The organist of Sainte-Anne keeps the melody of the church alive

GREAT FALLS – Only a special set of hands can adorn the Rodgers Pipe Organ at St. Anne’s Cathedral in Great Falls.

Jeanne Tonkovich has been the principal parish organist since 2005 and there is no end in sight. Yet, in case she retires, there are few organists playing backup.

“It’s a joy for me to play there because I feel it’s a bit of an honor and a privilege to play there; because the pipe organ is called the king of instruments due to its size, complexity and power.

Power indeed. Jeanne is no more than five feet and four inches tall. By the power of her fingers and the pedals at her feet, she is as grand as the church in which she plays.

Thousands of years of Catholic worship have echoed through St. Ann’s, with hymns, chimes and bells you can feel in your belly. Father Xavier Arimboor, pastor of the cathedral, explained why music is beneficial to a service.

Father Xavier Arimboor

“When there is music, you can say it lifts our soul to a higher level.”

The feeling that Jeanne felt when she was a teenager. The opportunity to play at a friend’s wedding sparking a love for the pipes. It’s a love that never left his heart and still lives on today.

“Music can cheer you up when you’re feeling sad. It can comfort you when you’re not feeling your best. She sympathized.

As the modern world continues to progress and interest in organized religion continues to decline, interest in the organ also declines. This worries the leaders of the parish.

“There is less interest in the religious aspects of modern consumer society. So they are not forced or infused into the importance of music,” Fr. Xavier said.

Jeanne added, “The quality of the organ…The music has its own special characteristics that enhance prayerful worship…”

The Catholic Church continually relies on the younger generation to keep her tradition alive. St. Ann’s has the upper hand over other parishes in the state and the world. They have an organist in training at the University of Montana. Although he is in school, Jeanne and the Catholic community of Great Falls inspire young people to pursue music and the organ as a career path.

Jeanne Tokovitch

Jeanne Tokovitch

Jeanne says: “…I like the variety of sounds. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to learn to play the organ. Adding “You can play almost an entire orchestra.”

When Jeanne is at the organ console, we hear and feel the whole orchestra.

He can be heard playing almost every Sunday at Sainte-Anne Cathedral during the 9:30 a.m. mass.


Martha J. Finley