From the desk of Benjamin LaPrairie, Associate Director of Music at the Basilica
Upon stepping into the Great Upper Church of the Basilica, visitors are often struck by the immensity of the view. The cavernous space invites gazes upwards to sparkling mosaics and massive domes, but beyond it all, the pipe organs of the Great Upper Church bring a sonic grandeur no less impressive than the visual. Whether through the softest string stops or the loudest reed stops, the instruments have a phenomenal capacity to express the full range of ideas and emotions of the liturgical rites and texts throughout the year.
The History of the Organ
While the Basilica organs will celebrate their 60th birthdays in 2025, the invention of the pipe organ goes back over two millennia. It all started in 300 B.C. with Greek inventor and mathematician Ctesibius of Alexandria, who is credited with inventing the hydraulis, the world’s first keyboard instrument. Played for outdoor performances in ancient Greece, the hydraulis was distinguished by its powerful sound. It was used through the 5th century A.D., until developments in design and evolution of purpose led to the pipe organ we know today.
Innovations that are less than a century old are even more astonishing: Louis Vierne, the famous blind organist of Notre Dame de Paris from 1900-1937, could not at the start of his tenure imagined the electric blowers that provide the wind needed to make the pipes speak, and the employees of the Möller company who installed the Basilica organs in 1964 could not have fathomed the single ethernet cable that replaced miles of wire connecting the two Great Upper Church organs.
Announcing: The Summer 2023 Organ Recital Series
In order to grant more pilgrims an experience of this magnificent union of sight and sound, a summer organ recital series was started in the 1970s. This summer, we are thrilled to welcome an exceptional array of organists from around the globe: Stefan Donner (Vienna, Austria), Alexander Straus-Fausto (New Haven, CT), Todd Fickley (Washington, D.C.), Nathan Ringkamp (Baltimore, MD), Adam Chlebek (Rochester, NY), and Randall Sheets (Washington, D.C.), in addition to the three Basilica organists, Peter Latona, Benjamin LaPrairie, and Andrew Vu. We hope that you will join us at 6:00 p.m. on the Sundays of July and August to bask in the beauty of these instruments and the music composed for them, ever-ancient and ever-new.
You can view the schedule of performances in the 2023 Organ Recital Series on our event page – the recital series is free and open to the public.
Learn more about the organs of the Basilica
The organs of the Basilica bring dignity and majesty to worship, leading thousands in prayer and praise. Three Möller organs grace the Great Upper Church and the distinctive Schudi organ abides in the Crypt Church. Learn more about these four instruments that allow the Basilica organists to present a rich variety of music as they worship the Lord through song.