Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Faux and Real

I took my first 'real' organ lesson last Saturday.  Over the past two years, I have been playing organ at church, I've done it off and on for years. 

One of my friends recommended me to play organ (we are involved in the same music projects) so I agreed to do it, not really knowing anything about playing an Allen organ with the swell and great stops and pedals.  Why not?  How hard can it possibly be?

I've only ever played a Hammond B-3 organ, with a few organ lessons taken back as a tweener.   Long time ago.


                                  Allen Organ - Source

When I agreed to play at church two years ago, I received a quick 10 minute crash course with the wise advice "just use settings 4 and 5, depending on the singer!" and was left to my own devices.  I had no idea about stops or anything.  It was all programmed for me!  I finally got the hang of the organ (and the pedals), the sounds were blending nicely and I thought I was doing well ..... until now.  

So I arrived at the Cathedral for my lesson and was led up to the choir loft, which was a lot, LOT higher than other choir lofts I been in.  The organ pipes are huge, see this photo (scroll down to the Organ Opus 1409 photo, and click to enlarge).   I was led to the stately organ, which was immediately next to the balcony railing with a plain view over the pews down below.

I'm scared of heights.  As in scared sh*tless of heights.  I could feel it in my legs. 

I tried not to look down below the entire time I was at my lesson.  I cleared my throat several times and tried not to look like I was backing away from the railing (don't look down, remember!  Even though you can see e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g down below, don't look down!!)  I pretended like it was magnificent being up in the choir loft.

[It felt egregious.]

Miraculously, at some point during the lesson I forgot about the heights issue during a pleasant chat with the teacher about stop families and sounds.  We tried out different stop combinations on the organThen I played an introduction of a song for the teacher so she could hear me play (I mentioned the teacher previously in this post - she knows her stuff).   After playing five measures of music and not one measure more, she told me to:

1.  Clip my recently grown out lovely fingernails (which were not chipped or split for the first time ever.)  Sorry, gone.
2.  Buy some organ shoes.  Plain flats or playing in sock feet would not do. 
3.  Stop "rolling" the chords (like a pianist would in a composition written for, say, the Romantic period).  Listen for the simultaneous attacks!
4.  Stop extending my hands (again, like a pianist would).  Organists have to be precise - the hands and fingers have to be curved and molded into position to play chords.  Approach it like an organist would!
5.  Play the composition in the exact style as it was meant to have been played centuries ago (even if the tempo is already draggy and the cantor slows it down even more?  Yikes!)
6.  Play only on the Great keyboard.  Not the Swell keyboard, which I have been doing the last two years as the sound seems to fit the cantors' voices and congregation better.  Nope.

I did appreciate the constructive feedback though, and I have a new appreciation for organists now. 

Keep it faux or real people!  I have another lesson coming up on Saturday.  Still a student, and still scared sh*tless of heights!

26 comments:

  1. Hello:
    This is all simply wonderful and we do so admire your spirit in taking up organ lessons particularly as, very clearly, it involves being seated somewhat precariously at a great height. But how splendid to be let loose on a cathedral organ.

    Now, get those flat shoes, pull out all of the stops and have a blast!!

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    1. Oh I knew you two would get a kick out of this post! Thank you. Maybe next time I will be asked to play 10 bars of music instead of 5!

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  2. I admire anyone with musical abilities LR, so good for you! I'm scared of heights as well, so can feel your fear. Shame about your fingernails though!

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    1. I know, I was so proud of myself for finally having my nails be Essie magazine-spread worthy.....it's all over now. Sigh.

      Back to battling heights on Saturday!

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    2. Suffering for your art - I like it!!

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  3. "Organ shoes" really made me laugh! What an accomplishment, I too am terrified of heights, I would probably have scarpered.

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    1. Tabitha & Laura - I will post a photo of the organ shoes once I get them! They even have little heels. :)

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  4. I've never tried playing an organ, now it sounds even more daunting. I play the piano in church sometimes...but I haven't really played in years...It's a lot of right-hand only melodies, lol.
    ps, you must post pictures of your organ shoes!

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  5. I'm in awe at your courage to play both untutored and at height. What did they mean by 'organ shoes' if plain flat shoes aren't right? I'm sad about your nails, mine are always in a state, but clearly you know your priorities! Well done you for sticking at it.

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    1. Hey Shelley - see my above comment about the shoes - oh yes, real organ shoes have heels so you can do heel/toe work, thirds etc on the pedals. The organist played a bass line of a song solely by pedalwork, and I was in awe.

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  6. LOL...organ shoes! Congrats on taking up the organ and overcoming your fear of heights (at least in this instance). I took organ lesson for about 3 months at age 11. I (of course with hind sight and all) should have stuck with it but I could. not. stand. my creepo organ teacher. His name was Stanley. Need I say more?

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  7. Wonderful! Isn't it great?
    I played organ for years though probably not too well!
    My grandmother was a piano teacher who played organ for 2 different churches on Sunday. A Catholic church early, a Protestant church at 11 AM.
    When I lived in Salt Lake City I used to haunt the tabernacle on the day the organist practiced just to hear those marvellous sounds.
    What a great post. I wish you much success and have fun!

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    1. Thank you! I love hearing organists play, esp. on the pipe organ. Such a glorious sound!

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  8. I think it is fabulous that you are learning to master the Opus 1409

    Not only have you had to put on your big girl pants, they also demand the big girl shoes and master heights too. I congratulate you

    Helenxx

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  9. Brave of you to clip your nails, my are so bitten down anyway. My friend has played the organ at his church for years and says he loved it more than playing piano. Good on you for learning the Opus!

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    1. I agree - I still love piano but there's something about playing the organ that is very satisfying! Such a 'meaty' and full sound (for lack of better terms!)

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  10. Good for you -- to conquer your fear of heights and perfect your organ playing skills! I love hearing beautiful organ music during Sunday services. I'd also love to see what organ shoes look like.

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    1. I will post a photo once the shoes arrive! I'm anxious to see them too.

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  11. Stopping by to say we are alive and well in NJ. I want to thank you so much for your concern. It means the world to me.

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  12. Isn't it nice to be a student again and learn new things? At least you will overcome your fear of heights. You will do well playing organ for the Church. That is a great service. I nominated your blog for the Liebster Blog award in my post today. You have a great blog. Pamela

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  13. LR,
    Just getting over to say hi and realized you dropped off my blogroll for some reason! I had to re-do everything about a month or so ago when I changed to my own domain. I lost all my links and had to write them down and I must have messed up because I was sure I had you. Well anyway, glad I noticed and fixed it.

    How are you? The organ sounds intimidating! I am impressed you are doing it. You must already be very good at piano too! Love to hear more about this.

    Thanks for your notes. It's been busy lately. I always appreciate the comments. Take care !

    xo
    Kim

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  14. That's the best bargain ever, I can't stand spending money on things like sunglasses and glasses which I know is ridiculous!

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