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Nov. 18, 2019

(con't from Part I)
The organist's job? ...
To lift ... to restore ... to heal the hearts and minds and spirits of our listeners ...
When all is said and done, whenever we sit on that organ bench of ours, that's what it's all about.

Oct. 31, 2019

(con't from Part VI)
Even if it's a "bare bones" effort of ours that we think doesn't amount to a trifle, it's still an improvisation.
When we let our imagination run free at the keys we cannot make a mistake .. every note of it belongs to us.
It's ours to shape into anything we choose.
It doesn't have to sound written; it doesn't have to sound recital-worthy; it doesn't have to be in more than 2 voices; it doesn't have to obey every rule of voice leading; it doesn't have to be devoid of chromatic wanderings; and it doesn't have to be very long.
We can start anywhere, in any key or mode; we can take the music forward or backward, up or down, right side up or upside down, straight or curved, into or out of any region of musical space we want.
It's still an improvisation.
It still opens up a new dimension to the performer of repertoire -- a dimension of endless discovery, flexibility, uncritical self-correction, creative joy, and beauty.
It still brings a level of confidence and serenity of mind by knowing that any unforseen situation requiring incidental music to fit a time requirement presents only a small challenge.
It's still part of an organist's education ... the whole purpose of which is to make things easier.
All kinds of things can be "unearthed" when we start out very simple and just give it a go.

Oct. 28, 2019

(con't from Part X)
Introducing an "opening" hymn sometimes doesn't take very long.

Oct. 24, 2019

One of the earliest German organs to be given an expression pedal was the 1739 Wiegleb organ of the former court and collegiate Church of St. Gumbertus in Ansbach, Bavaria (photo).
Initially constructed by organ builder Johann Christoph Wiegleb in 1736-1739 this historic instrument of 47 stops and 3 manuals has been faithfully reconstructed and restored to original standards; at the time of its construction it constituted a bridge between North and South German methods of building during an era when enclosed pipes were basically unknown outside of England and Spain.
Germany which led the world in organ building prior to the 19th century was in fact very slow to apply the concept of the swell to the construction of organs and typically confined this novelty at first to only one division of very limited size or possibly to just a single stop.
In this organ a stop labeled "Echo" is supplied to the third manual division (Mittlerewerk); this voice is a compound stop comprised of 5 ranks sounding at 8', 4', 2-2/3', 2', and 1-3/5' pitches whose purpose is to supply color and distinctness to a cantabile solo line carried in the right hand.
Such a stop when it appears in modern organs typically is labeled "Cornet" (pronounced "cor-nay").
The original Wiegleb design called for this colorful voice to be enclosed, thus an expression pedal operating as a slider was inserted in the toeboard of the keydesk for this purpose.
The device is operated by placing the toe of the right shoe inside the pedal's metal arched loop and using the right leg to slide it left or right; movement to the right opens the shutters, and movement to the left closes them (photo shows the shutters completely closed).
Closing the shutters from an open position thus provides a distant or "Echo" effect for this stop, thus giving rise to its name; conversely, opening the shutters brings the sound closer and eliminates dampening of the higher harmonics brought about by enclosing the pipes, thus brightening the timbre.
This unique ability to adjust the strength and assertiveness of this voice by enclosing it behind swell shades gives it powers of flexibility and expression which multiply its utility at least tenfold.
While the insertion of such a mechanical accessory operating on a single stop may seem crude and primitive by today's standards, its insertion in a German organ from this period was considered quite an innovation.


Sep. 30, 2019

Aristotle understood.
Much of his philosophical expertise is still relevant today.
Whether it's a violinist, trumpeter, flautist, clarinetist, or some other instrumentalist, when they FIRST start learning how to play their instrument one of the most important things they're taught is how to keep it in tune and maintain it.
They need to KNOW their instrument inside and out and how to take care of it along with learning how to play it so it functions properly, stays in tune, and doesn't fall into disrepair; the best horn player in the world, for example, if (s)he doesn't take care of that horn, is certain to have poor playing.
The same goes for the organ; if the instrument isn't taken care of, the playing will sound awful -- and, if and when it does sound awful the performer needs to know how to diagnose why it sounds awful, where in the instrument the problem is coming from, what has to be done to reverse it, and, ideally, be able to perform a temporary, if not permanent, fix.
Hands-on training of organists about the inner workings of their instrument, i.e. a structured course of study more broad than simply showing someone how to turn a cyphering pipe into a "dead note" for the time being, is greatly needed in the organ world.
When someone is a musician, they learn to be a player -- they learn to be a performer -- they learn to be a technician of the instrument -- so they CAN be a player, so they CAN be a performer, and be them WELL.
Those who truly understand what being a musician means know that these aspects of musicianship are inextricably woven together and inseparable.
Some beautiful pipe organs have no one to maintain them or bring them back to life -- and no one to play them.
To dismantle these instruments merely for lack of maintenance, reduce them to pieces, and then drop those same pieces as useless trash out a second floor window into an alley dumpster is nothing less than a crime against music -- a crime which, sadly, has been committed more than once in the organ world and has, among other things, resulted in the disappearance of many beautiful and carefully crafted instruments, some of which were of historic importance and of very substantial size.
The preventive for this kind of unwanted and unnecessary destruction has its roots in education.
That being the case, then today's university Boards of Regents, Presidents, Provosts, Deans, along with the Superintendents, Principals, and School Boards of the local public school system, should bear this in mind and let it guide their decision-making without excuse or exclusion.
This is not a new concept; German organists during the time of J.S. Bach, for example, were not just enjoined to play it but were in fact expected to keep the instrument entrusted to them in good working order, tune it themselves, and even make minor repairs if needed to keep it playing the same or better than it was when they were appointed to play it.
Of all musicians the organist stands unique in the musical world -- the master of the most stupendous, the most wonderful musical instrument ever fabricated by the hand of man -- and can claim a special birthright in the land of musical sound which no other orchestral or keyboard musician can, or ever could.
This places organists and any program which educates them fully in ALL aspects of their profession in the forefront of music education, not at its periphery.
Aristotle had it right.