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WHY IS IT THAT SOME THINGS
ABOUT ORGAN PLAYING, OR MAYBE JUST A SINGLE PASSAGE FROM A SINGLE PIECE, CONTINUE TO GIVE TROUBLE ??
ANS: WE JUST
NEED THE RIGHT TOOLS.
THIS WEB SITE -- a conceptual learning blog dedicated to the new organist and all others concerned
with the pipe organ, its music, and what goes into playing it -- CAN BE ONE OF THOSE TOOLS TO MAKE THINGS EASIER.
THE WHOLE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION IS TO MAKE THINGS EASIER.
Please don't make the mistake of under-estimating the educational benefits of this web site. The teaching to be found here is the product of a lifetime of instruction and experience. It will be eye-opening
even for seasoned organists and can assist every visitor to discover and rediscover the endless joy of playing the King of Instruments.
PLEASE SCROLL FAR DOWN TO
READ A PERSONAL MESSAGE MEANT JUST FOR YOU.
PLEASE TAKE THE TIME TO READ IT -- IT'S FULL OF CRITICALLY IMPORTANT THINGS THOSE WHO DREAM OF MASTERING THE ORGAN NEED TO KNOW.
TO NAVIGATE ARCHIVE POSTINGS:
please use this internal link:
blog/archive page will display the 5 most recent postings in vertical array. Scroll to the very bottom of the screen, then click the word "Overview."
Scroll through the list of topics which appear, find one of interest, then click it. Visiting the archive is like taking a pleasant stroll through a museum having hundreds of displays, each one dealing with some aspect of the organ-playing art.
Whether your interest is with church music, recital material, fraternal organ playing, teaching,
personal study of registration, harmony, or writing music for the organ, or would just appreciate knowing where to send that new organist you know to an archive where some solid guidance and coaching can be found, you can expect to find this web site helpful. A lifetime of experience has been compiled here amid hundreds
of informational postings, multiple examples, papers, and rare photos, some engaging videos, and an inspiring personal message.
The pipe organ offers more orchestration possibilities than any other musical instrument in the classical world. It has a greater
range and can play louder than the united forces of the grand orchestra.
For those who would
operate this stupendous machine special preparation and having the RIGHT KIND of teacher is essential.
The emphasis here is on "right
kind." This means more than a proficient performer who offers lessons and assigns repertoire making only markings of fingerings and phrasings along the way. It means someone who understands the teaching process, can analyze
each student's physicality as an individual and develop the student's awareness of it, tell them how to move their hands and feet and set their bench to accomodate the natural facility they were given, provide constructive advice about balancing ease and tension,
make physical corrections including the mechanics of playing the instrument, identify what habits to establish to counteract one that must be eliminated, and why such a correction is important.
Method books, instructional videos, and web sites can be very helpful tools, but a
good teacher is needed to customize each student's training, praise what's praiseworthy, determine any issues and provide remedies for those issues, and provide guidance and encouragement for attaining their goals, otherwise a great deal of productive
time will escape, certain bad habits and self-made hurdles can continue, and forward progress can reach a plateau and get stalled there, tricking students into thinking they've attained all they can when the exact opposite is true.
Would-be performers come to the organ all wired differently, and there's no "one-size-fits-all" concept for playing, but a fair amount of informational learning about the foundations of playing, the path to mastery,
and the right kind of thinking can be acquired away from the organ's keys, and, for every performer, some of it MUST.
There are no exceptions.
Even for those organists who
already can play well technically, there still may be much they can do to hone that around, to do some different things, and add in new concepts.
This web site has been created as a teaching tool to help impart an understanding of the skill sets involved in organ playing and how to develop them.
In developing the several mental and physical skills required for organ playing there's indeed an understanding, but it needs to be coupled with practice.
Sometimes we need to start that practicing without a complete understanding because, depending upon the skill we're trying to learn, that understanding comes only when we can do it. The series of skills under consideration is rarely something that can be acquired immediately, and reading through this web site in a few evenings and simply understanding it still will not bring proficiency.
Even a little bit of practice at the keys every day will bring us further in less time. If we try to learn it all at once we may wind up understanding
how it's done but not be able to do it very well.
When we first think of the pipe organ we think of its power and uniqueness -- its ability, among other things, to create an almost incomputable number of combinations of tint for tone color. Over 2 million combinations
are possible even in a modest instrument of just 21 stops [See blog, Calculating Stop Combinations, Part II]. This is just one of its amazing characteristics. We're talking here about a musical instrument which prior to the Industrial Revolution
was, together with the clock, the most complicated piece of machinery in the world ... one which can sustain its notes indefinitely, whisper a barely audible phrase one moment and roar the next, and express the entire spectrum of human emotion at the touch
of a key ... an instrument whose range exceeds that of a symphony orchestra and sounds like it's under the control of a symphony of players ... an instrument custom made for its building and whose magical play with the acoustics is unique to itself ...
an instrument that has to be played differently in different buildings ... the one musical instrument that best leads congregational singing and whose sounds never fail to resonate in human ears and stir the emotions at a raw, visceral level. No
other musical instrument in the world works like this or can make these claims.
We also think of keeping it
maintained, which isn't just a matter of donating to a noble project for that space exclusively; it's something more broad than that. It's supporting great organ music which spans hundreds of years ... music will be heard by countless numbers of people
indefinitely into the future ... music produced by more than pipes but also a myriad of mechanical parts which seem to coalesce into something far bigger than themselves. Sitting at its keys, you get the sense that playing a real pneumatic
pipe organ, large or small, isn't merely an esthetic experience; it isn't just something you do because you like it, but it's attached to something sublime, something profound. The instrument to this day remains a mechanical wonder, and
thanks to modern technology and expanded means of communication the person who plays it is transmitting an idea to the whole world which can take many shapes, both inside and outside the institution which owns it.
Bach's music also comes to mind. Being composed of multiple
moving lines the music of J.S. Bach is ideally suited to the organ, and some 300 years later it still forms the kernel of the standard organ repertoire. In his day the organ was a huge deal. It reached a golden age in the 17th and 18th centuries
in northern Europe, and he, like all organists which came before or after him, responded in his music to the glories of the type of organ construction and design which prevailed in his region. During Gothic times (c.1150-1450) instrument was exclusively
loud, coarse, and noisy with no way to control the character of the sound or its loudness. Every rank of pipes was on all the time at full blast. But as the centuries passed it was made softer and less harsh in sound with the introduction of slider
pallet wind chests and controls at the front of the case called "stops" which would either admit or "stop" air from entering one rank of pipes at a time depending upon whether the knob controlling the air to a particular rank was pulled out to admit the air
or pushed in to shut it off. The organ is still known for its power ... and shouldbe able to make a glorious racket.
Try to imagine being a near destitute beet farmer in the region of Thuringia, east-central Germany, in late spring of 1706. All of your life you hear only the birds of the sky and the sounds of wind, storm, and rain, the barking of dogs,
hammers on wood and iron, horses pulling plows and wagons, and shovels digging in the fields. The closest thing you ever get to music is a rowdy chorus of untrained voices, mostly around spring and fall harvest time. At some point in your simple
life you find yourself traveling early one morning with your horse-drawn wagon carrying a load of beets to the market square in the city of Arnstadt. You have an important reason for being there that day -- there are about 3,800 souls living in this
town who depend upon people like you for their food. Just off the market square is a large building called the New Church. You remember it being rebuilt about 30 years ago while you were still a child after a devastating fire destroyed the original
building many generations back. As your wagon passes by the Church door you hear something riveting -- some powerful music is coming from the inside. It's a haunting, terrible melody that fills your chest with something that you cannot describe:
Bach d minor T & F-1
Bach d minor T & F-2
Music for Halloween
sound is so loud that it simply cannot be real. The pipe organ creating all the noise is a device that you've heard stories about, but it's more impressive than you could ever guess.
At the time you have no clue that all the clamor from inside the building is being made by a musical
genius only 20 years of age with the help of 2 young boys each working a tread bellows with their body weight. The sound eventually fades and disappears as you leave the Church behind and encounter the low level din of the market square. You go
about the rest of your day minding your own business, never suspecting that you just overheard a young organist whose independent mastery is aleady evident -- that in a few short years he would go on to become the greatest organist in Germany -- that in centuries
to come his very name would become a colossal syllable -- one which makes composers tremble, brings performers to their knees, beatifies the Bach-lover, and settles once and for all who is the greatest composer, ever. Indeed you mindfully go about your
business, never guessing that you're rich beyond measure, that far into the future an innumerable company of musicians and composers, kings and paupers, princes and priests, musical scholars and connoisseurs of all nations and stripes, would have given ANYTHING up to a tenth of their kingdoms just to have ridden with you to the market square that day and heard with their own ears what YOU were so fortunate and blessed to hear.
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Likewise there must be many employed at various occupations today who might entertain learning how to play this instrument for their worship center, for the organizations they've joined, or just
for their own amusement, maybe even offering up some sort of writing for it, but instead they're listening to their fears -- the fear of not knowing where to begin (or what to do once they do begin), the fear of being embarrassed for falling short of
perfection, the fear of criticism, the fear of being laughed at, the fear of shame, the fear of failure, and on, and on, it goes. They're simply yielding to a natural force within all of us -- that same voice inside our heads telling us, each
and every time we think about beginning some new project that elevates us to a higher level of attainment educationally, ethically, physically, or spiritually, that we're insecure, to play it safe and back off, to be careful, to go slow, and to compromise
That same voice inside us is selfish, scared, lazy, tends to put
jitters in every thought, and is not generous. It's the same voice that causes people to freeze up when they're trying to perform. It reasons with us like a lawyer and tells us we're wasting our time. Then it goes for the throat, to kill
our desire. As we get closer to an insight, closer to the truth of what we really want, closer to realizing what we're envisioning, closer to finishing some creative project, closer to realizing our dream, this natural force is experienced as fear
and grows to sabotage our success (author Steven Pressfield calls it "Resistance" ... author Seth Godin calls its home, where it lives inside us, "The Lizard Brain").
This voice has no power of its own. It derives every ounce of its juice from fear. Deny it the fear that fuels it, and it has no power. This is so important for new organists or any
other musicians to understand that I wouldn't even begin to take my next lesson, write a single note of original music, take the first steps in improvisation, or even perform in public until I had obtained a copy of The War Of Art by author Steven Pressfield [See blog, The Book, Part I] and begin reading it carefully and thoughtfully.
Pressfield's language in this book sometimes gets a little frisky, but there's no finer description of it in print. Author Seth Godin devotes a chapter in his book Linchpin
to the same subject [See blog, The Book, Part II].
Pressfield explains that a physical part of our human
brain, 2 little prehistoric lumps called the amygdala near the brain stem, are responsible for this fear and are a primitive leftover from the early days when our ancestors needed them to help protect the body from the perils and dangers
of the wild world. Today, of course, we don't face these perils and dangers every day as our ancestors used to. But this part of the limbic system in the human brain is still there, and our job is to figure out how to quiet it, to ignore it, but,
even more importantly, to acknowledge its function where we can use it to guide and direct us, like the magnetic needle of a compass, to do the exact opposite of what our fears are telling us to do, which, for us, will be the creative
work that matters [See blog, The Lizard Brain, Parts I-VIII].
Being creative, to want to make something that wasn't there before, is part of the human experience. For anyone to say that they're not cut out to be creative would be ridiculous -- we're all creative.
It can seem otherwise only because some of us lose our battle with Resistance day to day and let it beat us. This conceptual learning blog was created to help show, among other things, that, while we're all subject to this natural force, while every
practitioner of creative activity wrestles with Resistance all day long, and while the peril or danger we sense with it isn't actually real, we can use it to remind ourselves, every day, of what it is we need to be doing and then do the very
opposite of what Resistance is telling us. The hypercritical lizard brain will pick apart anything creative we try to do in order to preserve its own selfish sense of short-term safety. The alternative is to develop a sense of loyalty to our mission
and to slay this inner dragon anew, each and every day.
This blog offers emerging and seasoned organists
something more valuable perhaps than even academic credentials might bring to the table. It's a message of courage, of understanding, of positive thinking, of inspiration, and of experience from the bottom up, about one's impact on the world through
their own creative powers and how someone can win against their fears and whatever other obstacles may be facing them in this study on their journey to achieving that success.
This is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT
for all musicians to understand.
The original scores for organ found on this web site were composed primarily
for use in worship, recitals, or for instruction and to help fill the needs of fraternal organizations. In addition, and more importantly, they're examples -- they represent a blueprint of sorts for those who would entertain writing their own
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Why is this important? ... because organists and other keyboard musicians are continually called upon to pair suitable music with the situation at hand and are expected to either
already have this kind of material ready, know where to get it, or know how to create it. Knowing about any resource, especially whole groups of pieces of this type which encourage and help lead the musician into a path of composing at the
same time making a significant contribution to the arsenal of material that works for the musical situations which confront them, is of significant worth. Some pointers are provided in the blog/archive about how to use an online music writing
application to create, store, view, print, play back, and convert your original scores to PDF form for export to the documents file of your notebook PC.
When these scores are examined they leave the impression that they were composed by someone exposed to composition classes
at the university level or had worked regularly at least part time as a paid professional musician. That isn't where it is. They were written by a retired health care provider who was never employed as a musician, never received a university education
in music or diploma from a music school, never tried composing anything before, and who, at the time, was recuperating from multiple surgeries and not in the best of health. He simply found out how to win against his fears by reading Pressfield and Godin,
studied and studied from books and musical scores, listened and listened to the recordings of master technicians, obtained a music-writing computer application, and had the guts to give it a try.
Once you make up your mind as a new organist that you're going to try your hand
at creating something like this out of nothing and begin to acknowledge the function of your fear to lead you in the very direction that it's telling you to avoid at all costs, you've found the key that unlocks your success. You don't have to be rich or come from an advantaged background. This is a craft which can be learned -- just like J.S. Bach learned it -- no matter how old you may be -- no matter how health issues may have slowed you down -- no matter what others
may think or say or how it may look to them. You just need to be as doggedly determined and persistent as he was, work with it a little bit at a time, take the mental position that you're going to wade into it even though it's
unchartered territory, realize that it won't bite you and that no one's life is at stake, remain resolute about it, and press forward knowing that the fear you're sensing in your mind is a good thing because it shows you that you're on to something.
Bottom line: it's far more a matter of attitude than of innate ability. Fear of composing, like fear of performing, is irrational, but the source is the same. Nothing is so inhibiting to a composer
or performer at the organ than the idea that everything that springs from his or her pen or that emerges from the instrument under their fingers and feet has to be brilliant. That idea is false -- and what fuels that idea is FEAR.
When we look back through the mists of
time, as soon as the Western Christian church began to embrace the pneumatic organ as a resource to be used in divine worship, organ playing took on pastoral dimensions that it has retained to this very day. During the Middle Ages in Britain and on the
continent, 11th century monks were the professional organists of their day. Primarily occupied as non-musicians, the instrument they knew was the Gothic Blockwerk organ -- an extremely loud, noisy affair that required many men, perhaps
dozens, to pump the bellows which supplied its air. Each "key" of this Gothic organ was a large, very crude paddle-shaped lever which protruded from the case and required considerable force to depress, normally with the weight of the entire arm upon
the fist. Each of these so-called keys controlled one note which sounded a Grand mixture of many pipes all at the same time, as no mechanism had yet been invented whereby any of the ranks could be shut off, or "stopped," individually. Everything
these monks performed back in the day, every single note of it, was either improvised, i.e., spontaneously composed, or played from printed characters called neumes
which were inflective marks indicating the general shape, but not the exact pitches or rhythm, of a plain chant melody.
We can be certain therefore, that there were times where these monks, all of them being what we would call "new organists" today, would stare
at their Blockwerk organ cases from which the overgrown keys in front of them protruded, wondering just how how to proceed in expressing their own musical thoughts. Undoubtedly there were times when they were intimidated by 1) the thought of not
knowing exactly what shape their music would take in the presence of a live audience, and 2) the awful, unbearable noise they were creating with the help of a murmuring and sometimes raucous group of impatient bellows pumpers. If these organists could
have transcribed any of their improvisational ideas to paper afterwards they would have done so, but there was no notation system in those days for showing exact pitches or rhythms on a staff of five lines and thus no real literature that could be studied.
None of this stopped them. They simply acknowledged the function their fear had in showing them what they needed to be doing and then forged ahead, no matter what. They made up their minds to sit
down and do their work as improvisors, in little bits at a time, at regular intervals, based upon the known melodies of plain chant. As soon as they did this, something mysterious happened: ideas came, insights began to accrete, and they
were struck with inspiration. By simply sitting down to do their work, a process was triggered which caused their hands and heart to bring to life a stream of inspired sound. As time passed more of these large keys were added
to the case where the organist sat which were connected to the lowest notes of the instrument by means of simple ropes which could be held down by a foot, one key at a time, to add a single bass note or drone.
The vast body of organ music written
over the last 700 years had its beginnings from there as the science of organ building progressed, the chromatic keyboard evolved, the keys were reduced in size, the action lightened so that fingers could hold them down, the slider and pallet wind
chest and "stops" were invented which allowed the various ranks of pipes in the instrument to be controlled separately, the pipes were reapportioned into divisions operated separately by one or more keyboards and a pedal keyboard, and methods of notation gradually
developed which allowed the actual pitches and rhythms of the improvisations created by the organists who followed the pioneers of the Gothic organ to be notated.
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What this means is, if YOU,
today, can sit down to a keyboard and drum out a simple child's song using only one finger, you're summoning essentially the same creative processes for which the earliest medieval church musicians were known. It also means
that you probably have something far more elaborate to say which can be done the quick, efficient, and easy way using modern tools. Understanding and adopting the 10-Step Method for easier and faster fugue-writing described in this blog/archive,
for example, and employing a notebook PC and an online music writing application or software program to say what you want to say musically, could lead to some surprising, if not astonishing, results.
We're far off the mark if we buy into the notion that composition
and improvisation are only for professional composers and graduates of music schools. If you're looking for evidence of this, then all the proof you need are the scores posted on this blog:
Your own work will take shape in less time than you think once you start working with music writing
software. Each of these scores was written inside 10 consecutive days and many of them in half that time. From this you can begin to draw substantial encouragement for yourself, whether you have a college diploma in music or not, even if your physical
health is guarded and isn't the best, to do the same or better as you begin to express what's within you, to begin to release and feed all those things that you never knew were there, and to benefit, grow, and progress in your own writing for
this, the most awesome musical instrument on the face of this earth.
The most inherent quality we humans possess is our creativity ... our ability to produce or bring into existence something entirely new out of nothing, through imaginative skill. The
moment that we decide to do the opposite of what Resistance is telling us and we just sit down and start working is the moment that we're struck with inspiration. Pablo Picasso was so right in observing that inspiration comes, but it has to
find us working. This is when the windows of heaven, where creation has its home, seem to open.
The simple act of sitting down to work with our laptop trying to write some music triggers a mysterious process which seems to sprinkle a dash of creativity from the timeless
sphere above where creativity has its home, in much the same way that creative ideas came to those struggling 11th century monks and every other composer since then who had the courage to simply start working. It's then that ideas come, it's then that
insights accrete, and it's then that people apply the term "inspiration." The creative artist however feels more like the conduit doing the dictation, so to speak, to bring these ideas and insights into existence in this material sphere.
While some might not share a belief in
a higher intelligence, the process just described is undeniable and tends to explain why a goodly number, if not most, practitioners of the creative arts, after a period of production more or less prolonged, begin to feel like they don't know diddly.
They begin to sense the existence of a higher intelligence in a timeless sphere of existence which communicates with this time-bound one -- a higher intelligence which desires this kind of creative communication with us -- a communication which makes it happy.
It's very true that Resistance, the Voice
of the Lizard, is there every day, ever ready to derail the creative artist at every turn from starting anything new or finishing what they've already started.
that you own a private jet plane parked at the airport. You've just bought the aircraft, you love the idea of flying, and are seeking that higher level of attainment to be your own pilot. Meanwhile the voice in your head is telling you that you're
not a pilot and never will be, but you still have that dream ... it's in your heart. One day you find yourself staring at this airplane of yours with a certain awe, wondering what it's like to sit at its controls and fly it. The voice in your head
keeps reminding you that you've spent your entire life up until now outside the field of aviation and that you need to compromise, play it safe, and back off. You've got no particular flight plan or destination in mind, you don't know how much fuel it
has, you don't even know if every instrument on the instrument panel is working, and you certainly don't know what kind of weather you're goint to run into. Your fear is reasoning with you like a lawyer, telling you to play it safe, ease back, and just
stay on the ground.
Instead, you decide to use that fear of yours to guide you in the direction that's important to the growth of your soul. Instead
of yielding to the winds of fear blowing in your face, you decide to head directly into it. You take a 180 degree turn in attitude and climb into the cockpit. You turn the key. You start the engines. You taxi that aircraft of yours
down to the end of the runway. You look up the runway with Resistance screaming in your ears that you don't have what it takes, but then you lean on the throttles. You're picking up speed. All of a sudden unseen forces come to your aid, and
you find yourself airborne. Pretty soon you're looking down at the tops of the clouds from a place where you never thought you could ever go.
You've drained Resistance, the voice of the lizard, of all of its juice by denying it the fear that fuels it. You've beaten
it at its own game and, in the process, realized your dream.
That's what it takes,
and that's what it's like,
to sit down and write your own music.
Sometimes, rarely, you start with a musical idea for a theme already in your head, but more typically that isn't how it works at all. It doesn't happen by standing in
the hangar staring up at our airplane, waiting for our fears and misgivings to disappear before we take action. No, the vast majority of the time we get our musical ideas only after we sit down and start working ... only after we've started our engines, taxied to the end of the runway, and leaned
on the throttles. It doesn't matter if you're writing a novel, drawing a picture, painting a landscape, sculpting a statue, choreographing a dance, arranging flowers, or composing a symphony ... every creative endeavor like this is subject to this same
mysterious process. To think you have to start working before you get an idea for what you're going to turn out, but that's exactly how it works.
Every score posted
on this blog was written this way ... You don't wait for lightning to strike, you just get to work, and then, inspiration comes. Inspiration has to see us working before it alights on our shoulder. We don't create
these ideas; we catch them -- as we're working.
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Don't let any of this intimidate you, my friends. No matter what your level of skill, even if
that musical instrument that captures your fascination isn't the organ, you can gradually learn how to play it and even learn how to compose for it. You can also learn how to improvise, and the results, no matter how elaborate, will be something more
solid and well-crafted than you ever thought. You can train your brain to sight read the printed page. You can train yourself to perform whatever in the repertoire suits your fancy. You can even learn how to lead hymn singing. All of these things are within your grasp because every one of them can be learned.
Don't be afraid of trying. Whatever that dream of yours is, don't be afraid to follow it. Doubt
kills more dreams than failure ever will.
The worst mistake anyone can make with this is being too afraid to make one.