Durham tour pulls the curtain behind these powerful, intricate musical instruments

First Presbyterian Church in Durham is featured on the 2018 Organ Crawl.
First Presbyterian Church in Durham is featured on the 2018 Organ Crawl.

The Durham Arts Council is pulling out all the stops when it opens up three historic Durham churches for the 2018 Organ Crawl.

That's a little organ humor, but if you're not familiar with organ stops now, you will be by the end of the June 8 tour.

Attendees will visit three historic churches for a three-course meal, organ performances and lectures on church architecture by liturgical design expert Terry Byrd Eason.

A different organist will perform for the audience at each stop, demonstrating the diversity of musical styles and sounds of the instrument that provides the weekly soundtrack to church services.

The tour benefits the Durham Arts Council, a nonprofit and local arts agency dedicated to supporting the arts in Durham and the Triangle.

Trinity United Methodist is the oldest continuously meeting congregation in Durham. NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

The crawl will begin at the Trinity United Methodist Church, where appetizers will be served by the Bull City Street Food food truck. Trinity United Methodist is the oldest continuously meeting congregation in Durham, and the church, done in the Gothic Revival style, was designed by Ralph Adams Cram, who Eason describes as “the most important church architect in the United States in the first half of the 20th century.”

Participants will then make their way to St. Philip’s Episcopal Church for the main course, prepared by culinary arts students at The Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham. St. Philip’s was also designed by Cram and modeled after medieval parish churches in England.

The Crawl will conclude at First Presbyterian Church, with dessert from The Cupcake Bar. Eason calls First Presbyterian a “muscular gothic,” featuring a wide auditorium-like design, and heavy buttresses.

The Gothic Revival movement, the architectural style that influenced the design of all three churches, is a school of architectural thought that draws inspiration from older European gothic churches. Prominent features include pointed arches, high vaulted ceilings, flying buttresses and ornate stained glass windows.

“The last time we did this, it was in the late fall or winter, and it got dark early,” said Eason. “This time we’re doing it on one of the longest days of the year and people will be able to see the stained glass in the church.”

Because an organ is as much a construction project as a musical instrument, each is custom built, possessing a unique sound.

“Any good organ builder is going to fit the design of the organ to the building,” said Eason.

Alex Lewontin: @alexclewontin


What: Organ Crawl

When: Friday, June 8, 5:30 p.m.

Where: Trinity United Methodist Church, 215 N. Church St.; St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, 403 E. Main St.; First Presbyterian Church, 305 E. Main St. The event is designed for a short stroll from church to church. A golf cart shuttle will be available for those with limited mobility.

Tickets: $60, available to purchase online or at the door. All proceeds benefit the Durham Arts Council