The St. Monica Catholic Parish in Dallas, Texas, is a vibrant community with a proud past and a bold vision for the future. Founded in 1954, St. Monica is a large parish of around 14,000 parishioners, with an average of 4,000 individuals attending seven weekend Masses. Natives of six continents call St. Monica their church home. The parish boasts a proud heritage of education; St. Monica School maintains an enrollment of over 850 students in grades K-8 and a large school choral program, for which the church building is the primary performing arts space.  

One major source of pride for the people of St. Monica is the parish’s large and diverse music ministry. The parish boasts ten choirs and ensembles that provide leadership for the various Masses in both English and Spanish. The people of St. Monica have a strong commitment to the musical heritage of the Catholic Church. The music ministries are committed to making use of the greatest hymn and choral traditions of the Church. The church building and organ are used for several school choral liturgies each week. The parish sponsors many special performances, including organ concerts and major choral works sung by the choirs; the parish also hosts numerous musical presentations by outside ensembles.   

In 2012, St. Monica began a major renovation of the church building, which had not been updated since its construction in 1965. One goal of the renovation was to improve the sanctuary acoustics and the organ. The church’s dry acoustic character had, for decades, been seen as an impediment to music-making. The previous organ, a 1968 3-manual Wicks of 47 ranks, was a limitation on the parish’s music ministry due to its small scaling and stylistic inflexibility. The Parish contracted with Scott Riedel and Associates of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to provide acoustical and organ consultation. Riedel worked closely with the architectural firm, Fischer Heck, in designing interior features designed to extensively improve the acoustical environment of the church.

From the beginning, Scott Riedel articulated the goal of the project to include, “helping all worshippers to hear clear and intelligible speech throughout the room, to assist musicians in developing well balanced, blended, and projected music, and especially to enable the assembly to hear each other for wholehearted participation in sung and spoken parts of the liturgy.” Riedel’s obstacles were visible simply by walking into the church; thick, red carpet covered the floor and concave-circular wall forms covered with sound-absorbing asbestos, a textured ceiling covered with asbestos and thin wood lattices and walls. The choir and organ were hidden behind a large wooden lattice that had once served as a silent protest in the early days of Vatican II. These decorative elements all served to hinder the distribution and diminish the quality of sound in the space.  Fortunately, asbestos abatement resulted in the church removing and replacing nearly all of those features.

Scott Riedel set out to create subtle, attractive design elements that would achieve his acoustic goals. The church’s greatest permanent acoustical challenge is its round shape, causing sound to reverberate back into center focal point rather than mix and distribute. For this reason the Riedel design includes what he has called, “a sound supportive ceiling deck (to) allow tone to blend in the room, and the custom designed acoustic wall panels between glass facets (to) diffuse, reflect and temper sound in proper proportion.”   Other acoustical improvements, as described by Mr. Riedel, include, “new hard surface flooring throughout the room to reinforce and reverberate music and sung and spoken participation by the assembly. The sound obstructing lattice wall has been removed from the choir and organ space, allowing unimpeded tonal egress to the assembly.  The façade of organ pipes and hard-wood diffusers on the wall behind choir singers also function to mix and project music throughout the room.”

In consultation with Scott Riedel, and under the leadership of Director of Music Jeremy Wirths and Organist Guillermo Martinez, the parish decided that a large American Classic instrument would best serve the musical needs of the parish. The committee identified choral accompaniment as a priority; the inability to crescendo and lack of ensemble reeds of the previous instrument had been an impediment to St. Monica’s music for decades. The musicians of the parish felt that a moveable console would be absolutely necessary, as the church’s music space needed flexibility for different types of ensembles. The Organ Committee believed the parish’s liturgies suffered from muted congregational participation and hoped a new organ would encourage congregational participation in the music of the liturgies.

The Organ Committee selected Nichols & Simpson of Little Rock, Arkansas to construct the new instrument. The Committee was impressed by the wide diversity of design and tonal beauty found in the previous instruments of Nichols & Simpson. The Committee recognized that the unique modern architecture of the church would require design creativity on the part of the chosen builder. The church hoped that, in addition to providing beautiful musical leadership, the organ would complement and enhance the character of the unusual church.    

As Nichols & Simpson began to develop a stoplist, several new challenges emerged. The St. Monica musicians wanted at least one real 32’ stop and the chamber did not have sufficient height. The musicians hoped for and instrument with five divisions including a well-equipped solo division, and the organ chamber was not large enough for such a large instrument. Two of the chamber walls are curved, which limits efficient use of the space because organ cases generally are not curved. After months of work, a final plan emerged that includes 54 stops and 71 ranks of pipes, and is enhanced by a few other digital stops in order to maximize use of chamber space. There are 4,218 pipes.

The organ is played from a four-manual moveable console, the outer case of which is constructed of oak to match the other furnishings of the church, and the interior of which is made of burl walnut.  The manual keys are of polished bone and rosewood, the pedal keys are of maple and rosewood, and the drawknobs which control the stops are made of rosewood with bone faces engraved with the stop names.  The combination action features 256 levels of memory, and a MIDI sequencer with USB port used for backup of the combination action settings. 

The Swell division is located on the left side of the organ chamber. This division features warm flute stops, three luscious strings/celestes, and an extensive reed chorus. A unique feature of the Swell division is the inclusion of an independent 4’ celeste. The boisterous character of the independent 8’ Trompette and the smoother English-styled 8’ Trumpet allow two distinct reeds on which to build a reed chorus. The division includes a full principal chorus, as well as a cleverly split Plein Jeu, proving extremely useful in accompanying.

The Great division is located in the center of the organ chamber. The Great principal chorus is built on the 16’ Double Diapason; which is makes up the façade. The pipes of the Great division are unenclosed. 

The Choir division includes two celestes and a full array of chorus and solo reeds. The Petite Trompette serves as a well-balanced chorus reed for accompanying, while the Trombas provide pungent reeds for French literature or solo reeds to cut through a full ensemble. The smooth and centered Clarinet and the Krummhorne-esque Cremona contribute to the overall color palette of the organ. The Choir division located on the right side of the organ chamber; the effective swell engines, as well as those in the other divisions, work most effectively.

The pipes of the Pedal division are spread throughout the chamber, with the largest pipes reaching from floor to ceiling in the area behind the Swell pipes.  The creative design in the borrowed and independent ranks of the Pedal division provide a solid foundation for this substantial instrument. Three digital 32’ stops are effectively voiced with extremely smooth transitions from pipe to digital ranks. The 16’ Open Wood is an impressive foundation for the large space of St. Monica Church.

The Solo division, is located behind the pipes of the Great division and features a commanding Tuba stop, as well as a Solo Flute stop at 8’ and 4’, and a string and celeste. Because of space constraints, the English Horn and French Horn are digital stops. Their convincing voicing rounds out this very effective Solo division.

Other features of the organ include a Cymbelstern made of 8 small Malmark handbells.  There is also a Rossignol stop. The harp, celesta, and chimes stops are supplied by Walker digital components.

The unique and fitting case fronting the organ was designed to fit the space by Frank Friemel.  R. A. Colby fabricated and installed the wooden portions of the case, which is comprised of 84 individual pieces, attached to an iron framework.  A. R. Schopp’s Sons worked diligently with Nichols & Simpson and Frank Friemel to make the distinctive case pipe designs a reality.

The leaders of St. Monica Parish hope that the new instrument will serve a vital role in the Dallas music community. “For St. Monica Church, this new pipe organ is indicative of the investment of energies and talents to keep traditional church music alive and vibrant for not only the parish, but also for the Dallas music community,” said Organist Guillermo Martinez. St. Monica is proud to have been selected host a recital of the American Guild of Organists 2017 Regional Convention in Dallas.

Since the dedication of the instrument two years ago, the liturgical music of St. Monica has been profoundly enriched by this stunning new instrument. Father Stephen Bierschenk, Pastor of St. Monica since 2008, has been delighted by the high level of interest and enthusiasm the organ has created in the parish. Of this new spirit he has written, “This beautiful organ gives voice to our desire to honor God in the best ways possible. As our soul is stirred by the beauty of a hymn, and we are thrilled by the majestic tones of an anthem, our hearts and minds are reminded that God has given us so many ways to express our joy in his gifts.”

 

St. Monica Catholic Church Dallas, Texas

Nichols and Simpson, Inc., Organbuilders

54 Stops, 71 Ranks

Great Organ: 13 Stops/20 Ranks

   16   Double Diapason

   8     Open Diapason

   8     Second Diapason, from 16’ Dbl Diapason

   8     Solo Flute from Solo

   8     Harmonic Flute, 1-12 from Bourdon

   8     Gamba

   8     Bourdon

   4     Octave

   4     Nachthorn

   2 2/3 Twelfth

   2     Fifteenth

   1 3/5 Seventeenth

   IV-V Fourniture

   IV   Cymbale

   16   Bombarde, 1-12, ext of Harmonic Trumpet

   8     Tromba, from Pedal (Choir)

   8     Harmonic Trumpet

          Tremolo

          Chimes* 32 notes

          MIDI

Pedal Organ: 7 Stops/10 Ranks

   32   Contra Violone *

   32   Contra Bourdon *

   16   Open Wood

   16   Double Diapason, from Great

   16   Subbass         

   16   Violone

   16   Lieblich, from Swell

   16   Gemshorn, from Choir

   8     Solo Flute, ext of Open Wood

   8     Octave

   8     Bourdon, ext of Subbass

   8     Chimney Flute, from Swell

   8     Gemshorn, from Choir

   4     Solo Flute, from Solo

   4     Choral Bass

   2     Solo Flute, from Solo

   IV   Mixture

   32   Ophicledeide *

   16   Tuba, from Solo

   16   Trombone, in Choir

   16   Bombarde, from Great

   16   Double Trumpet, from Swell

   16   Clarinet, from Choir

   8     Tuba, from Solo

   8     Tromba, from Trombone

   8     Harmonic Trumpet, from Great

   8     Trumpet, from Swell

   4     Tromba, from Trombone

   4     Clarinet, from Choir

          MIDI

          Chimes, from Choir

 * indicates Walker Digital Stop

Swell Organ (expressive): 20 Stops/23 Ranks

   16   Lieblich

   8     Diapason

   8     Chimney Flute, from 16’ Lieblich

   8     Solo Gamba (Solo)

   8     Solo Gamba Celeste (Solo)

   8     Salicional

   8     Voix Celeste, 1-12*

   8     Flauto Dolce    

   8     Flute Celeste, 1-12*

   4     Principal          

   4     Flûte Octaviante

   4     Dulcet

   4     Dulcet Celeste

   2 2/3 Nasard

   2     Octavin

   1 3/5 Tierce

   1 1/3 Larigot            

   II    Plein Jeu

   III   Petit Plein Jeu 

   16   Double Trumpet

   8     Trompette

   8     Trumpet, from Dbl Trumpet

   8     Hautbois

   8     Vox Humana

   4     Clarion, from Dbl Trumpet

          Tremolo

          MIDI

Choir Organ (expressive): 11 Stops/15 Ranks

   16   Gemshorn, 1-12*

   8     Geigen Diapason

   8     Geigen Celeste *

   8     Bourdon

   8     Gemshorn

   8     Gemshorn Celeste, 1-12*

   4     Principal

   4     Koppelflöte

   2     Flautino

   IV-V Mixture

   16   Bass Clarinet, 1-12*

   8     Petite Trompette

   8     Clarinet

   8     Cremona

          Tremolo

          Harp *

          Celesta *

   16   Tuba, from Solo

   16   Trombone, from Pedal (Choir)

   8     Tuba, from Solo

   8     Tromba, from Pedal (Choir)

   4     Tromba Clarion, from Pedal (Choir)

Solo Organ (expressive): 3 Stops/3 Ranks

   8     Solo Gamba

   8     Solo Gamba Celeste, 1-12*

   8     Solo Flute, ext of Open Wood, encl at 8’ A#

   4     Solo Flute, ext of Open Wood

   8     French Horn *

   8     English Horn *

   8     Clarinet, from Choir

   16   Tuba               1-12*

   8     Tuba

          Tremolo

          MIDI

* indicates Walker Digital Stop

 Great to Choir Transfer

Cymbelstern - 8 Malmark Bells

Rossignol

Full complement of Intra-manual Couplers, pistons, toe studs, and reversibles

Peterson ICS-4000 Integrated Control System

Case design by Frank Friemel

Case constructed by R.A. Colby Organbuilders, Inc.