Music at St. Eugene
Music Ministry is an active part of St. Eugene’s parish. An English Adult Choir, a Children’s Choir, and a Handbell Choir comprise the core of the music program, with periodic guest instrumentalists joining in liturgical and sacred music at Sunday morning mass @ 9:30 a.m.
The Adult English Choir rehearses from 7-8 pm on Wednesday evenings in the church, music from traditional Classical anthems to ethnic and contemporary repertoire. There is no audition to sing in this choir; if you love singing and wish to add your voice to our group, we welcome you!
Jeanmarie A. Nielsen
Music Director, Jeanmarie A. Nielsen, has directed St. Eugene music since 2014, notably the Adult Choir and a vocal quartet that has served during the pandemic. Jeanmarie is a native Nebraskan, educated in Music/Vocal Performance at the Universities of Michigan and Nebraska. She was a longtime professor of voice and music history at a private liberal arts college in Nebraska, where she also directed the chapel music program and a women’s choir. Jeanmarie sang professionally in the upper Midwest, specializing in Baroque, Classical, and 20th C. repertoire.
When her family moved to OKC in 2004, Jeanmarie taught voice, music history, and graduate review courses at Oklahoma City University, leaving in 2007 to direct the Middle & Upper School Choirs, music direct musical theatre productions, teach music theory, and serve as Chair of the Performing Arts at Casady School, 2007-2020. Jeanmarie retired from teaching in June 2020 and is planning to return to graduate school in 2022 to pursue an MFA in writing.
Ms. Nielsen is a professional quilter, an avid reader, a freelance copy editor, and she fosters Labrador Retrievers for a local rescue organization. She is married, has two adult children, a son-in-law, and a grandson.
Organist and pianist Benjamin Clark joined the music staff at St. Eugene in summer 2016. Currently a Candidate for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Organ Performance at the University of Oklahoma, Mr. Clark holds master’s degrees in Organ Performance (Oklahoma City University) and Collaborative Piano (Univ. of Northern Colorado), as well as dual bachelor’s degrees in Music and Chemistry (Michigan State University). He also currently works as a collaborative pianist in the voice department at OCU, and is employed seasonally with Red River Pipe Organ Service & Tuning in Norman, OK.
Raised in Longmont, CO, where he began studying the piano at the age of four, Mr. Clark began actively pursuing and performing in recitals and competitions by middle school. Throughout his education he has continued to maintain an active performing schedule.
Profoundly inspired by music as one of the most powerful artistic media, capable of eliciting strong emotions in audiences and congregations, Mr. Clark plans a three-pronged career as a sacred musician, university professor, and concert performer, with additional part-time work as a freelance collaborative pianist. He believes that traditional hymns and chants of the faith coupled with sacred choral works serve to bring parishioners together, and that this tradition of music unites us in singing, a shared experience of Catholic heritage, and a connection to the historical Christian faith. As the pipe organ has been the primary musical instrument of Christianity since the 8th century, he hopes to bring his extensive study of the organ’s historical repertoire into the liturgy in a way that is uplifting and inspiring each week.
Mr. Clark also enjoys nature walks, running, cycling, and PC gaming, as well as tinkering with his restored home pipe organ.
About the St. Eugene Organ
Until about fifty years ago, all large organs in churches produced sound by wind-blown pipes. However, 21st-century digital sound reproduction has advanced to the point that an electronic organ can be a satisfactory option requiring little maintenance and costing a fraction of the price of an "authentic" pipe organ. The St. Eugene organ was built by industry leader Walker Technical Company of Pennsylvania in 2012. It consists of an impressive control console, as well as a self-contained amplifier and speaker cabinet array concealed in three separate large rooms behind the visible walls of the sanctuary. It uses advanced audio technology to simulate the sound of an instrument that, if made of “real” pipes, would likely be the largest organ in Oklahoma City.
The St. Eugene organ has 141 individual stops, operated by the push/pull drawknobs organized in columns to the sides of the keyboards. An organ “stop” is one unique and distinctive sound of a specific pitch level, timbre, and volume. Each stop could be thought of as an individual instrument of an orchestra, for example, a soft Flute or a loud Trumpet. It is in mixing these together to create solo and ensemble combinations in a practically infinite variety that the organist can modify dynamic volume and evoke a wide range of dramatic moods and textures in hymns and solo music. The tonal architecture of the St. Eugene organ can be classified as "American Eclectic", taking characteristic sounds from a variety of national styles and time periods of organbuilding history (French Romantic, German Baroque, etc.) for a wide array of sonic possibilities.
When looking at our organ console, the first thing most people notice are the four keyboards (called “manuals”) stacked on top of each other. Each of these controls a different set of stops unique to itself and sounding from a different part of the church. The bottom manual is called the Choir, and it sounds from just behind the right side of the altar platform. True to its name, it contains mostly soft sounds suitable for accompaniment of a small ensemble, as well as some unique solo voices such as a Clarinet or a Bassoon. The second from the bottom is the Great, whose main function is to support congregational singing with a robust foundation for hymns. It also sounds from the right of the altar. The third manual is the Swell, which sounds from the left of the altar platform and is mostly distinctive for its strong trumpet/brass chorus and warm, rich orchestral colors. The top manual is the Solo/Antiphonal, which contains some of the very loudest and softest sounds in the whole instrument. It is located high in the back of the church above the narthex, and its stops are seldom used in hymn accompaniment except for special effects such as chimes or a particularly powerful trumpet blast. Finally the Pedal division (chromatic foot pedals arranged like a large keyboard with sharps and naturals) provides the bass foundation for chords and the very lowest sounds of the organ.
I invite anyone who has ever wondered how the organ works and how I navigate the spaceship-like array of controls to come up and visit after Mass. I’d be happy to explain what I do in more detail!