GREAT FALLS — Only a special set of hands can grace the Rodgers Pipe Organ at St. Ann’s Cathedral in Great Falls.
Jeanne Tonkovich has been serving as lead organist for the parish since 2005 and there is no end in sight. Yet, in the event she was to retire, there are few organists playing understudy.
“It's a joy for me to play it because I feel it's kind of an honor and a privilege to play it; because the pipe organ is called the king of the instruments because of its size, complexity, and power.”
Power indeed. Jeanne stands no taller than five feet, four inches in height. By the power of her fingertips and the pedals at her feet, she is as grand as the church she plays in.
Thousands of years of Catholic worship rang through St. Ann’s, with hymns, chimes, and bells you can feel in your gut. Father Xavier Arimboor, pastor of the cathedral, weighed in on why music is beneficial to a service.
“When there is music, we can say it elevates our soul to a higher level.”
The feeling Jeanne felt when she was a teenager. The opportunity to play in a friend’s wedding sparking a love for the pipes. It’s a love that has never left her heart and carries over to this day.
“Music can lift your spirits when you're feeling sad. It can console you when you are feeling not your best.” She empathized.
As the modern world continues to progress and the interest in organized religion continues to decline, so does the interest in the organ. It worries leaders of the parish.
“There is less interest for the religious aspects of the modern consumer society. So, they are not forced or infused in the importance of music,” said Father Xavier.
Jeanne added, “The organ quality… The music has its own special features that enhance prayerful worship…”
The Catholic Church is continuously leaning on the younger generation to keep its tradition alive. St. Ann’s has the upper hand on other parishes across the state and the world. They have an organist in training at the University of Montana. Although he is away at school, Jeanne and the Catholic community in Great Falls is inspiring youth to pursue music and organ as a career path.
Jeanne says, “…I love the variety of sounds. That's one of the reasons I wanted to learn how to play the organ.” Adding “You can have almost a whole orchestra playing.”
When Jeanne is at the organ console, you hear and feel that entire orchestra.
She can be heard playing almost every Sunday at St. Ann’s Cathedral during 9:30 a.m. Mass.
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