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Music fills St. Johns Lutheran sanctuary

Jonathan Oblander demonstrates some of the features of the organ at St. Johns Lutheran Church in Park Rapids. The organ was constructed by Berghaus Organ Company in Illinois, where Oblander is an employee. Go to to hear audio clips of Oblander playing the organ. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)1 / 5
Kelly Monette, who works for Berghaus Organ Company, taps on one of the organ pipes to make sure it is producing the correct sound. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)2 / 5
Jonathan Oblander has played organ since he was 11 years old. He brings his expertise as a musician to his work on the instruments. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)3 / 5
The organ's pipes fill the balcony at St. Johns Lutheran, with the pipes reaching the ceiling. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)4 / 5
Kelly Monette makes an adjustment to one of the organ's 1,454 pipes. A small adjustment can mean a perfect blend of sounds for the custom-built organ. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)5 / 5

St. Johns Lutheran Church in Park Rapids is now filled with the rich tones of a new, custom-built organ.

An "unveiling" of the instrument was Thursday evening at the church. The evening included demonstrations of the instrument's capabilities and lessons on how to use the organ.

The project has been in the works for about three years. The church organ committee hired a consultant to help them in the search for a new pipe organ. It's not a simple process.

Bids were received from several organ companies and comparisons were done on several pipe organs in other churches. Eventually, Berghaus Organ Company, located in Illinois, was chosen to construct the instrument.

"No two pipe organs are alike," said Jonathan Oblander, who was working on the final touches of the organ this week at the church.

He and Kelly Monette work for Berghaus and explained the complexities of pipe organs.

"Each one is built from scratch, with a design phase to determine specific measurements," Oblander said.

The instruments are built to fit into the space available in a church, making each one unique. Additional renovations were completed at St. Johns to accommodate the organ in the balcony of the sanctuary.

After the design phase, much of the organ construction takes place in the shop in Illinois. It is then shipped to the church for installation.

"A lot of the pre-voice pipe work can be done in the shop but the final sound isn't determined until it is in the church," Oblander said.

The organ was delivered to St. Johns toward the end of 2010 and since then crews have been working on detail work.

The organ features 1,454 pipes. The largest pipes are made of wood and are 16 feet long. These create the rumbling sound common in many musical works written for organ. Some of the pipes from the church's old organ were used in the new instrument.

This week, Oblander and Monette were working on tonal finishing. This is tedious work that requires Monette to stand near the pipes while Oblander plays certain notes. They determine whether each note is blending together correctly.

If an adjustment needs to be made, Monette uses a variety of tools to adjust the pipe.

Oblander brings experience as an organist who has played since he was 11 years old.

"I'm able to bring that context as a musician," he said.

Monette is a second generation organ builder. He has been working for 16 years.

All tonal adjustments are made by ear. While they don't quite have perfect pitch, they have very discerning ears.

"We're looking at the entire tonal picture and making sure it sounds like it is supposed to," Monette said.

The organ in St. Johns has been a "very good" instrument to work on, they said.

"For an A frame church, the sound carries very well," Oblander said. "Any seat is a good seat."

It has a wide range of tones, from gentle to full sounds.

Scott Rydell worked with the church as an organ consultant and performed the final check on Thursday. He also gave lessons on how to use the new features on the instrument to those who will be playing it.

"This organ is unique to this church and sets forth the music of the Lutheran liturgy," he said.

An organ constructed for a church of different denomination would likely have different features to work with that church's music, he said.

The organ completion comes at the perfect time to be operational for Easter services this spring.

Go to to hear audio clips from an organ performance.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561