Reluctant Organists

bruce steeleMany people associate churches with the music that emanates from the church organ. Hymns create the mood for prayerful worship and foster a communal spirit as congregation members join together in song.

However, playing the organ every Sunday is no mean feat.

It demands flexibility, poise and technique. An organist may accompany multiple singers or play alongside instrumental soloists.

Playing a pipe or electronic organ is different to playing a piano. Many church organists are pianists who valiantly play hymn music every week without the training needed to improve their skills.

Associate Professor Bruce Steele is organist for the North Balwyn Uniting Church and has been the congregation’s music director for the past 30 years. He said playing hymns on an organ is not only about matching notes on a keyboard.

“There’s more to playing hymns than just getting by with the tune and a bit of harmony,” Prof Steele said.

“Players should be leaders of congregational singing. This requires technique, confidence and experience.”

Prof Steele hopes he can demystify some of the mystery surrounding organ music and equip players with the confidence to play a variety of hymns at church services.

He will be leading a workshop on hymn-playing at North Balwyn Uniting Church on Saturday 26 September at 10.30am. The event is free and open to players of all ages and competence levels.

The workshop will play hymns from Together in Song, one of most widely used hymn collections. Participants will explore traditional hymns alongside more contemporary songs that are better suited to piano, guitar or group performances.

Prof Steele hopes the workshop will inspire the next generation of church organists and keep alive a much cherished and respected tradition.

Contact Bruce Steele at to express your interest in the workshop.

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