You have reached a helpful blog in your study of the organ

Welcome to OrganBench

Come join in the fascination with the beauty and the sheer, thrilling power of the most stupendous, the most wonderful musical instrument ever -- the King of Instruments.

This blog is for you

Hi and welcome to OrganBench, and thanks so much for stopping by.  This is a conceptual learning blog dedicated to organists, organ scholars, and all others who love or have a thirst for information about the pipe organ and its music.  It was created to encourage, assist, and define a path for those interested in learning to play it or improve their playing, to help guide those who are fascinated with the creative impulse of writing for it, and to inspire musicians and non-musicians alike.  There is much, very much of value to be found here, the product of countless long hours, and we trust that it will help every welcome visitor to discover and rediscover the endless joy of the pipe organ.  Cool

HOW TO USE THE ARCHIVE:  Click "Blog/Archive" in the top menu bar.  The 5 most recent postings will appear.  Scroll to the very bottom of the screen, then click "Overview."  Scroll through the long list of topics which appear, find one of interest, then click it.

Whether your interest is with church music, recital material, fraternal organ playing, writing music for the organ, teaching, knowing how to point a student in the right direction in their own personal study of the instrument, or would just appreciate knowing where to go for some sound (no pun intended) coaching and encouragement in this specialized study, you'll find this an attractive home to which you'll want to return many, many times.  A lifetime of experience has been archived here amid hundreds of postings supplemented with free materials, photos, some engaging videos, and an inspiring personal message.

NOTE:  Individual scores written by this composer may be previewed, heard with digital playback, and digital downloads may be obtained online from either of these links:

 

https://www.noteflight.com/marketplace/search#/keyword:monrotus

OR

 https://www.sheetmusicplus.com/publishers/steven-monrotus/10593

 

These scores make a gift that keeps on giving.  Any royalties due the composer are donated to charity.

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This site has to do with conceptual learning to help impart an understanding of the subject.  In developing the several 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.  Learning the series of skills under consideration is rarely something that can be acquired immediately, and reading through this web site in one evening and just understanding it will not suffice.  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.  As you check out this site with its photos, videos, papers, personal message, and instructional postings I'd like to invite you to accept a free token of my thanks and appreciation for visiting [See menu bar, Free Stuff], to begin to care even more about the pipe organ and its art, and to better understand the pathway to success in your own personal study of this, the largest, most complex, and most fascinating musical instrument in Western civilization.

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 permutations 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 single-handedly express the entire spectrum of human emotion ... 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 lifts the hearts and minds of men to thoughts of God and higher things ... one 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, but it's something more broad than that.  It's supporting great organ music which spans hundreds of years ... and this music will be heard by countless numbers of people, indefinitely into the future.  A large specimen will have thousands of pipes, and not just pipes but 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 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.  It's something that can open the gates of heaven before any and all listeners.  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.

We also think about Bach's music.  The organ was a huge deal in Bach's time.  It reached a golden age in the 17th and 18th centuries in northern Europe, and Bach the organist was responding to the glories of prevailing organ construction and design.  It has often been said that "the music of Johann Sebastian Bach sounds as if the salvation of the whole world hangs upon every note."  It's a very sensible way to describe his music.  People sense this.  During Gothic times the 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 Thuringia, central Germany, in 1706.  All of your life you hear only the birds in the sky, the sounds of hammers on wood and iron, and shovels digging in the fields.  The closest thing to music you get is a rowdy chorus once or twice a month at the local commons, more often during a harvest.  At some point in your simple life you have occasion to travel to Arnstadt past a great building in the middle of town called the New Church.  It's a large building, and you hear some powerful music coming from the inside.  It's a haunting, terrible melody [See menu bar, Videos, Bach d minor 1, 2] that fills your chest with something that you cannot describe.  The sound is so loud that it simply cannot be real.  The pipe organ creating the noise is a device that you've heard stories about, but it's more impressive than you could ever guess.  It's a colossus that truly must be the greatest creation of man.  Driving a borrowed wagon loaded with beets to market you happen to pass by, not knowing that all that noise was being made by a young man of 21 with the help of 2 boys pumping bellows.  You don't realize then that you're rich beyond measure -- and that in centuries to come an innumerable company including princes and kings would jump at the chance to be you that day ... to hear what YOU'RE hearing.

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 maybe sounding less than perfect with each an every attempt, the fear of being embarassed, the fear of criticism, the fear of being laughed at, the fear of shame, the fear of failure. 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 our dream.

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 organ scholars (or any musician) 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], a copy of which is also important to get and 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.

This blog is therefore bringing you 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.  These are important things, 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.

A YouTube video (See menu bar, Video) has been posted on this web site of the D Major Op. 2 Recessional, one of 10 collected pieces composed for hands only which are equally at home on any single manual organ, a full size pipe organ, a digital electronic keyboard, or a reed organ (harmonium).  This collection has also been arranged for piano solo and published separately in that format.  Separate cover pages, tables of contents, and suggestions for performance for all 5 collections may be downloaded and printed from this web site [See menu bar, Free Stuff].  Organ scholars will find them interesting, instructive, recital worthy, and of significant practical use.  Because much of this music employs triple or quadruple counterpoint it will require a special approach to practicing, which is fully described on this web site.

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.

Why is this important to you? ... 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 someone who was never employed as a musician, never took a composition class in his life, never received a diploma from a music school, and never tried composing anything before.  He simply found out how to win against his fears by reading Pressfield and Godin, learned the basics of musical notation and theory, and had the guts to give it a try.

Once you make up your mind that you're going to create something of your own like this out of nothing, and you begin to acknowledge the function of your fear in guiding and directing you to what you need to be doing, it's all within your reach.  You don't have to be lucky, gifted, rich, or even particularly clever.  This is a skill which can be taught.  You just need to be doggedly determined, be persistent and generous (with yourself), remain connected with it day to day, work in little bits at a time, realize that your fear is good and can guide you, and have the courage to go down that trail that scares you to death.  Bottom line: it's a matter of attitude.  

Consider this:  If we go far enough back, as soon as the early 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.  They were primarily occupied as non-musicians, and the instrument they knew was the Gothic Blockwerk organ, an extremely crude, loud, noisy, clumsy affair that required many men to pump the bellows.  Each "key" of this Gothic organ was a large, very crude paddle-shaped lever which protruded from the case and required considerable pressure to depress, normally with the weight of the arm on the entire fist.  Everything these monks performed, every single note, 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 would stare at the organ case, its pipes, and the overgrown keys in front of them, wondering how they were going to express their musical thoughts.  Undoubtedly, there were times when they were afraid of performing at all, of being embarassed by the awful, unbearable noise they were creating, not to mention their concerns about making mistakes, of failure.  If they 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.  This was done by using their fists to hold down an array of large paddle shaped levers for keys, at the most 2 at a time (one for each hand). which protruded straight from the organ case and required considerable force.  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.

What this means is, if you can sit down to a keyboard today and drum out a simple child's song using only one finger, you're summoning essentially the same creative processes for which medieval church musicians were known.  It also means that you probably have something far more elaborate to say, which these days you can do the efficient and easy way using the right tools.  Understanding and adopting the ten step method for easier and faster fugue writing described in this blog/archive, for example, and employing a notebook PC and online music writing 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 [See menu bar, Free Stuff], 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.

Imagine 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 posted 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.

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 learn how to play it and even learn how to compose for it.  You can learn how to improvise.  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 these things can be taught.  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 the 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 [See menu bar, Video, Photo Album 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.

Imagine 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 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.  So much contemporary music being is written today which, to be perfectly honest, sounds strange.  Very strange.  This music does not.  It has memorable themes composed entirely from the mind, away from the instrument.  Those who are looking for the easiest music to play will not find it here.  Much of it is difficult, but it's difficult not because the composer wrote it to be that way.  It's difficult because it has to be.  

If you're a pianist/keyboardist moving to the organ, and while you'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 to the organ.  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 [See menu bar, Video].  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 [see menu bar, Free Stuff].

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 smaller, elite audience of work-a-day organists, teachers, and church musicians within an already 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 pice 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, the music under discussion has 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 may 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.  Cool

 

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COMMENTS OR SUGGESTIONS ARE WELCOMED AND MAY BE ENTERED AT THE BOTTOM OF ANY PAGE.

CoolA great deal of information and practical assistance, the product of a lifetime of instruction and experience, and a treasure trove of coaching and realistic encouragement in PDF format printable front and back, are all waiting to be unearthed here.

Whether a learner is advanced, intermediate, a beginner, someone contemplating beginning, or simply an interested listener, there's something here for that person, something they can use, something they need, something they might desperately need.

Once again, thanks so much for visiting, and please feel free to browse the menu bar and return as often as you like, to seek all you like.  Cool

A PERSONAL MESSAGE, FROM ME TO YOU --
IT'S IMPORTANT -- FOR YOU -- IF THE THOUGHT OF ORGAN PLAYING SPARKS A LIGHT IN YOU AT ALL, OR EVER DID -- TO TAKE JUST A FEW MOMENTS TO READ THIS MESSAGE THROUGH TO THE END -- EVERY WORD OF IT ...

My friends, if you can play the organ at all, even at the earliest novice level, or have ever tried ... never ever ... repeat NEVER ... give up playing it ... and if you have, rethink it.
Never give up on anything worthwhile that you can't go a day without thinking about.

Listen to me: Around the time I began my junior year of high school I spent the next full year studying the organ privately outside the school district with a wonderful teacher at a church several miles, but not terribly far away, from my home.
He happened to be my second teacher.
His first name was Henri.
This man was a gifted pianist for whom difficulties at the piano didn't exist, one of the most talented piano pupils of Dr. Leo Sirota at the St. Louis Institute of Music; his large, stocky hands had a bulging bicep between every joint of his fingers from all that piano playing; he also played the organ marvelously, including the pedals always "by feel" without ever looking down.
Besides all of that, he was one of the kindest human beings a person could ever be blessed to meet; just knowing this man was enough to illuminate an existence.
It was a privilege on top of many privileges, to study the organ with him.

As my final year of high school was fast approaching I explained to him that I was needing to curtail my organ lessons with him for a time in order to concentrate on my senior year to have the best chance of being accepted to college.
I added however that it was something I didn't want to do and fully expected to resume my lessons with him after I started college, presuming I was accepted.
He said he understood, and, I remember him standing in the door of the sacristy as I was leaving my lesson, and he asked me then to promise him that I would never give up playing.
I could not do anything but agree.
He then asked me twice more, with an ever widening smile on his face each time -- "... D'you promise? ... "
Each time I answered in the affirmative, the last time loudly raising my voice -- "YES HENRI, I PROMISE !!"
He laughed; we both laughed together.
I then thanked him, as I always did upon leaving, and departed from the church.
I never realized then that this would be the last time I would ever lay eyes on that man.

About a year passed, I was accepted to college, and I tried to reach him again only to have the news given to me that, to my great sorrow, Henri had passed away, having succumbed to cancer suddenly, several months earlier, and he was gone.
He was only in his thirties when he left this earth; it was also learned that his wife had moved away and left no forwarding address; there was no way to pay my respects or even send her or anyone else in the family so much as a sympathy card or a phone call.
As a teacher this man had been kind, beautifully kind, to me, the foundations of my playing were set well in place precisely because of him, and, in return, he was rudely whisked away from his friends, family, and students in the prime of his life; only his memory remained.
Imagine how this news must have landed on this young, still eager to learn, 16-year-old boy.
I felt crushed ... annihilated.
But, driven by that promise, I never gave up; that was 52 years ago; since then this author has endured many hardships and had to overcome obstacles on his road to learning that could have easily destroyed the strongest interest to keep at it.
Today anyone can still bet their last penny on the fact that this same author will NEVER, EVER give up playing this instrument, no matter what.
And neither should you.

An old man who was very wise once said, "If a thing cannot go on forever, it will stop."
No matter how long we're privileged to live this life, we all have a stopping point.
Time and good health are therefore finite resources that should be administered wisely.
If you're not well physically, then see that you get the best medical care you can, follow your doctor's orders, take your medicines at the right time, get enough rest, get the right kind of nutrition, be patient during your recuperation, take it one day at a time, flood your mind with anything fine and good and lasting and beautiful you can get your hands on, and, if you haven't already, get in touch with a Higher Power and connect.
If you're already well, then do everything you can to stay that way and keep up your strength.
Wear a hat and coat when you need to, avoid drafty surroundings, be sensible with what you eat, keep regular hours, give your body the sleep it needs, take vitamins (always with medical supervision), do what your health care professionals tell you to do, and get regular check-ups.

If this sounds like preaching it's only to drive home the point that playing the organ is a privilege not granted to everybody, and good health and keeping up your strength for your music making is important; two-thirds of the rest of the world is too undernourished to even play a musical instrument.
You can have the right shoes on your feet, the right glasses on your nose, the right sheet music on the rack, the right teacher at your side, even the right practice instrument in your home, and if you're too sick or weak or worn out to sit on the bench and practice, there's no play.

Have a plan for your practicing and forward progress, and stick with it no matter how meager it may seem; I would follow closely the suggestions given on this blog about sight reading, handling new music, and apply them to hymn playing and repertoire.
Any time you find that you need remedial work at the keys to get some skill up to speed, whether it's sight reading, transposition, improvisation, repertoire, hymn playing, accompanying, or simply technique, or maybe there's some aspect of harmony or pure theory that seems too hard to understand, composition is a mystery that you just can't figure out, and your time and strength is limited, don't push yourself too much at this stage.
Take frequent breaks and only compare yourself today to what you could do yesterday.
Try another presentation of the same material, read it from a different book, consult web sites (including this one) for help, talk to a real teacher, have your questions answered by someone who can explain it, and give yourself time to let it soak in, to absorb it at your own pace.
Try it out at the keys, get your notebook PC set up to write music on line, set up a printer and download and study from the internet what you'd like to learn, give yourself some time and experience with it, be patient with yourself and don't be too too hard on yourself.
Remember that learning is always a work in progress and relax; you can do this.

Believe in yourself, and don't give up; giving up is the worst thing you can do.
Never ever give up on this idea of learning and practicing for a lifetime.

Keep in mind that just because someone may be known to you who has an incredible pedigree in terms of training and a recognized reputation as a concert organist, composer, improvisor, choir director, and/or recording artist, who can play extremely well, who may have held many major positions as an organist and presided over many important historic organs during their long and impressive career, that does not necessarily make them a great teacher, the right teacher for you, or an accurate judge of everything your Maker has put inside you to be developed.
Teaching the organ involves, among other things, getting inside the student's head and discovering their individuality, bringing out the best to be found there, working with them in terms of their own interests and strengths, showing them how to adapt their playing to prevailing conditions, helping them in a broad minded way to find their own style of interpretation, not making them into an identical clone of their teacher but to help them through the technical details on their way to becoming their own teacher.
It includes identifying what the student is doing wrong, if anything, and then figuring out what in the blue blazes to do about it to be sure, but it's much more broad than that.
To do it well it has to be done very carefully and very respectfully, always ... ALWAYS ... dwelling upon what the student is doing right and how they're making it sound good before commenting on what could stand improvement.

No matter who they are, never let someone else's doubts about your capabilities, their own pathetic knowledge of teaching, and their own bankrupt sense of shame pulverize your dream by separating you light years away from it; the only way people like this can plant doubt in your mind where it can turn on you and destroy your interest overnight is if you let them.
Fight to your last breath against any influence, no matter how trusted, innocuous, or benevolent it may seem to be, that attempts to hold you back, distance you, or redirect you along lines that deviate from the straightest path that leads to realizing that dream of yours.
Guard it with everything you've got; refuse to let any doubt merchant disguised as a teacher sell you his wares if it would mean mortgaging away your dream to pay for it; I wouldn't let that get into my body.
Doubt has killed more dreams than failure ever will.

Never give up, no matter how many times you may have experienced rejection, no matter what kind of academic or musical background you come from, no matter how poorly versed in the liberal arts and sciences you may think you are, no matter how bad or non-existent your past track record in school may happen to be, no matter how late a start with it in life you may be getting, no matter who's making you think you're wasting your time, no matter who's been indifferent toward your work in the past or who may be indifferent to it today, no matter how many times you find something in your work that may have been overlooked by mistake and begs to be improved or fixed.
That doesn't mean that your work isn't any good, that your efforts aren't producing any results, or that your tree of progress is barren, but quite the opposite; it means that you're getting somewhere with it, that you're bearing fruit, that you're growing in the knowledge and skills needed to correct your own self.
It means that you're heading straight for that dream of yours.

Keep trying, keep learning, keep training yourself to be better today than you were yesterday, keep practicing, keep composing, and, when you feel it's time, ship your work (get it before the public); be ferociously determined to stay with it no matter what.
Find out what sets your work apart in the organ world and gives it an identity, a personal stamp.
Find out what makes your voice different and unique among thousands of other voices in the universe of organ playing, then follow that.
In the end, there are no losers; there are only winners, some of whom take longer to develop, some maybe not as long.

If and when some firm expresses an interest in publishing one or more of your compositions, be on guard not to sign any "standard contract" offered to you that's only 3 sentences long guaranteeing the firm ownership of your composition and copyright when in return you're being offered no advance, no say in how your work will be marketed, no guarantee of sales, pitiful royalties, no provision for payment of same in the event of your demise, no provision for what happens to your music if the firm ever closes, and only a promise that your work will make it into their online catalog at some future date.
An agreement like this makes a poor excuse for a contract, as it protects only the firm's interests and amounts to nothing more than a release form that's definitely not in the best interests of either your music, your legal heirs, or yourself; it's merely a form of legal means used to exploit creative artists for profit by preying upon any desperation they may have to see their work published.
Such a publisher, if ever encountered, would not be too hard to identify; this is the type of firm that would tend to keep a composer waiting 10 months for any communication about submissions and then expect its "standard contract" release form, as described above, returned to it within 10 days.
If any firm would be so afraid of taking a chance on publishing the work of an emerging composer that they can't offer anything better than this, take it or leave it, then it's better to leave it and publish your work yourself -- and any firm which withdraws a non-offer like this within the time frame it expects would be doing that composer a favor; at least that composer will still own the work, its copyright, and the freedom to do with it as he or she wishes.

If you manage to suffer some setback with your health that takes you away from the instrument for several weeks or months and you discover some strange gaps in your memory when you're trying to play a piece that you used to know by heart, or maybe something seems to be missing with your technique, bear in mind that you haven't lost anything.
It's still in your brain, it's just a matter of access, and with a little practice it will return to your neuromuscular system.
A setback like this is nothing more than a set-up for a comeback; I'm living proof of that.
Pick yourself up and start walking yourself through it again.
Take small steps at a time, even if you have to limp.
That's better than giving up.
If you give up, then in time ... trust me ... deep down inside you'll only feel restless and quite possibly disgusted and unhappy about it.
Don't wait until you're feeling better to create.
Create and you'll start feeling better.
Start anywhere.

What sparks a light inside you to be drawn to the organ, no matter how little talent you may think you have, connects you with those precious souls from history who were and still are the masters of the most stupendous, the most wonderful musical instrument ever fashioned by the hand of man; this interest of yours that seems to be lacking in others wasn't planted in you by mere chance for your own amusement but to spur you forward to grow in a direction which, ultimately, will have effects to relieve, benefit, edify, strengthen, and heal the people around you in a broken world, to draw them to thoughts of God and higher things [See menu bar, Bio, Nature's God].
It connects you with organ music -- something that can unite people in the face of tragedy -- because it's about power, love, and purpose, three things our broken world desperately needs.
For those who have considered it carefully, there is a God [See menu bar, Bio, The Reality of God], and there are pastoral dimensions to what you're doing at those organ keys.
Organists know that theirs is a unique ministry, one that God uses, through them, to bring people closer to the reality of His presence in their lives.
The inner joy and peace you feel through your faith will be reflected in your music making.

I tell you the truth: our job in this lifetime isn't to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine ourselves to be but to find out what we already are, and become it.
We don't come into this world as some passive generic blob waiting for the world to stamp its imprint on us -- no, we show up here with a specific personal destiny, a job to do, a calling to enact, a Self to become.
If we were born to be able to play something, anything, at an organ or piano, no matter how simple, or we have a desire to do so that won't seem to go away, then it's part of our job while we're here to grow in that direction to the best of our ability and get down to business.
Don't let the idea overwhelm you, and don't be afraid of it.
Always proceed at your own pace, focusing on those things that interest you the most, and don't expect results overnight.
This is a progressive science.

At times a student studying with a teacher may get to feeling like some difficult passage in that piece of repertoire they've been assigned seems to be threatening their boat with capsizing in a rapids as they proceed to practice it at concert tempo.
If you ever get to feeling this way, remember that it isn't a rapids at all ... it's just a pasture, with a bunch of little sheep in it lying down and snoozing.
All you need are the right tools.
Slow it down, learn it in smaller fragments, and only then put it together and speed it up.

If you discover that you've been doing things wrongly for a long time and have to learn several new things that aren't as familiar to get it corrected, be on guard that you don't work so hard at it that you'll put it off.
The last thing you want is for your mind to get caught in this mixmaster of all kinds of things to where you're working too hard at it, getting nowhere, maybe making some of your own hurdles, and not enjoying it.
It's important to enjoy.

Start your practice with a little warm-up; force yourself to sight read an unfamiliar, rather simple passage on 2 staves and improvise something at the start of practice, no matter how short, trite, or what key it's in; it doesn't matter what the result sounds like or how dull it is; get used to inventing little melodies in your head, play them in your right hand with soft stops, and invent a bass line in your left hand to go with them; try this in different keys; after this, try adding a 3rd voice in the alto or tenor to fill out a chordal harmony.
Don't be afraid to try; this is how all organ playing started, long before there was any written notation; in those very early days there was no repertoire to learn, no literature to study; everything was created on the spot.
Do as those early pioneers did; begin at the beginning and don't be afraid to fail.

Failure is a massive part of being able to be successful; there's definitely a silver lining in these moments of disappointment.
You should not only get comfortable with failure but even welcome it and seek it because that's where all of the most important lessons to be learned are; we actually want our repetitive practice to take us to the point of failure because, just like learning to walk by falling down or working out at the gym and pushing our muscles to the point where we get to failure, that's where the adaptation and growth is.
Practice is controlled failure.
Successful people have pushed themselves to live at the edge of their capabilities; they've extracted the lessons from any little failures that have come their way and have used the energy and wisdom to come around to their next phase of success.
By living where you're almost certain to fall short of some goal with practicing, it helps you to recognize the areas where you need to evolve.
Some of the very best advice any of us can receive is to fail early, fail often, and fail forward.

When you're improvising you can't make a mistake.
The music, every note of it, no matter if it's an unintended dissonance that creeps in, is yours to work into the musical fabric any way you want.
You can in fact keep repeating that same dissonance each time, which will make it sound like the mistake was intentional from the beginning.
Only you will know the difference.
Learning to improvise as a beginner is like learning to walk as a toddler; we don't learn it by following rules; we learn it by doing, by falling down and getting up again.
Funny how nothing seems to stop a toddler from trying to walk.
The difference is, they're not afraid; they don't pay heed to the negative, repelling force they feel that's ever ready to tell them not to risk trying anything new, the same influence with no conscience that arises from within, reasons with an adult like a lawyer, and keeps telling them they've never done it before so they won't be any good at it, the same enemy of creativity and engine of destruction that's only interested in its own selfish sense of short-term safety whose aim is not just to keep us from realizing our creative dream, but to kill it.
This second you can master it; this second you can turn the tables on it ... by denying it the fear that fuels it and just sitting down and doing your work.

Read the book ("The War Of Art" by Steven Pressfield); it will change your life [See blog, The Book].

If you're composing or getting yourself set up to learn how, then read everything you can get your hands on about harmony, counterpoint, voice leading, form, canon, and fugue.
If you're worried about the rule book standing poised ready to crush you in an instant if you try anything original, then consider the scores of the bold, rule-breaking c minor Op. 11 double Fugue, the A Major Op. 13 "jig" Fugue, the D Major Op. 18 Fugue, and the d minor Op. 22 Postlude; read about how they were put together [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Parts VI, VIII, XIV, XXVII]; these are prime examples of how to find your own voice in an increasingly crowded world of composers.
Learn the rules of part writing and fugue writing [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XX] not only so your own writing will sound smooth and schooled but that you'll know where and when to break those rules like an artist if the situation suggests it.
Life improves dramatically when someone decides to break the rules and finds beauty where they were told, or where they believed, there was none.
Look for something unexpected to do in every piece.
Don't kill your audience with surprises ... but think about surprising them maybe a little bit to push the boundaries of your art.

There's nothing wrong in principle with going back through an earlier work and making any improvements that you deem necessary; the greatest composers in history have done this, knowing that every creative artist has every right to shape their work as they see fit, for any purpose they see fit, any time they see fit.
If we're not careful with this however, our foot can get caught in the snare of procrastination, and we can get stuck in the editing process [See blog, The Book, Part I, Procrastination, Parts I-II].
Once you've learned the rules and know what to avoid, and you've passed through a few drafts of an earlier work, it's advisable to keep creating rather than to endlessly polish what you've already done in an effort to chase perfection.
Life is too short; perfection is a mirage.

You don't have to start creating something right off the bat in order to wade into organ playing at your own pace and enjoy it.
The majority of people who love and play this instrument are consumers of music, not creators; at least, they don't act like it.
Most people don't even know what to create because they're stuck if they can't envision themselves creating the next Michelangelo masterpiece.
Perfectionism is the art-killer.
Strive for excellence, not perfection.
An unknown author once said, "Excellence can be attained if you: care more than others think is wise; risk more than others think is safe; dream more than others think is practical; expect more than others think is possible."
If you're performing repertoire, then learn to laugh at perfection and just keep playing.
We all make little errors at times.
At times we're excessively tired, we're not feeling our best, we just haven't practiced in a while, or maybe our concentration lapses for a brief moment.
We all have moments like this.
Our Maker, the One Who gave you the desire and ability to play, doesn't care about the outcome of some wretched audition; He has a higher purpose for you in mind.
All you're trying to do is make some beautiful music; no one's life is at stake if you sense that some blemish or imperfection has crept into your playing; accept the fact that you're human, don't flinch, and just keep going.
Don't think ahead, just stay with the present moment; the present moment will save you.

If you begin to feel scared about taking your first few creative steps at improvising or composing, or maybe taking your performing of repertoire to the next level, and you feel the winds of fear blowing from some direction, and you want a positive outcome, then don't run and hide from it.
Instead, know that you're on to something and head directly into it.
Fear is an indicator that love is present.
If there were no love there, there would be no sense of fear.

There are only 12 notes in an octave, but those same 12 notes have limitless combinations and can keep us fascinated for a lifetime.
It's a never ending quest to learn new repertoire ... we can never get through everything we'd like to get through.
Just about the time that we overcome one challenge the second one is right around the corner ... just when we think we've got it all figured out, we DON'T have it all figured out.
Realize that this can be perplexing at times, for all of us, but it stretches our mind and body and soul in ways that we could never imagine.
What we walk into today provides new opportunities to learn new things, think new thoughts, and to feel new feelings.
It's a tremendous gift to be able to do that.

When practicing music you don't know, break it down so you can be successful; if it's a fugue, it demands a special way of practicing [See blog, How To Learn A Fugue]; try focusing on just one new piece at a time, divide it into fragments, and tackle these fragments in order, maybe one new page at a time every 3rd or 4th day; find the best fingering and pedalling and develop fluency with that page before moving on.
Keep practicing that same page until you either feel fatigued or can play it at close to concert tempo without mistakes.
Make your practicing deliberate, systematic, and concentrated like this, with focus and purpose, not the kind of mindless fiddling around that tempts all of us but wastes valuable time.
Love what you're doing, have your heart and soul in it, and be committed to it.

Don't have a spec (specification) on how much remedial work you think you need or how much time every day you think you need to be at the piano or organ.
Just take what can be taken, and go from there.
Burdening your mind down like this with concerns about the clock isn't important.
Having a clear mind for the work is very important.
Set realistic goals for yourself, take pride in what you can do, and be grateful for the time you have with it.
Some have no time at all, and it isn't always because of their own choosing.
There are some major talents working in big places who have some days where they have so much administrative work that they don't make it to the bench ... or maybe they're too exhausted mentally to make it to the bench.

There isn't a human being alive who doesn't at times indulge in cross comparing, but all it does is drain us.
We do not benefit from it; we do not grow from it.
It just makes us think, "If only this or that didn't happen ... if I were this, if I were that ... here's where I'd be."
Avoid this kind of thinking like the plague.
I wouldn't let that get into my body either.
Instead, concentrate on your own things, your own level of skills, and caution yourself against falling into the habit of cross comparing yourself with your teacher or someone else around you whose playing you greatly admire.
It takes us nowhere, and it's a drain on real productivity.
Focus on your own playing, give yourself room to grow at your own pace, and compare yourself only to yourself, to what you could do yesterday.

We play for accuracy, of course, but not primarily; organ playing is many more things than that.
Accuracy will come to you.
It's like a cat.
If you call your cat, it disappears.
I you don't call it, it's right there.
It comes and visits you if you leave it alone.
When you want it, it's harder to attain, and it hides from you.
So, don't reach for it; let accuracy come to you.
Learn about spontaneity and believe in it.
Now matter how long you've been working at playing a piece, no matter how much you've practiced or recorded it, each time you play it there will be a difference.
So, don't try to play it "perfectly" ... just play it.
Keep playing and concentrating and let go of that "perfection thing."

Follow through with all of this, and the Almighty Fortress can be trusted to place His healing hands upon you and guide and bless you in everything you set out to do as you grow in the skill and knowledge of this special calling.
Dare to step outside the campfire glow, dare to make a leap for the rim of the bucket, dare to go down that trail that scares you, simply make up your mind to sit down and work with it, and watch what happens; the minute you do this the powers of creation and inspiration will come and alight on your shoulder like a butterfly.
Picasso was right; Inspiration comes, but it has to find us working.

One more thing: And this is as important as it gets ...
We serve a big God -- so THINK BIG.
The fact that you're reading these lines indicates that He's put something special in you that He expects back with interest.
Believe that you're serving a mighty God Who can do anything, because He CAN.
Go to Him in prayer; first thank Him for the blessings you already enjoy; let your thanks outweigh your petition; then tell Him what you need and why; ask Him to bless you, to enlarge your coast and extend to you His right hand of power and grant you what you ask for His greater glory; then believe the solution is already on its way, signed and sealed, and THANK HIM for granting your request.
This thanking of Him demonstrates to Him your faith in Him.
Blessing means increase; if you're on foot and don't even have a bicycle, and you really need some wheels to get somewhere on that road you're on to serve Him, don't tell Him in prayer that you're willing to walk if it's His will that you keep walking; you're already walking.
TELL HIM YOU NEED A CAR.
When you can't see a way forward, my friends, He can create a door when none is there and open it for you -- and yet not because you've experienced want, heartache, tears, pain, or trouble in and of itself.
Your faith -- your confidence in Him, demonstrated to Him -- is what moves His hand.