Columbus Man Fills “Man Cave” with Sounds of Cathedral Organ

Columbus resident Mike Tomesek plays the virtual pipe organ he built in his basement.(Photo: WOSU/Jennifer Hambrick)
Columbus resident Mike Tomesek plays the virtual pipe organ he built in his basement.(Photo: WOSU/Jennifer Hambrick)

Step down the stairs leading into Mike Tomesek’s basement and you’ll pass beneath a small wooden sign that reads “Man Cave.”

As man caves go, Tomesek’s has pretty much the standard ingredients: a secluded basement location, a comfy chair and plenty of mechanical gewgaws.

Listen to the organ

Mike Tomesek plays Ohio State University’s alma mater Carmen Ohio on his virtual pipe organ.

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But amid all the stereotypical guy stuff is something that – just a guess – most man caves don’t have: an organ console whose three keyboards, two dozen pedals fanned out like a rack of pork ribs, two state-of-the-art touch screens, seven speakers and single RAM-packed computer fill Tomesek’s Man Cave with the sounds of the world-famous Willis Organ in England’s gargantuan Salisbury Cathedral.

“Kinda crazy,” Tomesek said of his subterranean set-up.

For more than three decades Tomesek balanced his avocation as a church organist with his vocation as a safety administrator and training officer with the Ohio Department of Transportation. He’s the organist at First United Methodist Church in Newark, Ohio. And when he retired from his work for ODOT in 2011, he decided to go all out and get a snazzy-sounding organ for his humble home.

“Now the schedule’s just a little wider open, a little bit more comfortable,” Tomesek said. “I’m totally fascinated by uncovering what this thing has to offer.”

Technology Meets Art

High-tech though it may seem, Tomesek’s Man Cave organ marries technologies that have been around awhile: audio sampling, MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), touch-screen technology, a home computer and a fairly regulation three-manual (keyboard) organ console.

“You’re just taking some basic, tried-and-true technology and almost elevating it to an art form,” Tomesek said.

The brain of Tomesek’s in-home organ is Hauptwerk Virtual Pipe Organ, software packages that incorporate audio samples of the sounds of cathedral organs around the world and make them available for use on organs in homes and churches everywhere. The Hauptwerk software package that aims to replicate the sounds of the Willis Organ in Salisbury Cathedral includes tens of thousands of audio samples of the sounds that organ’s pipes make in various registrations, or combinations of stops pulled in order to achieve nuances in sound.

“The Willis Organ probably has upwards of 10,000 to 11,000 pipes. Each and every one of those pipes or ranks (sets) of pipes is sampled chromatically from the bottom to the top of the keyboard, so we have the entire organ sampled,” Tomesek said.

Virtual organ “draw knobs” can be pushed or pulled at a
single touch on the touch screens of Tomesek’s organ.
Photo: WOSU/Jennifer Hambrick

A powerful personal computer, Tomesek calls it “a beast,” runs the software. A MIDI system enables the organ’s keys and pedals to “talk” to the computer. Two touch screens allow Tomesek to change the sound of the organ by “pushing” or “pulling” stops – at the touch of a virtual button. Three pairs of speakers and an additional subwoofer to amplify the deep pedal sounds send out the audio. And suddenly the Man Cave sounds like church.

In addition to all the hard- and software, Tomesek also invested in a nice pair of headphones, to maintain peace in the home.

“All I’ve got to do is shut the power off to those (the speakers), put the headphones on and it doesn’t bother anybody” Tomesek said. “I’m one of the luckier guys when it comes to having an understanding wife.”

Good Cents

Tomesek’s investment in his Man Cave organ is more than just a lark – it helps him do his church job. His organ system allows him to practice on a professional-caliber instrument at home during the week, and make the 70-mile round-trip commute to his church job in Newark only on Sundays. And, when even a relatively modest pipe organ can approach $100,000, Tomesek’s set-up – which could actually be used in a church – is also relatively inexpensive.

“When you put all of that together, what I have here really, in the end, costs just a little less than, say, a stripped down Toyota Corolla.”

Bach to the Future

So, what would the great organist J.S. Bach think of all of this?

“I think he would probably be very intrigued,” Tomesek said. “I can’t imagine what he’d do with this.”

But it’s clear what Tomesek plans to do with all this musical mojo. He aims to expand the capabilities of his Man Cave organ with more Hauptwerk software packages.

“There is a sample package of an Ernest M. Skinner organ at a Chicago Catholic parish, and it’s one of the really fine, fine examples of that period of American classic organ building. It has been sampled and preserved for all time. So I think that’s probably where I’ll venture next.”

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