Review - Arthur Dobrucki

A Catholic Organist’s Guide to Playing Hymns

I recently had an opportunity to review an early copy of “A Catholic Organist’s Guide to Playing Hymns” by Noel Jones.

Years ago, when making my own transition from piano to organ, I had minimal resources at my disposal.  The first few years were spent stumbling through various books that were either lacking in applicability or beyond my reach.  Once I did finally find method and repertoire books that worked for me musically, technically, and liturgically, then the transition took on a new trajectory and I was on my way to becoming an organist, versus a pianist who happened to find his way onto an organ bench.

That said, I have a special place for good resources that can be helpful to the student organist – especially in helping to make the transition to the church organ bench.  Noel Jones provides just such a resource.

In playing hymns, it is fundamental to have a grasp of hymnody, and it is on this topic that Noel Jones begins this exposition into the organ playing of hymns.  Proclaiming that ‘As an organist, you need to look beyond the text, and study the music, to understand and easily play hymns’ , this may seem obvious to some church musicians, but we all likely know people who don’t give attention to the texts and musical background of the hymns they play.  We even have a modern confusion in which ‘songs’ are often referred to as ‘hymns’ perhaps because they are found in the music books in the pews – but that’s another editorial.

The book provides useful commentary on the value of silence (within music), creating a sense of breathing while playing, and finding synchronicity with the choir.   Also covered are the concepts of hymn introductions, registration, and getting comfortable with the organ’s pedal board.

The book presents a series of hymns, starting with their introductions as solely a simple melodic line.  As additional concepts are presented in the book, these hymns reappear, with the new concepts grafted on to what we first saw a simple melody.

I do know of pianists, many who are quite accomplished, who too easily bypass method books that are elementary in nature.  However, while the keyboard looks the same, one can be a near concert artist on the piano and yet feel quite the juvenile novice when shifting over to the organ bench.  All those knobs, multiple keyboards, and what are those pedals (both the notes and expression varieties) under my feet?  Even having accomplished a level of mastery on a primary instrument, it is ok, in fact necessary, to become a student again when approaching a new instrument.

I grew so much as an organist by accepting the role of the novice student some 30 years after first beginning to learn the piano.  This book by Noel Jones fits the bill for a solid introduction to hymn playing for the Catholic organist – including the pianist who is asked to transition to the organ, as well as Sunday organists who have bypassed thinking through and studying hymnody.

“A Catholic Organist’s Guide to Playing Hymns” by Noel Jones is available at the following link:

The more we know, the better we play.

Arthur Dobrucki