a Grand Choral Concert held in the Grand Court featuring the Organ and the Philadelphia Boys Choir and Chorale.
This information appears through the courtesy of wanamakerorgan.com
Finally, and to round off the festivities, there was the main event, the Grand Evening Concert.
Naturally, I became a member of The Friends of the Wanamaker Organ and paid for my ticket to attend The Wanamaker Organ Festival . The thought of going to Philadelphia to actually see and hear this Organ was a truly impressive prospect.
This photograph appears through the courtesy of wanamakerorgan.com
In the U.S., the ground floor of a building is called the First Floor, and the first floor is called the Second Floor. Many buildings in the U.S. do not have a Thirteenth Floor! Actually, the buildings do have such a floor, but it is often not called this – go figure!
Please note that since the Store is in Philadelphia, which of course is in the the U.S., I shall use the American numbering system for the floors of the building.
As I wanted to get to the Department Store early on the Friday morning in order to explore it fully before the Festivities began, I decided to arrive in Philadelphia on the Thursday night.
Very early on the Friday morning, I made my way through the busy streets and arrived to have enough time to walk around the perimeter of the store and also to look at it from a distance and up close before it opened to the public. Once this was done, I waited outside along with a few early shoppers for the doors to open and they did at exactly 10 a.m. just as the chimes were ringing the hour.
I wanted to enter the building through the main doors and then make my way into the Grand Court in order to get the full effect of this magnificent atrium. And what an effect it was!
Key: 2 – Nave; 3 – Aisles; and 7 – Ambulatory
Bottom: Durham Cathedral showing the Nave and Aisles on each side
It was surrounded on three sides by pilasters covered columned galleries and in front of the far wall between the second and third floors were a series of ornate golden Organ pipes with a small stage area before them. As impressive as these golden pipes were, they were not the actual pipes of the Organ, but were present for decoration purposes only, as a back drop for the stage before them. The actual pipes were hidden from view behind the far wall with some stretching up some seven floors in all. And standing on the floor of the Grand Court stood the Wanamaker Eagle.
On the second floor, nestled between two pilaster-decorated columns, situated at the edge of the gallery, was the Organ Console. This console was built in the late 1920s and was installed in the store between 1930 and 1932.
Although Mr. Wanamaker was obviously fond of music and an admirer of the organ, looking around at the Grand Court, I was quickly brought back to the reality of the store – it was firstly a place of commerce – and despite the magnificent Organ, the remarkable Eagle and the ornate setting being attractions to the public, it had been commerce that allowed the Organ, the Eagle and the setting to survive for many years.
Looking around the Grand Court, I began to pay attention to the counters packed with goods for sale and already the public were filing in and looking around for that certain something that it both wanted and needed or else discovered something that caught their fancy at that moment.
Surrounding the Grand Court are a number of shopping areas where a wide range of goods are displayed for sale. These areas have low ceilings with decorative lamps hanging from them and resemble somewhat cathedral Aisles (i.e. passageways on either side of the Nave) and Ambulatory (i.e. the procession way around the east end of a cathedral or large church and behind the high altar).
When the Wanamaker Department Store opened in 1911, it consisted of twelve floors. At that time, each floor was given over to the business of the Store. Even the two auditoria, Greek and Egyptian Halls on the third floor, were used as retail spaces for more up-market goods.
Sadly, today retail sales is now reduced to the Ground Floor and the next two floors with many of the other floors being rented to other companies for commercial use including part of Egyptian Hall. The former Crystal Tea Room on the ninth floor is now operated by The Marriott Corporation as a hospitality venue. Greek Hall is still used as an auditorium and now houses the Wanamaker Wurlitzer Organ, which is played at recitals.
In addition, the second floor of the Store houses The Organ Console, The Organ Casing (Faux Pipes) and the Stage.
The current Organ Console was built in the late 1920s and installed between 1930 and 1932. It is housed on the second floor in an elegantly designed wooden enclosure amidst racks and counters devoted to retail sales.
The Faux Organ Pipes, which make up The Organ Casing, are on the far wall of The Grand Court and have a small stage area in front of them where singers, choirs and instrumentalists appear during concerts. They form the backdrop of an impressive light show, but once a Dancing Fountain display was installed in front of them. The fountains were still in place in the mid-fifties, but were later removed and the simple parapet was replaced with the fancier one present today. I assume that there are no plans to re-install them (unfortunately!)
The Dancing Fountains in 1956 – note the simple Parapet here
These fountains reminded me of the time I was taken to the Casino Theatre in London at Christmas time during the mid-1950s to see the pantomime, Goody Two-Shoes. What I remember about this outing was sitting in one of the circles and the amazing Cascading Waterfall that suddenly appeared at the end of the first act. I was very impressed with it and recall that the roar of the gushing water filled the auditorium. Obviously I did not realise that there were such things as microphones at that time!
The subterranean floors of the store once housed a Bargain Basement Store and a Post Office Station, a Lost and Found area, a Shoe Repair centre and the Dairy Restaurant. These establishments have been closed and their areas has been converted into a parking garage.
While I was wondering around the Store and thinking how it must have looked during the time of Mr. Wanamaker, I was suddenly brought back to the present!
I appreciate that the film of The Sound of Music is greatly loved by most people, so I hope what I am about to say will be forgiven by devotees of the film. The only scene that impressed me when I first saw the film was the opening one. Here the camera slowly moves out of the clouds and over the snow-capped Austrian Alps. It continues over the mountains and hills and eventually moves down into a valley. It passes over villages with little houses and a small castle and then it moves towards a meadow where we slowly begin to see that there is a figure standing there. This is Julie Andrews who is waiting to burst forth into song and do a few twirls for us.
When I first saw this scene, I was impressed with the photography and the introduction of Maria to us.
This scene continues to mesmorise and excite patrons who continue to flock in large numbers to the special showings of the film where they are able to sing-a-long.
Suddenly the Store was alive with the Sound of the Organ Music and it filled the air! As the first note reverberated, I literally ran to the right side of The Grand Court to see the Console where a young man was now seated at it and playing it.
I could not believe my ears and wanted to sit down and enjoy the glorious music fully. The nearest place to sit was across the Grand Court in Lady’s Shoes. I found a seat amongst the fashion-conscious who were busy trying on the latest fashions and seemingly oblivious of the glorious sounds about them. The sound of the organ echoed throughout The Grand Court and brought a number of other shoppers throughout the Store to a stop to listen. The galleries of the second and third floors that overlooked The Grand Court were now filled with people standing in silence and listening intently to the music.
Once the first piece played at that Noon Day Recital came to an end, I got up and crossed The Grand Court and moved to sit at the claws of the Eagle. From here, I had a great advantage point and was able to see the organist seated at the Console. The organist that day was Tom Sheehan who I later had the opportunity to talk to.
I learned that the Console would be open for viewing once the recital ended. When it did, I took the escalator up to the second floor and made my way to the entrance to the Console enclosure and joined the short line of people wanting to enter and see the Console close-up for themselves.
The young Organist was present and was very willing to answer questions. I asked him the names of the pieces that he had played. He gave me their titles and thinking I would remember them, I did not write them down. Unfortunately, as a result of my short-term memory not being what it once was, I could not recall them a little later in the day!
After talking to Mr. Sheehan, I learned that it was allowed for visitors to sit at the Console and I was beckoned to sit. While seated, I was able to actually touch a few of the keys! No sound came from them since the pneumatic mechanism was disengaged. As I sat there for that brief moment, I remembered the great organists of the past who had sat before the Console. I appreciate that it was somewhat childish of me to want to sit at the Console and touch a few keys, but I was very impressed with this remarkable instrument and was very much caught up in the spirit of the moment. I offer no apology for having behaved like a fanatic!
Click here to hear Vigil Fox play a collection of pieces on The Organ from 1964
The Wanamaker Organ Console is in itself a magnificent objet d’art and has six Manuals, each of which has a specific name and function. The number of Ranks (i.e. sets of pipes) controlled by a particular Manual is called a Division, which have specific names: Great, Swell, Choir, Solo, Orchestral, Echo etc.
Beneath the Manuals and Stops is the Pedal Board or Keyboard, which is played by the feet. Although this piece deals with The Wanamaker Organ, which is a pipe organ, I would like to draw the reader’s attention to the Theatre Organist, Mr. Robert Wolfe, who demonstrates amazing dexterity and artistry in his foot work in the video, which can be seen by clicking here.
Above the Pedal Board is a row of Pedals. I have learned from that these Pedals control the Expressive Divisions of the Organ: the Floating Divisions are toward the left and the Crescendo Pedal is at the extreme right.
Other visitors came and went to view and inspect the Console while I continued to hover in the background. Some obviously knew much about how an Organ functions while others came to look and, although with little knowledge of how such an instrument worked, were very appreciative of being allowed to view it.
It was interesting for me, a mere novice not skilled in The Art of the Organ, to listen to the questions asked by the numerous visitors and to hear the answers given. This Master Class quickly proved to be of great help to me in my beginning to gleam how in fact an Organ such as this magnificent instrument functioned.
As I listened, the person who had taken over from the Organist a while back and who had been giving the answers to the questions posed, invited a few people to go with him to visit behind the scenes, as it were, which I soon realised meant visiting the Organ Chambers. As they began to move off, the gentleman turned to me and said that I was invited, should I wish to accompany him.
Should I wish to accompany him? Imagine, a trip behind the scenes to see the Pipes! To be able to see, up close, the actual pipes that until now I had only seen in pictures and read their names!
The events of the Trip Behind the Scenes may be found in Part Four by clicking here.
This photograph appears through the courtesy of wanamakerorgan.com
Greek Hall is a remarkably fine auditorium and has a long history of use since the Wanamaker era until the present. On 27th June, 2014, the Hall was to be the site of the unofficial opening of the Festival. Chosen for the opening was a tribute to The Wanamaker Organ given by Rick Seifert and entitled The Greatest Musical Wonder in the World. The presentation was indeed full of interest, especially for someone like me since it consisted of both a history of The Store and of The Organ and was presented with audio-visual effects including the sound of The Organ itself.
At little later in the day, another interesting presentation was given in Greek Hall. This gave the audience an opportunity to see the new video produced by The Friends of the Wanamaker Organ, entitled A Wanamaker Organ Curators’ Tour featuring the Curator, Curt Mangel, and Michael Barone.
Following this showing of the Friends’ new video was a tour of the Organ Shop where we were able to see the restoration work being done on the Chorus Dvision of The Organ. My thoughts on the tour of the Organ Shop are given in Part Four.
The final event of the first day of the Festival involved The Organ and allowed The Rising Stars from The Wanamaker Organ Camp. Of the young organists at the Camp, six were chosen to present pieces at the Rising Stars Concert at the end of the Festival’s first day and they were Aaron Patterson, Jennifer Shin, Adrian Binkley, Michael Jon Bennett, Leah Martin, and Henry Webb. Seemingly these young people had worked hard during the previous week to polish and perfect their presentations in Master Classes given by the Resident Organist, Peter Richard Conte and Alan Morrison.
During the afternoon, I had met a gentleman, Jim Stemke, who is responsible for recording events at The Store. He was kind enough to invite some interested parties, including myself, to join him in the studio to observe the recording of the Young Organists’ Concert.
Following the concert, I made my way to the Console area where I had the opportunity to meet the young organists and to offer each one my congratulations for their performances and wish them well for their futures. Sadly, I did not have my camera with me during at the time and so was not able to photograph them. In the absence of this, I present next a photograph of The Young Organists of 2013.
With the conclusion of The Concert given by The Young Organists, the first day of The Festival came to a triumphant conclusion. However, not to fret, one had the events of the second day including hearing the Friends Wurlitzer Organ and The Grand Evening Concert to look forward to!
I would like to thank Mr. Tom Sheehan for his excellent playing of The Wanamaker Organ during my visit to the 2014 Wanamaker Organ Day and also to the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ for their help in the preparation of this piece.
I would like to offer special thanks Mr. Jim Stemke for his kind invitation and to The Enthusiast for his reflection of the Concert of 2008.