SCOTLAND — Before “The Sound of Music” made stage and movie history, Georgianne Pravecek saw the von Trapps perform in Yankton.
The “Trapp Family Singers” toured the United States after World War II, and their travels included a concert at Sacred Heart Monastery in Yankton.
Pravecek, then a teenage girl, was in the audience.
“It was the early 1950s, and I had entered the monastery,” she said. “Maria von Trapp and some of her children performed in the upstairs (sanctuary) at Bishop Marty Chapel. Their concert was open to the public. Whenever I see ‘The Sound of Music’ (movie), I think of it.”
Pravecek doesn’t remember a great deal about the famous family’s performance. However, she considers it one of many inspiring moments fueling her passion for music.
While at the monastery, she received piano and organ instruction from the Benedictine Sisters.
She didn’t become a nun, but Pravecek sees her music as a form of ministry. She has played organ for more than 70 years, serving churches in Tyndall, Vodnany and Scotland.
“I see it as a special way of praising God,” she said. “It’s my gift to God and the church.”
During her lifetime of music, she also adapted to the many changes in the Roman Catholic Church following the Vatican II reforms of the 1960s.
“The Mass has changed so much, from Latin to English,” she said. “We also have more congregational singing (along with a choir).”
For more than a half-century, she has played organ at St. George Catholic Church in Scotland. She recently “retired” from the position, although she hasn’t fully quit playing the organ for the church.
“I still play the ‘Responsorial Psalm’ and the ‘Alleluia’ at Mass,” she said.
Playing organ each week amounted to more than 3,000 Masses — and that didn’t include weddings, funerals, Holy Days or other special occasions. She provided a continuous presence even as the priests and parishioners changed over the years.
During the Press & Dakotan interview, she played some of her favorite hymns. The music came easily to her, filling the church with a sense of peace and beauty.
And it all started for her as a young girl.
A MUSICAL BEGINNING
In 1948, she started taking piano lessons as a seventh grader from Sister Marcelline at St. Wenceslaus School in Tabor. The nun took some of the girls along with choir members to sing at area funerals.
“We sang the Requiem for many funerals,” Pravecek said. “One of the parishes we sang at was St. George’s in Scotland, with Father Powers.”
In 1950, she entered Sacred Heart Monastery where she attended Mount Marty High School (MMHS). She began determining whether she would become a nun, starting her period of decision making as an aspirant.
In addition, Pravecek began taking organ lessons from Sister Jane Klimisch and developing her love for the organ and church music. During that time, the young girl played organ for her fellow aspirants.
“I started taking lessons on the Baldwin organ in the basement of Bishop Marty Chapel. I didn’t get to play the pipe organ that was played above in the main chapel,” Pravecek said. “I have always loved music. I took weekly organ lessons, and I practiced every day. It just became part of my routine.”
Pravecek described Sisters Jane and Marcelline as excellent teachers that she admired. They made music a joy and not a chore, she added.
“I could really relax at the organ or the piano. It was such a blessing,” she said.
Pravecek completed her high school coursework in three years with the help of summer classes.
“It was great, and I learned so much there,” she said. “I am so grateful to the staff for everything I learned there. It was a rich experience, and I feel so blessed.”
During her time at MMHS, Pravecek focused on both her music and studies while further pursuing the sisterhood. In 1952, she became a postulant and continued her organ lessons and playing. The following year, she became a novice as her next step toward becoming a nun.
As a novice, she embarked on a year of study while also learning more about the Gregorian chant. She joined the Sisters’ schola, or group of singers, and continued her study of piano and organ under Sister Jane and Sister Ferdinand.
Pravecek made her temporary vows as a nun in June 1954. During the next three years, she taught in schools at Pierre and Farmer. While at Farmer, she became the choir director and organist, also teaching piano and organ.
She left the monastery in May 1957 and returned to live with her parents in Tyndall. She taught in rural schools and played organ at St. Leo’s Church in Tyndall.
There, she found a familiar friend — a Baldwin organ, the same as she played at the monastery.
A LIFETIME OF MINISTRY
She married Robert Pravecek in 1960 and continued teaching and playing organ. Beginning in 1962, she played organ for six years at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church at Vodnany.
In 1968, her family moved and she started playing for the Scotland parish. She taught at Kaylor and later at Scotland before retiring in 1998 after 42 years in the classroom. She substitute taught until 2013.
During the last 51 years, she played organ at St. George in Scotland. Besides weekend Masses, she also played for weddings and funerals.
Her role as an organist went beyond playing at Masses. She practiced at the church during the week, driving into town when her family lived on the farm. In addition, she practiced the day before funerals and before and after each Mass.
Pravecek had served as St. George’s lone organist during her music ministry. She loved playing but felt she wasn’t up to maintaining the schedule.
“During the last year, it just became too much for me,” she said, announcing her retirement to the parish.
To Pravecek’s surprise, St. George cantor Martin Sieverding stepped forward at the conclusion of the Dec. 8 Mass and presented her with a plaque of appreciation for her years of loyal service to the parish.
Pravecek has provided more than just music, Sieverding told the Press & Dakotan.
“It’s been great working with Georgianne. As a long-time organist, she has a vast knowledge base and history of the parish,” he said. “When a new priest is assigned or we have a visiting priest, she is probably one of the first people to really interact with him.
“When I would get to church, Georgianne would know if anything was going to differ from our regular order, and I found that very helpful.”
Pravecek continued playing for Advent, her favorite church season, and for Christmas, her favorite Holy Day and holiday.
“You have the songs like ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,’ which is one of my favorite songs,” she said. “With Advent, there are the expectations as you wait in silence for the arrival of the Christ Child.”
While Pravecek has retired, the church wasn’t without a replacement in the wings. Sieverding will now serve as organist as well as cantor. He brings his own musical background, serving as the band director in the Menno schools for 21 years.
However, he’s quick to credit Pravecek for laying the foundation for his work with the parish’s music.
“I would like to thank Georgianne for all of her time and dedication to the job,” he said. “In the time I have been going to St. George, she has hardly missed, unless it was for bad weather or an occasional illness. That means every weekend, 52 times a year, plus special services. That’s quite a record of commitment to the job.”
Pravecek may have been destined for church ministry, particularly at St. George’s Church in Scotland. She was born April 25, and her parents named her after St. George, whose Catholic feast day falls on April 23.
She views her music as God’s gift that she has shared with others. She considers her 70 years at the organ as a blessing.
“I’ll miss it,” she said. “It’s been gratifying.”
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