Philadelphia Organ Festival to celebrate historic sounds and sights

Joshua Castaño, producer of the Philadelphia Organ Festival.

Powerful music will cross paths with grand vintage design when the Philadelphia Organ Festival makes its debut at venues throughout the city March 15-23. The festival will feature some of the region’s historic pipe organs and several of the area’s best musicians performing in architecturally significant spaces. 

Joshua Castaño, producer of the Philadelphia Organ Festival, said that one of the goals of the festival is to show people how broad the appeal of the organ can be.   

“It’s about music,” he said. “Music is the foundation of it. We want people to come out and hear music of an instrument that they might have a lot of preconceptions about. They might assume either it’s old fashioned or it’s just church music or certain types of classical music. But we want them to hear and experience the instrument in a way that is much broader than that and show them that the organ plays music from across the centuries, across genres and across cultures; everything from Bach to minimalism and everything in between.” 

Castaño added that, beyond the musical performances, there are going to be cinematic presentations centered around live organ scores. 

“There are going to be two films,” he said. “One is a silent film with a traditional approach where there is an improvised score. The other one is a silent film that has a new score with pipe organ, voices, and electric guitar. It’s a really wide range of music here.”  

Organs are unique in that they aren’t portable for the most part. Where they are built is where they stay. As such, this festival will — in a lot of ways — be a showcase of the buildings that house these extraordinary instruments. 

“The organ is unique and special in that it is an instrument that is part of a building,” Castaño said. “There is really no other instrument like that. Organs are, in a special way, the sound of a place. They are the voice of the places they are located in. These great sacred places in Philadelphia, all of them are just amazing places that serve the community and have great history and wonderful art and architecture. These places have a voice inside and part of that voice is the organ. So, we want people to experience the place and the organ.”

Castaño said that another aspect of the festival that is important to him is to showcase the organ’s connection and roots within the LGBTQ+ community.  

“One of the things we want to show people is there are a lot of us involved in this festival who are GLBT and I think that some folks who are not used to the church have an experience or understanding of sacred places as not always being queer friendly,” he said. “I think for a lot of us who have been involved in music and especially around the pipe organ, that has always been a center of GLBT folks who are people of faith. That’s a really important part of the story of people of faith who are GLBTQ like myself. I think one of the things we want to emphasize with these performances is that these are welcoming spaces, and we are lifting up an instrument and building on that tradition of the organ, which has been loved and celebrated by so many GLBT folks before and broadening it. We’re trying to build a bridge across all these communities.”

One thing is for sure, attendees of the organ performances be moved, physically if not sonically, by the power of the organ. 

“They’ll feel the earth move under their feet,” Castaño said. “They’ll feel it through the building. That is the exciting thing about the pipe organ. When they are really roaring, you can hear it and feel the building vibrating with it.”

The Philadelphia Organ Festival runs March 15-23 at venues throughout the city. For more information and a detailed list of performers and events, visit

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