May 2017 TAO Cover Feature Article

St. Cecilia Catholic Church
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Johannus Orgelbouw B.V. • Ede, Netherlands
By Rick Bocock

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Since 1851, St. Cecilia Catholic Parish has played a pivotal role in the growing community of Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. As implied by their chosen namesake, Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, music has always been important in the life of this church. Thus, it was only natural that, when it came time to build a new larger worship space to house their overflowing congregation, it was assumed that a noteworthy organ would eventually become the central instrument supporting the music of worship.

Handcrafted oak console with rosewood and burled oak inserts

Plans for the new building began forming in 1999. But, as with many churches today, the decision on an organ was delayed under the assumption that costs would be too high and the production time too long to consider one in conjunction with a major building program. In 2015, the Reverend Eric Sternberg became pastor at St. Cecilia’s and soon noticed the omission. Moving quickly, he solicited advice on how to obtain the best organ for the church—one that would meet their high-quality standards, support their varied musical needs, and still fall within their means and their timeline. Following advice from multiple sources, he selected Johannus Orgelbouw b.v. of the Netherlands, through its area dealer Johannus Midwest of Bloomingdale, Illinois, to design and build their new Monarke organ.

Arriving at St. Cecilia’s for their first meeting in early 2016, Matt Bechteler and Gary Wood of Johannus Midwest found the new church already under construction: the foundation and floor were poured, the walls were up, and the roof was in place. At that initial meeting, it became apparent that suitable space for the organ’s audio system had not been provided in the building’s design. At the same time, Fr. Eric explained his desire for a significant musical instrument of great capability.

Console positioned for performances; niches behind statuary (left and right)
contain the audio system components

In consultation with Mr. Bechteler and Mr. Wood, we soon realized that the size of the audio system would be significant and would need to be quickly incorporated into the building’s plans. Happily, with the help of Val Schute of River Architects and Kraemer Brothers, the general contractor, we settled on the perfect space in niches behind the statuary on either side of the altar. Soon we had the construction drawings in hand to house our 112 speaker drivers and eight subwoofers inside two chambers. The space is large by audio system standards but still miniscule considering the 68 ranks of pipes represented.

Lighted drawknob stops

River Architects, in conjunction with Yerges Acoustics, designed the room with favorable acoustics, enhancing both song and the organ. From the beginning, we decided to build on the room’s acoustics and focused the tonal concept on the great French organs of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Their richness and varied tonal resources seemed perfect to support the music of the Mass in a space with this sort of resonant clarity.

While not a direct copy of any Cavaillé-Coll instrument, the tonal principles of the French Romantic style predominate in the tonal scheme of this organ. Meticulously voiced for the room, the organ’s sound is distinctly French, while at the same time sounding modern and fresh. With 53 stops, the gamut of French literature can be realized with authenticity. At the same time, the music of J.S. Bach comes across quite successfully, but perhaps with a bit of a French accent.

The parish logo is carved in the console’s rear panel

Tracey Tolzmann, St. Cecilia’s director of music and organist, reports that the first question she gets from new listeners is, “Where are the pipes?” to which she replies, “Well, the pipes are in France!” She also finds it easy to conduct the choir while playing the organ, taking advantage of the terraced console’s low-profile and its rolling platform. With only a single CAT-5 cable connecting the console to the main remote electronics cabinet, the console is relatively light and easy to reposition.

The Rev. Eric Sternberg (pastor) and Tracey Tolzmann (director of music-organist) in the sanctuary of St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Fr. Eric sums up his experience this way, “The organ is the singular most important investment in our music ministry because it is at the heart of the musical tradition of the Church . . . (It) is a beautiful instrument built by Johannus for our parish. I confess I don’t know, or care, about the technical details. I am impressed by the quality of sound and very happy with the beauty of its physical design. After every Sunday Mass I get comments—how beautiful it is; how much they like it; how much it moves their hearts.”

We at Johannus US are pleased with the outcome of this project. Joining the conversation about the new building at St. Cecilia’s somewhat late in the process, in 20 weeks time we were able to design, build, and install a new fully-custom organ, complete with a handcrafted console personalized with the church’s carved logo, and had the organ ready in time for the church’s dedication. We are thankful for the team spirit shown by everyone on this project and we wish the people of St. Cecilia Parish many joyful years with their new Johannus Monarke organ.

View the stoplist

Rick Bocock is president of Johannus US.

Fr. Eric Sternberg, pastor
Tracey Tolzmann, director of music-organist
Matt Bechteler, Johannus Midwest, president
Gary Wood, Johannus Midwest, organ designer
Dwayne Linich, Johannus Organs Midwest, installation
Mark Synder, Music Solutions, installation
Jim Stout, JDS Builders, speaker arrays and mobile console platform
Val Schute, River Architects, building design
James Yerges, Yerges Acoustics, acoustic design
Kraemer Brothers, general contractor
Rick Bocock, Johannus US, design consultant

Hear this organ:


  1. John Gouwens says:

    Really? The featured organ on the cover of our national journal is a digital phony, and an imported one at that? Say what you like about the fact that we have digital “organs” around us, and we need to understand how to play them. I do all that, but what a depressing statement for something so ersatz to be trumpeted as new and important! What’s new, and certainly significant, is that this is the first time ever that the front cover of TAO has been sullied by a digital thing. It says something sad about the direction of our profession, but it also says something sad about the guild! (I write this as a past dean of two chapters, and in which I have led sessions on dealing with digital “organs.”)

    • Bill Valentine says:

      John, thanks for your observations. Your post and the lively dialogue on Facebook about the May cover of TAO prompted me to devote my July column in TAO to a detailed explanation of how organs are selected for the cover of TAO. (Please see page 6 of the July issue.) In brief, each cover is sponsored by an organ builder, and the organ in the photo is selected by that builder. We go to great lengths to ensure that the image on our cover meets our high artistic standards, but neither TAO staff nor any AGO volunteer gets involved in making an editorial judgment about the instrument. Organ builders spend thousands of dollars for the privilege of having their organ on the cover of the magazine. In our experience, we find the builders always take that responsibility very seriously and select an instrument in which they have great pride.

      –James Thomashower

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