Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Philly's Wanamaker organ is a holiday tradition: Visitors flock to Macy's to hear largest operational pipe organ in the world

Organist Peter Richard Conte sits at the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ console. The largest operational pipe organ in the world, the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ is a symphonic organ that embodies the sounds of not one orchestra, but three. Associated Press

Source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40701342/ns/travel-seasonal_travel/



PHILADELPHIA — Music lovers from around the world have always made pilgrimages to hear the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ, which resides not in a church, but in a Philadelphia department store. It's the largest operational pipe organ in the world — some say the world's largest playable instrument. And on the eve of its 100th year of serenading shoppers, it's never sounded better.

But at Christmastime, the organ, a National Historic Landmark, belongs not to tourists so much as to Philadelphians. Its holiday organ concert and sweetly old-fashioned light show has for generations been as much of a local tradition as trimming the tree or sitting on Santa's lap.

Located in a Macy's that was originally John Wanamaker chain's flagship store, the organ's polished mahogany console is tucked behind racks of sweaters and skirts. This time of year, crowds laden with bags and bundles overflow the soaring atrium, squeezing amid the women's shoes and pressing against glass jewelry cases for the hourly show. With narration by Julie Andrews, animated bears, snowflakes, nutcrackers and reindeer take visitors through a series of prerecorded Christmas songs with a live organ concert as the finale.

"It's magical," said Margie Fitzpatrick, a native Philadelphian who fondly recalled organ concerts with her parents, then her children, and was at a recent show with her 2-year-old granddaughter. "Hearing it just makes you feel blessed."

Superlatives are unavoidable when describing the symphonic, 287-ton organ. With 28,543 pipes, it embodies the sounds of not one orchestra, but three. In contrast, the organ at Notre Dame in Paris has about 8,000 pipes. St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City tallies about 9,000.

The Wanamaker pipes range from 1/4 inch to 32 feet in length, are made of wood or metal, and span five stories. The console boasts six ivory keyboards and 729 color-coded stops representing the sounds of every string, woodwind, brass and percussion instrument imaginable.

But numbers can't explain the lusciousness of the music, which can simultaneously feel warm as a blanket and light as air. Extensive repairs over the past few years and vigilant upkeep now have the instrument — valued in excess of $57 million — performing at its peak.

"The organ has never sounded better," said staff curator L. Curt Mangel III, who has breathed new life into pipes that were silent for decades. He strides through the labyrinth of pipes and narrow passageways — which can also be toured by the public — with purpose, pride and unabashed devotion.

"Everyone involved with this instrument is passionate about it," he said. "It'll be around long after you and I are gone ... maintaining it is a joy and a responsibility."

Organ's history

The organ was built for the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and was purchased by retail magnate John Wanamaker in 1909 as the crown jewel of his eponymous store in downtown Philadelphia. The store, an elegant marble and granite showpiece, itself a National Historic Landmark, was created for both commerce and concerts by Daniel Burnham, architect of Manhattan's iconic Flatiron Building and, as readers of "The Devil in the White City" know, director of works for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.

The Wanamaker Grand Court Organ made its debut in Philly on June 22, 1911, to coincide with the coronation of George V as King of England. It started with 10,000 pipes, but 18,000 more were added over the next two decades, with Wanamaker's son Rodman Wanamaker sacrificing precious selling floor space to accommodate the expansion.

Wanamaker changed hands — and names — several times in the 1980s and 1990s, as regional department stores nationwide were bought by larger companies. By 1995, only about a fifth of the organ's pipes worked.

"It was really falling apart," said organist Peter Richard Conte. "As things would break down, they would just turn off a section ... there came a point where there was very little left to play."

But even in humbled times and under a series of owners, the organ was played, every business day.

The soul of Philly

Its descent into disrepair reversed upon Macy's arrival in 2006. The new owner joined forces with a private nonprofit called Friends of the Wanamaker Organ, founded in 1991 to help maintain the mind-bendingly complex instrument.

Several hundred thousand dollars later, there is now a large onsite workshop and two full-time paid curators. The high-maintenance musical colossus is 97 percent operational and even got an additional set of tuba pipes this summer in celebration of the coming centennial.

"Macy's just got it. They got the history of this instrument, of what it means to Philadelphia and to the international community," Conte said. "They embraced this tradition the same way they embrace the traditions of the Thanksgiving parade and the Fourth of July fireworks in New York."

The late virtuoso organists Virgil Fox and Marcel Dupre have been among its countless guest players, but only four people have ever held the coveted job of resident organist.

"It's a great gig," said Conte, Wanamaker Grand Court organist since 1989, who gives two 45-minute concerts six days a week. "This is not a job you leave. It's every organist's dream."

The Philadelphia Orchestra joined Conte at Macy's in 2008 to perform Joseph Jongen's epic "Symphonie Concertante," a piece composed for the Wanamaker Organ in 1926 but never previously performed on it. The packed house and glowing reviews marked the start of what Conte calls "the best time for the instrument since John Wanamaker."

He added: "If the Liberty Bell is Philadelphia's heart, the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ is its soul."

If you go...

WANAMAKER GRAND COURT ORGAN: At Macy's, 1300 Market St., Philadelphia; http://wanamakerorgan.com. Free daily 45-minute recitals, Monday-Saturday at noon; Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 5:30 p.m.; and Wednesdays and Fridays, 7 p.m. Visitors may tour the console area on the second floor and meet the staff following daily concerts. Through New Year's Eve, the noon organ concerts begin right after the 10-minute light show.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Reclaiming the right to oversight: GOP-led House to revoke Team Obama's free pass By Reps. Darrell Issa and Fred Upton

Source: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/nov/27/reclaiming-the-right-to-oversight/

November 27, 2010

In his January 1989 farewell address to the nation, President Reagan warned, "Man is not free unless government is limited. ... There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts." Earlier this month, we saw countless Americans heed Mr. Reagan's warning, turning out in droves to cast their vote in defense of liberty.

The new majority in Congress certainly has its work cut out to undo the big-government havoc that was wrought during the Democrats' one-party reign over the past two years. Unemployment hovers just below 10 percent. The role of government in the economy has exploded, and rampant spending has ballooned the debt to nearly $14 trillion, putting our nation on the brink of financial disaster.

Americans now live under laws that force people to buy health insurance under fear of harsh penalty; a litany of regulations pursued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies have given businesses incentives to move jobs overseas; and an army of "czars" have been appointed by the administration who have broad, sweeping powers and none of the accountability of traditional Cabinet members. This drastic expansion of government and contraction of liberty has occurred without any real oversight from Democrats in either chamber of Congress.

Americans demand accountability, and the House Oversight and Government Reform and Energy and Commerce committees must work cooperatively together in a new Congress to deliver the oversight that is necessary. During the final two years of the George W. Bush administration, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Oversight Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman eagerly exerted Congress' oversight authority. These oversight inquiries included requests for reams of documents and demands for Cabinet secretaries and agency heads to testify under oath. Programs and executive actions were subjected to close and often openly hostile scrutiny.

We have not seen the same enthusiasm for oversight since the Obama administration has taken the helm. Not surprisingly, the job economy has worsened, government spending is at an all-time high, and federal agencies are rampantly codifying more regulations that further penalize and discourage private investment and the hiring of new employees. Congress' constitutional role as a check on the power of the administration has been lost in the sprint to increase the role of government.

Our Founding Fathers were explicit in demanding that the House of Representatives provide a check on the power of the executive branch. Over the past two years, the Pelosi-controlled Congress has been derelict in this duty, defying the will and expectation of our Founders.

Now that Republicans have recaptured the House, we think it is time for a fundamentally different approach in the defense of liberty. Committees with significant oversight duties must work together to block agencies from freely passing regulations that have no regard or concern for the potential damage to job growth and the economy. As we work to repeal and replace legislation passed by the outgoing Democratic Congress, we will not allow the administration to make broad interpretations that make poorly designed laws that much worse. Committees in the new Republican Congress must use their hearing rooms as forums to let citizens know how broken big government kills jobs and affects their lives. After two years of operating in the shadows, it is time for officials to answer questions - we cannot allow them to hide behind their desks and obfuscate any longer.

Administration officials who negotiated the health overhaul behind closed doors with special interests and are now responsible for its implementation will no longer be able to conspicuously avoid Capitol Hill. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will soon have to return to reality and explain how the administration plans to uphold its promise that those who liked their health plans could keep them under this law. It should make for interesting testimony, considering the cold facts that insurance providers are dropping child-only plans, Medicare Advantage plans are being reworked drastically or eliminated, and the administration's own chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is reporting that as many as 14 million Americans could lose their employer-provided health care by 2019. Truth-telling sessions about the real cost of this deeply flawed government intervention will increase pressure for repeal.

This administration's rampant regulations are also inflicting real harm on our economy. Americans have a right to know how flawed government regulations can kill job-creation efforts. EPA's circumvention of Congress in enacting costly new rules may devastate our economy and send us into a prolonged recession. Its revised ozone standard alone could cause up to 7 million jobs to be lost and cost businesses upward of $1 trillion annually. Congress must work aggressively to ensure that the EPA does not implement a backdoor energy tax.

Americans rightly expect that the 112th Congress will usher in a new era of oversight as well as an end to the freewheeling days of an unchecked Obama administration. We expect our economy to be better for it. As senior members on our committees, we commit ourselves to ensuring that the Oversight Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee work cooperatively with each other and other House committees to conduct oversight and rein in the explosive expansion of government that we have endured over the past two years. Together, we pledge to work to restore and defend the individual liberty President Reagan so eloquently linked to the principle of limited government.

Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, is ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, is a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and is the front-runner to be the committee's next chairman.