The discovery of an old church bulletin in the attic of her house reminded Arlene Jones that she was approaching her 40th anniversary as organist at Presbyterian Church of Dutch Neck. “I knew my son was little but I didn’t remember when I started,” says Jones, who has lived in West Windsor since 1982. She and the church will celebrate the anniversary with a benefit concert Sunday, June 11, at 2 p.m.
Born in Massachusetts to professional musicians, she was raised with music. Her mother, Rose Gerstenberger, was a pianist, and her father, Walter Gerstenberger, played violin and French horn.
“I’ve played piano all my life,” Jones said. “My mother taught me and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t playing.”
“When I was growing up there were Sunday broadcasts from Harvard University by E. Power Biggs,” she said. “I begged my parents to drive me to Cambridge to meet him. I don’t know how I got the chutzpah but I told him that I would like to study with him.” She studied with him at the Harvard Church in Brookline.
Jones graduated from Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in music. She taught at Walnut Hill School in Natick, Massachusetts, now a performing arts school, for five years.
She soon earned a full scholarship to Tanglewood Music Festival for two summers. As a coach in the opera department, she worked with Boris Goldovsky and Sarah Caldwell. She felt ties to Leonard Bernstein — they were both born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and her mother studied with the same teacher as he did in Boston (at different times).
She has held positions as organist, as well as junior and adult choir director, at the Lutheran Church in Lawrence, Massachusetts; the Lutheran Church in Natick, MA; and the Lutheran Church in East Brunswick.
“When Dutch Neck Church was looking for an organist, a choir member was at my home for dinner,” she said. “She asked me to try out. I’ve been there ever since.”
She has performed in numerous chamber ensembles at Taplin Auditorium, Rutgers University, Carnegie Recital Hall, Jordan Hall in Boston, and in Brussels, Belgium. Jones has been a performing member of the Princeton Music Club for many years. “At the monthly meetings, if someone is working on a project ready for an audience, they perform,” she says.
Jones is also a longtime member of the American Guild of Organists, a national association. “We all try to learn from others,” she said. The annual picnic is the same day as the concert but she hopes her fellow organists will be at the concert.
Jones will perform Mozart’s “Piano Concerto in A Major” on the grand piano in the sanctuary. “The key of A major is for Mozart the key of many colors,” she says. “It has the transparency of a stained glass window.
Six other pieces will be presented on the Robert F. Turner pipe organ, a two-manual and pedal pipe organ, with 12 voices, 14 ranks, 19 stops, and 844 pipes. Installed in 1975, most of the pipework was obtained from Holland and Germany. The action is of the direct electric type with the air flow to each flow controlled by an electromagnet.
The program includes Froberger’s “Toccata in D Minor,” Clerambault’s “Trumpet in Dialogue,” Walond’s “Voluntary in G Major,” Dupre’s “Elevations,” and Vierne’s “Divertissement.”
Jones presents “Mendelssohn’s Sonata for Cello and piano” with her daughter, Katrina Jones Kormanski on cello. She is principal cellist with Trenton Symphony Orchestra, Newtown Chamber Orchestra, and Delaware Philharmonic. Her husband, John Kormanski, will play clarinet in the chamber ensemble. He teaches music in Philadelphia.
Jones’ brother, Richard Gerstenberger, will conduct the chamber ensemble during the concert. Musicians include Eugenia Goldman, Andrew Kirkman, Kuan Juis Su, and Phillip Pugh, on violin; Paul Manulik on viola; Katrina Kormanski on cello; Jack Hill on bass viol; and Inna Gilmore on flute. Also, John Kormanski and George Jones on clarinet; Avery Bree and Lori Marino on bassoons; and Stephen Christen and Ed Black on horns.
Her son, Jurgen, graduated from Princeton High School. One of his first performances was as Amahl in Bucks County Playhouse’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” A graduate of Boston University, his mother’s alma mater, he lives in New York City. Although he is not singing at the concert, he will join in a private sing-a-long later.
Jones will donate offerings at the concert to Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. “I feel for the people who don’t have enough to eat,” she says.
Concert, First Presbyterian Church of Dutch Neck, 154 South Mill Road, 609-799-0712. Sunday, June 11, 2 p.m.