The Organ at Christ Church

In 2018, Christ Church Philadelphia dedicated the Esther Wideman Memorial Organ, built by C.B. Fisk Organ Builders of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

The Esther Wideman Memorial Organ, C.B. Fisk Opus 150

“The pipe organ is the closest instrument physiologically to the human voice, and with its capacity for sustained tone, the ideal accompaniment to the voice.” —Christ Church organist and choir director Parker Kitterman

On May 5 and 6,2018, Christ Church Philadelphia  dedicated the Esther Wideman Memorial Organ, built by C.B. Fisk Organ Builders of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Christ Church and the Christ Church Preservation Trust contracted with Fisk in 2015 for a comprehensive three-manual organ to be incorporated into the existing historic case built by Henry Erben in 1837, with the pipework positioned entirely out of the church’s tower space and into the nave proper. The short video below shows a quick time-lapse look through the entire process of creating the instrument and restoring the historic organ case.

Christ Church and the Christ Church Preservation Trust have $220,000 remaining to raise for Fisk Opus 150, a $3.5 million project. Please help us by donating here.

This video is a great chance to hear its sounds, see parts of the intricate interior, and hear Parker talk about his own journey to being an organist and to creating this special instrument.

Crafting a Pipe Organ and Its Home

To study the church’s sound audibility, singers and musicians performed for an acoustician at different locations and elevations in the sanctuary. Philadelphia’s most renowned preservation architects then made historically sensitive improvements, including the construction of a new acoustic wall to close the gaping portal in the steeple tower, also part of the Trust’s steeple preservation campaign.

Christ Church shipped the 19th-century wooden Erben case to Gloucester, Massachusetts, so the new organ could be built within it. There, the Fisk team had started the herculean process behind the making of a pipe organ.

For the new Christ Church instrument, welders cast, cut and shaped 3,099 pipes — each one then moved to Christ Church and handled, adjusted, and tuned by builders from the Fisk team. Through rods of carbon fiber, artisans connected valves at the base of the pipes to the organ’s keyboard: this direct mechanical connection, called “tracker action,” allows the organist’s fingertips to trigger the release of pressurized air through the pipes. As the source of a pipe organ’s sound, mechanical tracker action replaces the electricity relied upon by mass-produced organs.

Fisk craftspeople also built the wind chests that hold the organ’s pressurized air, inserted stops, and assembled the organ’s console. They sanded and repainted the moulding of the 1836 Erben case, and re-gilded the urns that sit atop the casing. As soon as the pipe organ sang to Fisk’s satisfaction and fit perfectly into the casing, it was disassembled and sent to Philadelphia, where voicers once again engaged in the painstaking tuning process of each pipe, now to fit the acoustics of Christ Church. This short video shows the whole process of conception to completion of Opus 150.

Fisk Opus 150 is the only mechanical-action organ of its kind in Philadelphia. We look forward to sharing it with singers, chamber musicians, composers, teachers, artists, and students. Please visit Christ Church to participate in one of our dedicatory events and performances.

Contribute to the Christ Church Preservation Trust

Please join us in building an endowment to maintain and preserve this new tracker organ, handmade specifically for acoustics and architecture of Christ Church Philadelphia.