The Organ’s Breath of Life: Experiencing the Power of 7,455 Pipes

It is an unmatched sound that most of us have heard many times before. Its reverberating music fills the ear and body with notes high so high they prick the ears and so low they shake the ground. Collectively, its delicious music brings a full-body encounter. Nothing quite compares to an organ’s music, but absolutely nothing compares to listening to it in a cathedral. Welcome to the monthly organ recital at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. 

It’s another blustery Sunday afternoon in the city. There are few reasons to leave beautiful Lake County, and Grace Cathedral happens to be one of them. Located on the top of one of San Francisco’s many hills, it’s likely you’ll leave your car parked awkwardly slanted towards the bay before traversing up the hill to your final destination.

Grace Cathedral’s architecture is as much art as function meant to be looked at and enjoyed. And because you came early, you have time to do just that! Inside the doors, you step inside the cross-shaped building and home to California’s fifth-largest organ and the world’s fiftieth-largest. 

Here is where the magic begins. Grace Cathedral is also home to stained glass murals depicting spiritual saints, Biblical and modern influencers of our time, and Western culture. Hundreds, if not thousands, of scenes fill the scope of the walls traversing up, up, up, and still further up, gifting all who are inside with natural light through their beauty. The trip is already worth it, and yet, the best is still to come.

Take your time exploring the arms of the cross and the ins and outs of all the make-up Grace Cathedral before finding a seat. Your choices are to sit in the auditorium or, if you are lucky enough, to sit in the choir nearest the organ in the front. There is a large seating area making the choice easy enough. Without delay, your one-hour musical experience begins. 

Masterfully the organist begins her renditions. Music–no, organ music–fills the space as notes splash against the wall, ceilings and air, making loops through your ears, down to your toes, and back again. The sounds wash over you, through you, and all around till your body tingles and goosebumps cover you. Your hair stands prickly all over your body like a cactus as if your hair strains to listen too. It’s something you can taste, smell and feel as you respond to the highest of highs and lowest of low sounds filling your whole being. 

But it’s not just enough to experience the sounds without seeing it. The organ is alive and responding to every movement of the organist as her hands push buttons and her fingers move up and down the rows of keys. At times it’s her feet doing all the work as she scoots up and down the rows of pedals. And then it’s her hands and feet in constant commotion, scuttling back and forth, up and down so feverishly she requires assistance to push the buttons and turn the pages filled with notes that dance from the sheet music to the pipes projecting all that is glorious into the room, and into you.

With the blink of an eye, it’s all over as Grace Cathedral swallows all the sounds and notes now singing and dancing in the back of your mind. You are full to overflowing, and isn’t it glad to know that the whole experience happens on the first Sunday of every month? Grace Cathedral awaits your return or first visit. 

For more information, visit Grace Cathedral’s website.

Grace Cathedral

1100 California St. 

San Francisco, CA 94108

Trudy Wakefield

Trudy is the owner and editor for The Bloom. The Bloom's dedicated to showcasing all the good parts of life. If it's good news, you'll probably find it here.

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