New Organist Strikes Chords of Innovation, Inspiration

By Barb Ceruti

"All the gifts and skill I possess are on loan from God,” said Grace’s new organist, Stanleigh Jones, who joined us June 5. 

God has gifted him well indeed, and us too, as Stanleigh brings a rich history of organ playing that began at the “rather advanced age of 10,” he says. His first position as a church organist would come four years later. Yes, you read that right: he was 14.

Despite such a young start at a church organ, Stanleigh never imagined himself a professional musician; in fact, he set his sights on biology pre-med as an undergrad (with a minor in automotive mechanics) at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, MI. 

However, he said, “I received unprecedented exposure to the broad field of music and went on to major in keyboard education.” During this time, he studied organ and harpsichord under some very prestigious professors of music and, not long after, was chosen as one of six national finalists to compete in the First Presbyterian National Organ Competition in Ottumwa, IA. He was the first African American to achieve finalist status in this competition. 

In 1984, Stanleigh earned a Master of Music degree from Northwestern University as well as numerous music education awards thereafter, including notable “Who’s Who” honors from various organizations and an Honorary Doctor of Music.

He served as either organist or minister of music for various churches and denominations, most recently at the Apostolic Church of God for 15 years, one of Chicago’s largest churches.

“What better way to give thanks to God than in His house?” remarked Stanleigh, who is excited to now be at Grace, a church he considers both Christ- and community-centered. 

“This is a wonderful facility that sits on a gorgeous plot of land, with a great music department that is able to provide wonderful service music of the highest caliber.” He also credits our Grace staff. “Everyone I’ve encountered is welcome, inviting and embracing.”

In addition to the myriad musical contributions Stanleigh has made in both religious and educational settings, he has written several works for brass, string and choral ensembles, including Give Ear to My Prayer and Darkest Night.

“I am a classical organist who’s always searching and seeking to express my inner voice through music,” said Stanleigh. “I’m not looking to be a carbon copy of someone else; rather, I seek to be innovative, creative and inspiring as I explore musical paths and harmonies that someone else might not have thought of.”

According to Grace music coordinator Lynn Leitzen, “Stanleigh plays with the worship of God first and foremost in mind. He is skilled at bringing the congregation into the experience, using a variety of dynamics, voicings and modulations, arranging as the Holy Spirit is moving.”

“To bring people together in one voice, one purpose, is an opportunity to which there is no higher calling,” said Stanleigh. 

Welcome, Stanleigh! We’re thrilled you’re here!

To watch a stirring performance of “It Is Well With My Soul” by Stanleigh and a colleague, click here