The console of the great IV/51 Kimball concert organ of 144 speaking stops at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, Saint Louis, Missouri -- CLICK PHOTOS 3 FOR COMPLETE PHOTO CRAWL
ORGANISTS: A VERBOSE
WEB SITE THIS IS NOT, IT JUST HAS A LOT TO TALK ABOUT.
Hi and welcome to OrganBench,
and thanks so much for stopping by.
Seriously ... WHY IS ALL THE THRILLING
BEAUTIFUL STUFF SO DADGUM HARD TO LEARN ??
ANS: YOU 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.
The teaching to be found here is the product a lifetime of experience, and we trust it will be eye-opening and assist every visitor
to discover and rediscover the endless joy of the pipe organ.
PLEASE SCROLL FAR DOWN TO READ A PERSONAL MESSAGE MEANT JUST FOR YOU.
FOR COPIES OF NEW CONTEMPORARY SCORES,
use this link:
Catalogue of Works
TO NAVIGATE THE ARCHIVE:
use this link:
The 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. It's like thumbing through a giant book chock-full of information -- FREE OF CHARGE.
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, also known as the King of Instruments, offers more orchestration
possibilities and range -- and can play louder -- than any other instrument in the classical world. It's important therefore for the new organist to be exposed very early to certain basic and critical information.
Friends, in learning to play the organ a good teacher is important to have. Method books, instructional videos, and web sites can be very helpful tools, but a teacher is also needed to correct faults and provide guidance, otherwise a few bad habits can and usually do develop. Bad habits are
easy to develop and hard to live with; good habits are the opposite ... harder to develop but (once formed) easy to live with. There's no substitute for a good teacher, but a fair amount of informational learning can be acquired away from the keys of
the organ, and some of it MUST.
This web site has been created to help supply that need.
In developing the several mental and physical skills required for organ playing there's also an understanding, but it needs to be coupled with the practice of what's trying to be learned. 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, and it cannot be otherwise. 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 should
be able to make a glorious racket.
Try to imagine being a destitute beet farmer in the region of Thuringia,
east-central Germany, in the year of grace 1705. 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 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 you, and others 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 suddenly 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
The 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. It sounds to you like a colossus that truly must be the greatest creation of man.
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 adolescent boys each working a tread bellows with their 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 of
the day 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, and captivates all who love pure music. 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.
PLEASE KEEP SCROLLING DOWN
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 it sounding less than perfect or masterful each time, the fear of
being embarrassed, 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 from within all of us, that voice inside our head telling us,
each and every time we think about beginning some new project that elevates us to a higher level of educational, ethical, physical, or spiritual attainment, that we're insecure, to play it safe and back off, to be careful, to go slow, and to compromise
That same voice 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"). It 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 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 began reading it carefully and thoughtfully ... which is why this book was made the very first posting in the blog/archive of this web site. Author Seth Godin uses a whole chapter to describe
it in his little book Linchpin [See blog, The Book, Part II], which is also helpful to read.
Here's the explanation:
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. To say that we're not creative would be ridiculous and contrary to
the nature of human beings. 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 you, 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 opposite of what the lizard brain 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.
blog is therefore bringing to the new organist something more valuable perhaps than even academic credentials could provide. It's a message of courage, of understanding, of positive thinking, of inspiration, and of experience from the bottom up, about
your impact on the world through your creative powers, and how you can win against your fears and whatever other obstacles may be facing you in this study on your journey to achieving that success.
These are things you need to know and think about. They're important to you, even if you're
not a musician, even if you never had a musical instrument in your home, even if you never had any musical interest in your entire life, what you learn here can help you achieve whatever creative, artistic, educational, or worthwhile objective
you've got in mind with that next project.
This music was composed primarily for traditional worship,
ceremonial, or concert use and to help fill the needs of fraternal organizations but, in addition, and more importantly, they're examples -- they represent a blueprint of sorts for those who would entertain writing their own organ music.
PLEASE KEEP SCROLLING DOWN
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 who spent time in composition classes at a major college/conservatory of music and had worked regularly at least part time as a paid professional
musician. That isn't where it is. They were written by a senior citizen who was never employed as a musician, never took a composition class in his life, never received a 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, 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 blessed with a university education in music. 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.
Consider something: If 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.
PLEASE KEEP SCROLLING DOWN
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:
and your own work will take shape in less time than you think
once you start working with music writing software. Among the free scores posted here, all of them were written within 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 or 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 before, 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 the Voice of the Lizard, or 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. It's as if the creative energy
or force behind this inspiration, like one of the 9 female Muses from Greek mythology, which has its home in heaven where all the powers of creation reside, flies over us every day, almost like Santa Claus ... and if she doesn't happen to find us
on the bench or working on anything at the time, she decides not to grant us any creative ideas that day and passes on.
But if, when the Muse flies over us the next day, and she happens to find us on the organ bench practicing or maybe working with our notebook PC composing
some piece of music, it's as if she decides to sprinkle us with something mysterious, some creative thoughts from the timeless sphere in which she dwells, in the same way she gave creative idease to those struggling 11th century monks and every other
musician who had the courage to simply start working. Ideas then come, insights accrete, and it's this creative force from another sphere from where creation has its home that provides it. The artist simply does the "dictation," so to speak, to
bring it into existence in this material sphere. All true artists, after a while, realize that they don't know diddly; they're simply the conduit through which a higher intelligence in a timeless sphere of existence communicates with this time-bound
one. And we can rightly conclude that such communication from a higher world of dimensions invisible to this one is something this higher intelligence desires and makes it happy.
It's also true that Resistance, the Voice of the Lizard, is there every day, almost like Santa's
evil twin, always present, always working against the Muse, always trying to derail the creative artist from starting or finishing their work. Once again, you're going to want to read Pressfield and Godin, which have the best descriptions of it in print,
then keep them handy so you can refer back to them. It makes perfect sense in explaining this mysterious process of writing or improvising music, as well as any other creative endeavor.
that you invested in a private jet plane parked at the airport. You've never piloted an aircraft before. 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, and
you've made it your business to become acquainted with its controls. You stare at this airplane of yours with a certain awe, wishing you were a pilot, 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 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 the voice of the lizard screaming in your ears that you don't have what it takes, and then you lean on the throttles. You're picking up speed. All of a sudden unseen forces come to your aid, they you lift off the ground, and you're
airborne. Pretty soon you're looking down upon the tops of the clouds from a place where no one, including yourself, ever 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. It's the craziest thing
in the world, to think that 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 described on this blog was written this way ...
You don't wait for an idea to arrive in your head, 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.
PLEASE KEEP SCROLLING DOWN
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 is being too afraid to make one.
The scores in this writer's 1st
collection were written for an instrument without pedals or when pedals are inoperative, but they can make a digital stage piano with good pipe organ samples or just the manuals of a pipe organ sound quite big:
Recessional Op. 2 Slide Show 2
It helps a student of the organ to keep handy some practical contemporary music like this which covers a broad range of need
for traditional worship services, fraternal use, filling out recitals, or situations where only electronic keyboards are used ... if a small chapel type instrument or an old, historic pipe organ with no pedalboard is to be used ... if the pedalboard
is too diminutive to perform the music first contemplated ... for unexpected emergency moments (for example, if a critical pedal key is discovered loose at the last minute and unusable) ... or for teaching, especially if the student is unable
to reach the pedals or is not yet fully comfortable playing them. We never know when we're going to need stuff like this. It's this writer's hope that, for whatever purpose they're needed, all of the scores offered here will "have legs" and leave
this blog so people may benefit from and have use of them.
Think of being tasked with playing for a half hour or more without pause on an unfamiliar instrument (this can happen), you're wanting to have a few things prepared in case you're called upon to play longer than
expected, and you're pressed for time to find and learn the right kind of material. The solution would be to have some pieces like this tucked under your arm before you travel and included with all the other material you plan to practice.
If you know ahead of time that you'll be performing on a very fine single manual pipe organ (there are many
of these around) and don't know exactly where to start looking for some effective, contemporary scores that will come across on this type of instrument, then you'll find something you can use in the 1st collection. New and experimental concepts will
be found embedded in this music, and, in that sense, it may be considered avant-garde, but its composer does not identify with today's award-winning intelligentsia, i.e. those intellectuals who are among an artistic vanguard or elite and are developing their
own musical language as composers. This music is not strange-sounding or taxing for the listener to comprehend, but those who are looking for the easiest music to play will not find it here. Much of it is on the difficult side but not because the
composer made a deliberate attempt to write it that way; it was composed entirely from the mind, away from the instrument, thus it's difficult because it has to be.
When a pianist/keyboardist moves to the organ, and while they're learning to use the pedals with the Nilson or other method book [See blog, Exercises, Part II], some pieces like this, where the
feet at certain climactic places can be given the lowest note in the harmony, can get the feet working a little right away and help bridge the transition. It may come as a surprise to many in the audience that, with judicious use
of the bottom octave in the manuals by the left hand, the pipe organ's pedals don't always have to be employed to have a pervading bass or big sound. No matter how small or diminutive the instrument at hand happens to be, even if it has only one manual
of limited compass and no pedalboard, the first collection of pieces can be performed on it. Among these works are a spirited Processional March, a rousing Recessional, a Voluntary in the style of the old English masters, a big set of 13 Variations on
a cantus firmus (fixed melody), a brisk "jig" Fugue, 3 stand alone preludes on free themes (one prelude being in the improvisational style of Louis Vierne), and 2 early Sketches based upon free themes of Vierne.
Catalogue of Works Photos 2
The scores in the remaining 4 collections
have an obligatory pedal part and include a second bold "jig" Fugue, a spacious Praeludium (multi-sectional north German toccata), Chorale, & Fugue, a Prelude paired with a bold double Fugue, a big French Romantic Toccata & Fugue, A Chorale & Fugue,
an Introduction & Fugue, a Fantasia & Fugue, 5 more Preludes & Fugues, 2 technical etudes entitled Trio and Canon, a Pastorale on 2 themes treated with a variety of canons, a quiet Communion song, and a compelling cradle song entitled "Lied" (pronounced
"leed"). There's also 4 stylish stand alone fugues entitled "Postlude" and a smaller stand alone Fugue for when the organist need not play a long time. In all of these pieces the stretch for the hands is always kept an octave or less, and they're
pitched at every skill level. Each score also contains registrations suggestions and indications for hand division.
This is essentially concert music that can be used for recitals, in the worship service, for fraternal ceremonies and work, or for instruction. As such it's written for
a niche market made up of a small, elite audience of work-a-day organists, teachers, and church musicians within a reltively small classical music listening public. Looking at it through the lens of the organ, anyone focused on composing organ music
these days is writing for a medium whose core repertoire spans hundreds of years and is automatically entering into a dialogue with the past and having enduring works for models. It was therefore natural that this composer give some thought to what it
might take for his writing to become something that speaks to a broad variety of musicians and music lovers over a span of cultures, places, and even epochs -- something that might have a life beyond its original premiere and even possibly labored over, loved,
interrogated, or admired by future generations.
The overwhelming majority of music being created today is made with an entirely different goal in mind, i.e. to create a hit, catching fire
with the broadest possible listening public at the moment, with no concern or regard for any kind of historical endurance. The desire to write a piece that would enter the organ repertoire is particularly apposite, and contemporary works simply do not
figure prominently in the organ repertoire. We see this, notwithstanding noteworthy contributions by such eminent composers of the last 50 years as diverse as Philip Glass, David Lang, Milton Babbitt, and Gyorgi Ligeti, among others, and the tireless
efforts of people like Carson Cooman who proselytize for contemporary organ music.
Nevertheless, any new music should have stylishness, substantive ideas, integrity with a seriousness of purpose, craft in the sense of attention to detail, and an inner propulsion that carries
the listener forward from start to finish including a little of the unexpected. Within it should be found elements of intricacy, subtlety, and sophistication that balance simplicity, contrasting ideas which generate interest, and a form molded with the
intention of creating a satisfying sense of a musical journey. All of these are necessary conditions for a contemporary work to enter the standard organ repertoire.
It is not for any composer to say whether their music is good or not; that is for others to decide.
What can be said, is that this body of work was written with many of these same characteristics in mind which in principle have withstood the test of time for hundreds of years.
This new organ music perhaps can be best described by saying what it isn't. It isn't strange-sounding,
odd, jarring, or incomprehensible. It isn't something that leaves the listener waiting patiently for something -- anything -- that starts making sense to the ear. It isn't something that speaks in a confused, eccentric, or erratic language devoid
of warmth and meaning to an audience. It isn't something outlandish or unsettling enough to win a prize, as composition prizes seem to be awarded these days. For those drawn to any of these things, this music is probably not for you. But
for those who aren't, this is something right up your alley !!
To view the videos/slide shows of selected compositions, please use this link: