Before Surround Sound, there was the Aeolian Organ

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Before Surround Sound, there was the Aeolian Organ

We went into the large reception room, where the organ is, the rugs were rolled back, a roll was put on the player organ, and we danced. We did the Two-Step, the Waltz, the Cheek-to-Cheek, the Bunny Hug, and the Paul Jones.

- Alma M. Sparger, teacher at Reynolda School from Memoirs of Alma Mitchell Sparger, 1982


The open plan of the Reception Hall made it a versatile place to entertain and fulfill Katharine Reynolds’s social obligations. She often invited Reynolda’s teachers up to the house for parties. They rolled up the rugs and danced to the music of the Aeolian organ.

In a time before amplified sound, the only way Katharine Reynolds could fill her new home with music was with an organ, built by the Aeolian Company. Installed in 1918, the Aeolian organ’s 2,566 pipes sounded music throughout  the house. Before Aeolian, a full-sized organ would have been too large to fit in a private home. But Aeolian organs used electricity to connect the console with the pipes, which are installed in chambers.

The organ’s sound comes out of four grilles in the ceiling of the Reception Hall. Hidden behind two tapestries on the second floor are the organ’s 2,566 organ pipes, which continue up to the third floor. It was truly surround sound.

The organ played using music rolls just like player piano. When Barbara Babcock Millhouse lived at Reynolda as a child, she and her two sisters played the organ rolls almost every night.


About three people can sit on the bench… And we just loved it. The person in the middle had control of the pedals. ...Then one person sat on one side of you and pressed the stops on one side, and the other person would press the stops on the other side. And we just had a wonderful time with it.

-Barbara Babcock Millhouse


The Aeolian organ plays in the Historic House every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:45 p.m. and is free with admission!

Mark your calendar for a Tour: Reynolda’s Symphonic Aeolian Organ


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