Festival Organ (1995–2000)

Touring exhibit traveled to thirteen sites in the United States and Canada

Exhibition Tour Schedule
Timeline of the Organ: 2600 Years of History
Curious Facts about the Organ

It was the first keyboard instrument, with roots extending back to ancient Rome. It can have as many as 30,000 pipes, from the size of a pencil to the length of a trailer truck. It can play everything from symphonies to jazz. But to many people, the pipe organ remains a little-known byway of musical and cultural history.

All that changed when Festival Organ: The King of Instruments showed at museums and libraries in eleven locations in the United States and Canada from 1995 to 2000. Festival Organ included an interactive exhibition, concerts, and other events designed to give general audiences the chance to experience first-hand the history, repertoire, and construction of the pipe organ. Festival Organ's kaleidoscope of programs was designed to interest music lovers, architects, scientists, history buffs, engineers and the curious of every age.

A twenty-four-foot “Timeline of the Organ,” depicting the organ’s long and varied history, is part of this unprecedented touring exhibition. “Today, many people think of the organ as a sacred instrument. But the first organs were used outdoors, at large public events such as gladiator games, and even in battle,” said Lynn Edwards, creator of the exhibition. “There are a lot of amazing twists and turns to the organ’s history, as visitors to the exhibition will see.” The exhibition also dramatically demonstrates the organ's connection with architecture and the various materials and methods of construction.

Visitors were able to see how an organ works and is built, and can pump bellows, depress keys, watch valves open and close, and hear pipes sound.

One display included an array of organ pipes to be heard: metal, wood, open, stopped, a pipe with a “chimney,” cylindrical pipes, conical pipes, tapered pipes, and pipes named after the musical instruments that inspired them: Vox Humana, Oboe, Trumpet, Flute, and Viol da Gamba, to name only a few.

In each of the sites where the exhibition was installed, it was paired with activities involving local organs and individuals. Collaborators presented solo recitals and ensemble concerts, and opened their churches, buildings, and workshops for organ tours, educational programs, and special events.

The creation of Festival Organ was made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and by contributions of collaborators and sponsors nationwide.

The Festival Organ exhibit has now been retired and decommissioned.


Chattanooga, Tennesee
Hunter Museum of Art
December 2, 1995 - January 21, 1996

Deerfield, Massachusetts
Powcumtuck Valley Memorial Association
May 4 - July 7, 1996

Provo, Utah
Museum of Art, Brigham Young University
August 1 - October 19, 1996

Richmond, Virginia
Science Museum of Virginia
November 23, 1996 - February 2, 1997

Los Angeles, California
Fowler Museum of Cultural History
University of California at Los Angeles
March 9 - May 18, 1997

Buffalo, New York
Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society
June 20 - September 28, 1997

Boston, Massachusetts
Boston Public Library
October 18 - December 31, 1997

St. Paul, Minnesota
Science Museum of Minnesota
January 31 - June 7, 1998

Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Calgary International Organ Festival
July 3 - October 15, 1998

Old Salem, North Carolina
The Gallery at Old Salem (Frank L. Horton Museum Center)
November 4, 1998 - June 13, 1999

Dallas, Texas
Cathedral Gallery, Cathedral Guadalupe
July 1 - October 3, 1999

Rochester, New York
George Eastman House
January 22 - April 16, 2000
For more information, call 716-271-3361

Seattle, Washington
Benaryoa Hall
The Seattle Symphony
June-July 2000

The Timeline of the Organ, written by Barbara Owen, traces the organ’s history from 600 B.C.E. to the present. Embellished with dozens of illustrations, many in color, the Timeline identifies major developments in the history of the organ and its music; introduces key events, ideas, and individuals; and places the organ in the context of related developments-including socio-historic, technical, artistic, and architectural. The Timeline is a printed version of a large three-panel display that is part of the Festival Organ exhibit.