Music History


A History of Music at Christ Church

Early music

Music in most early American churches consisted of psalms being chanted and limited congregational singing of familiar hymns. Hymnals as we know them did not exist. Occasionally chanting was accompanied by a musician playing his own instrument which was sometimes a keyboard, but more often a string or wind instrument.

18th century hymnals in American churches consisted of words in one book, and a limited number of tunes in another. The Episcopal Church in America used this system until 1916, when the first authorized hymnal with words and music was published. Before 1916, Episcopal authorized editions appeared in 1789, 1826, 1871, and 1892. After 1916, authorized editions were published in 1940 and in1982, our current hymnal.


The first organ at Christ Church was an instrument by the cabinet maker Jacob Hilbus ca. 1812. This was a one manual instrument winded by a foot pedal.

In the 1840s, the Hilbus organ was replaced by an instrument built by George Jardine of New York City, delivered to Alexandria on board the schooner Victory. The Hilbus organ was transferred to Trinity Episcopal Church in Shepherdstown, WV. Since 1912, the Hilbus organ has been in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

In the 1880s, the Jardine organ was moved to the Parish House and replaced in the church by a two manual organ from the Hook and Hastings company of Boston, MA. This was a water-winded instrument powered by free water from the city of Alexandria.

In the 1920s, the Hook and Hastings organ was transferred to Beulah Baptist Church of Alexandria, VA and replaced by a three manual Hillgreen-Lane instrument courtesy of a grant from the Carnegie Foundation. In the early 1950s, this instrument was rebuilt by the M. P. Moller organ company of Hagerstown, MD.

The present organ was built and installed by the Austin Organ Company of Hartford, CT in 1975.


Choirs have been an integral part of worship at Christ Church since the late 19th century. Robed choirs as we know them probably appeared early in the 20th century at Christ Church and have continued to the present day.