Old St. Patrick's 151-year-old organ needs help to last the next 100 years

The organ is the pulse of a church. And the organ at Old St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan has been its pulse since 1868.

"There's a tremendous amount of music that's been produced by this object," music director Jared Lamenzo said. "It's seen thousands of funerals, weddings, masses. Hundreds of thousands of people have heard it through the years."

Called the Erben Organ, it was named after Henry Erben, one of the premier organ builders of the 19th century. It has 2,500 pipes and all the parts and inner workings that came when it when it was delivered mostly piece by piece by horse-drawn carriage.

But despite tender loving care and even tender loving prayer, age has taken its toll.

"Dirt and debris that have fallen into pipes during different renovations of the church, these enormous bellows with leather that need to be re-leathered," Lamenzo said. "It's like taking apart a house and putting it back together."

In addition to daily services, Old St. Patrick's Cathedral on the Lower East Side is also a popular tourist destination. Going inside the 150-year-old organ is a highlight of a visit.

"To see the windchests moving, the trackers in motion and then the sound resonating through you," tour director Thomas Wilkinson said. "It's so immersive."

Restoring the organ will cost an estimated $2 million. Organizers have begun a grassroots effort to raise the funds without burdening the archdiocese. They've gotten $250,000 so far. Anything else to help would be music to their ears.

"It's also kind of miraculous it still speaks considering how bad things are back there," Lamenzo said. "It still sounds quite good."

To help and visit, see: The Friends of the Erben Organ | The Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral | 263 Mulberry Street, New York, NY 10012 | 212-226-8075 | oldcathedral.org