Music Comes Alive at Dahlgren


By Melissa Maday

On Sunday evenings, the 9:30 p.m. Mass at Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart fills to capacity, as students, university community members, and neighbors gather for worship and fellowship.

Backpacks and laptop bags line the side aisles as students settle themselves into this welcoming space, described by many as the heart of campus.

With a recent renovation, Dahlgren looks especially glorious these days. It sounds glorious, too—thanks to a new organ, installed in 2014 after more than two years of planning.

Sean Viscount (B’16), student conductor of the Chapel Choir, describes the distinctiveness of singing in Dahlgren.  “Music comes alive in Dahlgren, allowing for a truly remarkable musical and prayerful experience,” he said. “And this organ brings the choir and congregation together.”

“The new organ broadens Georgetown’s experiences of sacred music,” adds Nick Antunes (C’12) a Chapel Choir alumnus. “It enables performers, students and community members to appreciate sacred music in its highest quality form.”

The organ is the gift of and named for the Lewnowski family. Its arrival has expanded the musical opportunities for the Chamber Choir and Concert Choir as well as the Department of Performing Arts’ Friday Music Series. Georgetown has since hired its first organ intern and adjunct instructors to meet new student demand for lessons.

The organ was designed and scaled specifically for Dahlgren, producing a balanced tone throughout the space. Built by the Schoenstein Organ Company in San Francisco, it has 1,094 pipes—the largest is 16 feet long and the smallest is the size and weight of a pencil. The organ was built in the Romanic-Symphonic style, which emphasizes musical expressiveness, fluidity, and versatility.

Dr. Jim Wickman, director of Music, Liturgy and Catholic Life, says that preparing for the design process took two years of visiting churches and organs across the country, and visiting organ builders to look at the quality of their work. Once Schoenstein was selected, Wickman and a consultant worked for a year on the design, considering both aural and visual aspects. After eight months of construction in San Francisco, the Lewnowski Family Organ was packed into a 53-foot semi-tractor trailer for the one week journey to campus.

Organ intern Laura Wagstaff (S’15) says that the organ is perfect for its location. “The role of a liturgical musician is to make beautiful, edifying music, while not distracting the congregation from worship. This organ is truly part of the church, in the same way that the stained glass windows or the marble carvings are.”