Carnegie and Music for God

  • Arts & Culture
  • 1903

When some relatives approached Andrew Carnegie in 1903 about supporting their church, he balked. Instead of money, he offered to provide it with an organ. Even skeptics like himself could be inspired to become better men by the beauty, power, and solemnity of sacred organ music, he believed. He testified that listening to an organ was to him a devotional experience, and sometimes quoted an old verse: “O Music, sacred tongue of God, I hear thee calling, and I come.”

Soon word of Carnegie’s gift got around, and requests for organs began flooding in—as many as 3,000 in one year. Carnegie quickly standardized the application process. He would only pay for half of the organ’s cost, and the church had to prove it had exhausted other options before coming to him for financial assistance.

Ultimately, between 1903 and his death in 1919, Carnegie was responsible for the addition of nearly 8,000 organs to churches around the world. There were 4,092 provided in the United States, including a hefty 1,351 instruments in the donor’s own state of Pennsylvania. Carnegie spent $6.2 million on this cause during his lifetime. As a result, the music that even now fills thousands of houses of worship on Sunday mornings owes much of its beauty to a man who was only a sporadic churchgoer himself.

  • Waldemar Nielsen, Inside American Philanthropy (University of Oklahoma Press, 1996), p. 34
  • S. N. D. North (ed.), A Manual of the Public Benefactions of Andrew Carnegie (Google eBook: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1919); p. 301-303, 320
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