Friends and colleagues remember Baylor University organ professor Joyce Jones as a passionate advocate for the organ and its students and as a world-class talent on the keyboard. She was also an energetic, talkative soul who sewed her own sparkling concert dresses, maintained a remarkable rose garden with her late husband Robert, and generously shared resources and help with those around her.
Jones died Feb. 28 after sustaining injuries from a fall several days earlier. She was 89 years old. The funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at Seventh & James Baptist Church, 602 James Ave., following visitation from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at OakCrest Funeral Home, 4520 Bosque Blvd. Interment will be in Oakwood Cemetery.
Jones taught organ at Baylor from 1969 until his retirement in 2012, his career being punctuated with performances across the country and around the world. She has played on some of the most famous organs in the world, including Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Chartres Cathedral also in France, Riverside Church in New York, Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas and Davies Symphony Hall. in San Francisco.
People also read…
She also built the organ program at Baylor, not only recruiting and teaching students, but consulting the university’s major organs at Jones Concert Hall, Truett Seminary and, one of her favorites, the Ruffatti organ at Roxy Grove Hall.
“Its legacy is there in the wood, steel and leather, as well as the students. There are generations of students who have gone through this program,” said Brian Marks, director of keyboard studies at Baylor. “When you think about the identity of an institution, part of the character … is left behind by the people who taught there. Joyce left an indelible part of the character and history of the Baylor School of Music. “
She was born Anita Joyce Gilstrap, daughter of Johnnie and Jessie Gilstrap, on February 13, 1933 in Taylor, Texas. She grew up in George West, graduated from high school at 16, and went on to earn bachelor’s to doctoral music degrees from the University of Texas at Austin. She married Robert C. Jones, a pastor and US Army chaplain, in 1954, and the two were married 65 years before her death in 2019. They adopted three children, Robin, Janet and Jeffrey.
After postings in Germany, Panama, New York and Colorado, the Joneses moved to Waco in the 1960s and Jones joined the Baylor School of Music in 1969. During his four decades as a teacher of organ and organist-in-residence, Jones became known for her virtuosity, her passion for the organ, and her seemingly limitless energy away from the organ console.
“She was such an irresistible ball of energy, in her program, in her concerts and far from it,” said Marks, also a neighbor of the Joneses for two years. “She’s been doing this for over 40 years and never seems to slow down.”
Becky Ward, organist at First Presbyterian Church for 42 years, studied with Jones in the late 1970s and mid-1980s and found in her a teacher who was always willing to help her students, but always honest about their playing when he was not up to it. Every time she started a sentence, “You know…”, the students braced themselves for the mild criticism that was to follow. Ward said she once complained about a particular organ after finishing a less than stellar performance. Jones directed the instrument’s attention to the instrumentalist.
“‘You know, a professional makes any organ sound,’ she told me. And I never forgot it,” Ward said.
Students unprepared for a lesson learned that they could temporarily distract her by asking her about one of the famous organs she had played and its recording, the combination of pipes and stops that create the distinctive sounds of ‘an organ. She would then unwind in a long, jolly explanation that would consume class time, though Jones would inevitably make sure the students made up for the missed lesson, Ward said.
Then there was the class that Jones, suffering from back pain, gave while lying on the floor to find something that needed fixing.
“She had an overview of our pedaling technique and let us know that she didn’t like what she was seeing,” Ward said.
Jones was a life member of the American Guild of Organists and led the organization in leading and hosting its Pipe Organ Encounters aimed at introducing young people to the instrument dubbed “the Queen of Instruments”. She led summer camps at Baylor for young keyboardists to get a taste of the organ, performed brilliantly and Halloween-themed costumes on the Baylor program, filled in for local church organists and played the occasional public concert, including a series with the late Waco pianist and composer Kurt Kaiser.
“She stood up for every person who tried to learn the organ,” said Lydia Bratcher, organist at Seventh & James Baptist Church for 18 years.
Bratcher, a lifelong pianist, took lessons to transition to the organ and said that while the idea of playing the organ in Jones’ home church was daunting, Jones was never less than graceful or affirmed his work as an organist. Jones frequently shared music, arrangements or other resources, Bratcher said.
Jones’ expertise was not limited to the keyboard. Family friends and neighbors knew of her talent for jams and jellies, and she sewed many of the sparkling sequined dresses she wore in concert. One of her passions was roses, and the garden she and her husband tended in their Castle Heights home caught the attention of the community when it bloomed in the spring.
She continued to garden and play the organ days before her death.
Baylor School of Music dean Gary Mortenson said she stands by her defense of the organ, even as global trends in church music diminish the central role organs once played and congregations who grew up with worship music focused on hymns and hymns.
“It took a stubborn defender to try to stem the tide, and it partially succeeded,” Mortenson said. “In her passion and dedication to all things organ, she was never short of ideas for conveying strong opinions on things. … Surely the entire music world mourns Joyce Jones.”
Jones is survived by daughter Robin Edgerton of Waco, daughter and son-in-law Jan and Greg Brown of Mansfield, daughter-in-law Julie Strickland of Fort Smith, Arkansas, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be sent to Baylor University’s Truett Seminary for the Joyce Jones Endowed Scholarship Fund; the Robert C. Jones George W. Truett Theological Seminary Scholarship Fund; Endowed Joyce and Robert Jones Theological Seminary George W. Truett Scholarship Fund; or Providence Hospice Place.