10 great places to be enthralled by heavenly music

Holiday-themed organ music seems ubiquitous as Christmas draws near — a good time to ask TonyThurman, director of development and communications for the American Guild of Organists, about where to go for notable sight-and-sound experiences. He shares his picks with Tim Smight for USA TODAY.

Mormon Tabernacle Salt Lake City

The Mormon Tabernacle, world famous for its choir, also has an excellent organ music program, Thurman says. "The Tabernacle organ is one of the world's largest and most intricate, with more than 11,000 functioning pipes. The organ has been enlarged and renovated several times, but some of its pipe work dates from the original 1867 instrument." 801-240-4150; mormontabernaclechoir.org

Grace Cathedral San Francisco

Grace Cathedral sits on Nob Hill, affording striking views of the city and San Francisco Bay. "The building itself, of Gothic design, is breathtaking, and the organ, which dates from the 1930s, is gorgeous," Thurman says. "Grace has a tremendous music series, with over 400 services and concerts scheduled each year. Some of it is rather unique because they embrace what's called organ improvisation — a highly specialized art form in organ playing." 415-749-6300; gracecathedral.org

Riverside Church New York

Modeled after the 13th-century Gothic cathedral in Chartres, France, the Riverside Church is located on Manhattan's Upper West Side near Columbia University. Its pipe organ, built in 1930 and expanded over the years, is one of the largest in the country. "The organ was played for years by the late Virgil Fox, a very famous and flamboyant organ virtuoso," Thurman says. "He really put Riverside on the map, and it remains a premier venue for organ music. The building's acoustics are fantastic." 212-870-6700; theriversidechurchny.org

Fourth Presbyterian Church Chicago

Fourth Presbyterian, in downtown Chicago on Michigan Avenue's Magnificent Mile, boasts the largest organ in the city and one of the largest in the Midwest. "It's a very elaborate instrument with a wonderfully rich and complex sound," Thurman says. "The church has an outstanding program of organ recitals and choral singing, particularly during the holiday season." 312-787-4570; fourthchurch.org

Trinity Church Boston

In the center of Boston at Copley Square, Trinity Church is truly an American landmark, Thurman says. "The building dates to 1877, and its organ is a magnificent instrument. The church offers free organ programs on Fridays, featuring recitalists from throughout the United States and abroad. The holiday atmosphere is always very festive, with the Copley Square Christmas tree right outside." 617-536-0944; trinitychurchboston.org

National Cathedral Washington, D.C.

The National Cathedral, in northwest Washington, D.C., is truly the "nation's cathedral," Thurman says. "It's a beautiful building of arresting architecture that belongs to all of us. The cathedral's historic pipe organ is a remarkable instrument. Built in 1938, it's been enlarged several times and now has 10,650 pipes." At 12:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, a cathedral organist gives a short talk about the organ, followed by a recital. 202-537-6200; cathedral.org

Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center Dallas

Designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei, the Meyerson Symphony Center is known as the "crown jewel" of Dallas. "The Meyerson is visually striking inside and out, and it has one of the largest organs ever built for a concert hall," Thurman says. Located in the Arts District of downtown Dallas, the Center offers a free midday organ recital once each month. 214-670-3600; meyersonsymphonycenter.com

Wanamaker Organ at Macy's Philadelphia

The Wanamaker Organ — the largest functioning musical instrument in the world — was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1980. "It was installed in the Wanamaker Department Store (now Macy's) in 1911, and dedicated by then-president William H. Taft," Thurman says. "There are daily recitals Monday through Saturday, and visitors are welcome to tour the console area and meet the staff after the concerts." 215-241-9000; www.wanamakerorgan.com

Peachtree Road United Methodist Church Atlanta

Peachtree, in the heart of Atlanta's historic Buckhead Community, has a superior music program and excellent acoustics, Thurman says. "They also have one of the finest newer organs in the country. Installed in 2002, it has an exceptionally responsive keyboard. This gives the player more control of the organ's voice, which makes for a very rich listening experience." 404-266-2373; prumc.org

First Congregational Church Los Angeles

Founded in 1867, First Congregational is the oldest Protestant church in Los Angeles. "They claim to have the largest church organ in the world," Thurman says. "That's really a moving target, because the biggest church organs are continually being refurbished and upgraded. But they certainly have one of the most impressive instruments I know of." The church schedules a regular concert series and offers free half-hour organ recitals each Thursday at noon. 213-385-1341; fccla.org