Music Hall's Hook & Hastings Organ

the formal 'portrait' of the Hook and Hastings Organ in Music Hall When Cincinnati's Music Hall opened in 1878, excitement was heightened by the unveiling of the new Hook & Hastings organ. Called simply ''The Cincinnati Organ'', it cost $32,695 and was installed at the western-most wall of the auditorium. Reuben Springer had contributed a sizable amount of the total cost, with the rest of the funding provided by the community. ''Here was a glorious temple within which to enshrine the king of instruments,'' said George Ward Nichols, president of the Music Hall Organ Association, a group that was incorporated with the goal of getting the funding to build the organ.

The mechanical portion of the organ was built in Boston. The organ stood two stories high, fifty feet wide and thirty feet deep. At the time it was installed, the organ was the largest in the United States and one of five largest in the world. Its 6,237 pipes were enclosed in an elaborate wooden casing, the panels of which were carved in Cincinnati by School of Design students and graduates -- all women -- of Benn Pitman and father and son woodcarvers Henry and William Fry.

While a wonderful work of both fine and performing art, the organ provided great challenge to anyone who played it. The sound was so slow in coming that, during a fast tempo, the organist needed to anticipate the conductor by nearly a bar of music!

As part of the multi-year renovation begun in the late 1960s, the Hook & Hastings organ -- now just a decade shy of a century old and in quite sad shape -- was dismantled and a Baldwin Multi-Waveform (electric) organ was installed Music Hall in 1974. The Corbett Foundation financed the purchase and installation and the organ was dedicated by Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra music director Thomas Schippers.


Mr. George E. Whiting of Boston, MA, was the artist who first played the Hook and Hastings Organ during the May Festival in May 1878. Mr. Whiting was considered one of the top organists in the country. He had made his debut when he was only thirteen years old, and studied under renowned organists in England and Germany. At the time of the grand opening of Cincinnati Music Hall, Whiting was the organist at the Boston Music Hall, and had composed many popular works for the organ.

In Music Hall legend, tales are told of a cat family that lived behind the organ screen. When organ music rose to a crescendo, the scared cats took off across the stage.

Read about and see photos of the panels that covered the Hook and Hastings Organ at one time in Cincinnati's Music Hall.

The Cincinnati Organ is a book edited by George Ward Nichols and published by Robert Clarke & Co. in 1878. This publication has extensive details about the organ, its construction -- even a list of the names of the women who carved the panels, along with illustrations.

Read an article written by Mary Ellyn Hutton on the Hook & Hastings Organ.

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