Washington National Cathedral's iconic organ undergoes massive restoration

The Washington National Cathedral is undergoing a major rehabilitation project, focusing on overhauling its 85-year-old pipe organ.

The immense project involves nearly 11,000 pipes, miles of wiring, and intricate components necessary for filling the cathedral with majestic music. 

Tom Sheehan, the cathedral’s chief organist, told FOX 5 that the organ was originally built in the Skinner Shop in Methuen, Massachusetts, back in the 1930s.

Workers are moving the eight-decade-old organ pipes from high up in the cathedral to the floor of the massive altar below.

"A lot of people are watching what we're doing, so we want to make sure we do it right, and the end result is the best," said Douglas McKeever, field director for Foley-Baker Inc., the company handling the restoration.

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The project is part of a $14 million, five-year initiative to upgrade the National Cathedral's pipe organ. 

"And a cathedral isn't a cathedral without an organ," said Kevin Eckstrom, chief spokesperson for the National Cathedral.

The cathedral's 10,647 pipes are being sent to Connecticut for restoration. 


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McKeever emphasized the significance of the task: "This is a very high-profile job for us. For any company. It's one of the most prominent projects in the organ world right now in America."

"To make music in this space in particular is a real honor and a privilege. To have an instrument to actually match the grandeur of this space is so important and so needed for this place," Sheehan said, reflecting on the importance of the restoration.

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He noted that the old organ he played in 2022, has already been sent to Connecticut for much-needed repairs. 

"This will absolutely be one of the finest organs in this country when it's back in one of the finest worship spaces in this country," he said. 

The restoration involves six chambers high up in the cathedral, with pipes of various shapes, sizes, and sounds. 

"A big pipe, big fat pipe, is going to have a more robust, fuller sound than an itty-bitty pencil-sized pipe," McKeever explained.

In the meantime, a digital organ, a replica of the old one, fills the cathedral services with music, played from 70 speakers throughout the building. 

"What's exciting is that we're building an organ for the next 100 years," Eckstrom said. 

Funded by private donations and no government aid, this project is part of a larger $150 million campaign to repair earthquake damage to the building's exterior and to pay for other necessary upgrades.

The cathedral hopes to have the restored organ back pumping out music again by the end of 2029. 

Until then, the electric organ ensures that services continue without skipping a beat.