Feb. 26, 2021

Quirks and foibles in notation can confound the editor, annoy the interpreter, and bedevil the performer (photo).
Fortunately, the availability to contemporary composers of the PC and electronic music writing applications has virtually eliminated the vulnerabilities inherent in the hand written manuscript of earlier days.
It's still important however, with modern printed editions, to watch early notation.
J.S. Bach, in his organ music, sometimes used an extra bar when inserting an extra note into an upward run of single notes for the hands.
The extra bar in the notation doesn't mean that two adjacent notes in the run suddenly go faster; it means that the lowest and highest notes in the run come out on the beat, but with one extra note included.
This kind of notation can be found in the 19th bar of his Toccata and Fugue in d minor BWV 565 where a 5-note run is played in one upward sweep, the first and last note coming out on the beat with one extra note squeezed in, all notes given the same relative duration.
This was the way he sometimes notated this type of figure in other pieces also; the score of his G Major Fantasia BWV 572, for example, is loaded with those.

Nov. 19, 2020

(con't from Part III)
The ability to handle new music quickly and easily is an important part of an organist's training, and many times this new music will be in the form of a song for voice with piano accompaniment.
Printed accompaniments for soloists and choirs are generally for piano, not organ.
Let's say that one day you're in a music store seated at a large electronic organ when someone grabs some sheet music at random from the display, places it on the rack, and says, "Play this."
Let's further presume that this piece of sheet music happens to be an arrangement of a popular song for voice and piano that you've never seen before (which is usually the case 100 per cent of the time).
This may seem like a sight reading test, and that's certainly part of it, but there's something else from the skill department involved -- something very important that's closely related.
An organist needs not only to be able to sight read 4-part hymns from the hymn book and simple organ music on three staves but also to rearrange sheet music for voice and piano accompaniment on the spot while sight reading it so that it comes across on the organ.
Of all the skills demanded of an organist, this is right up at the top because it's so frequently called upon.
Despite the impression it leaves with the uninitiated who may watch videos of world famous organists pounding the organ's keys in a rapid-fire frenzy of inspiration while improvising, anyone who holds down an organ key for the first time with a stop drawn learns that it's not necessary to strike the organ keys with increasing force to increase the volume of the sound.
The organ can sustain a tone indefinitely but cannot attack one; the piano is opposite, able to attack a tone in more than one way but unable to sustain one.
This difference is reflected in sheet music arrangements.
The main difference to be noticed between organ sheet music and piano sheet music has to do with the piano's sustaining (damper) pedal, the device employed to prolong the vibration time of its strings [See blog, What About The Piano].
Piano music features octaves, octave chords, arpeggios spanning many octaves, long jumps from bass to treble, etc., usually with the sustaining pedal depressed; this creates an effect that's impossible to perform note-for-note at an organ.
What this means is, all such passages of piano music having octaves, long jumps, arpeggios, and sustained chords, octave chords, and repeated chords, when performed at the organ, all need to be modified from the printed page so they sound "organistic."
It all boils down to simplifying the piano part while at the same time preserving as much as possible the harmonic and melodic elements baked into the piano part.
This is a study in itself, but some general tips can be offered to help the organist handle new music when confronted with a voice/piano arrangement.
1. Long Jumps -- the bass note is shifted from the left hand pinky finger to the left foot. This frees the bottom chord to be played by the left hand and sustained. The top chord is played with the right hand.
2. Octaves -- only one of the notes is played. When playing the top note a full 16' and 8' tone is used. A suboctave coupler might also be drawn to get the lower note of the octave to sound even though it's not played.
3. Long Arpeggios -- these notes are kept inside one octave so that all the notes lie under the outstretched fingers of a single hand.
4. Sustained Chords -- notes written too low on the bass staff, i.e. notes written below the 16' low C two lines below the staff, are moved up an octave. Extreme upper range chords are played in middle range.
5. Big 4-note Octave Chords in the Right Hand -- these can be played by dropping the bottom note to produce a thinner 3-note chord, by dropping the bottom note and one other note of the chord as a duet, or by playing only the top melody note.
6. Repeated Chords -- reiterated chords can be played by sustaining the top note of the chord and repeating the remaining notes. By moving the left hand bass note to the feet, the harmony in the reiterated right hand chords also can be sustained by holding the same chord in the left hand.
When converting this to an organ solo, close attention needs to be paid to the voice line printed above the piano part so that these melody notes can be included in the rearrangement and made clearly evident to the listener; generally this means playing it by the right hand, either as single notes or as the highest notes of chords.
When performing an organ transcription of any well-known piano work (such as Claire de lune from Suite bergamasque, by Claude Debussy) there is less liberty to exercise these same general principles, but they still apply.

Nov. 15, 2020

A new hymn of praise can be constructed upon just about any hymn-like theme built from existing material.
For example, let's say that a new 4-voice Fugue has been composed having a fairly long, lyrical subject.
That subject and its countersubject (or 1st countersubject) can be inverted and all four moving lines made into a hymn-like tune of four phrases.
NOTE: Not every fugue is adaptable this way; the majority of them in fact are not; the melodic outline of the subject and countersubject must be long enough and make a singable tune when converted to longer notes and inverted in order to develop them into a hymn-like tune of four lines; one also can expect to alter certain notes and their values to refine this raw material into something with which a general congregation composed of mostly untrained voices can sing.
Once this tune is contrived it can be used then to either build a prelude to pair with the Fugue -- such as by working it in the 6-part form Louis Vierne taught his students for improvisation on a single free theme [See blog, Learning By Example] -- OR, with the addition of at least two stanzas of appropriate words, a hymn of praise.
An example of this is Toccata and Fugue in F Major Op. 19 [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XXIII].
The Toccata from this work is built upon two themes, the first of which came from the Fugue's long subject and 1st countersubject which were inverted and built into a tune of four phrases.
When such a tune is contrived all that remains is to invent words for it and a conventional hymn of praise is born (photo).
At first it seems like a daunting task to create a brand new hymn of praise this way that will work, but there's nothing all that difficult about this; all it takes is a plan, understanding the basis for one's faith, a music writing application, a little knowledge of part-writing, and a willingness to set fear aside and take a stab at it [See Slide Shows, Slide Show 15].
In this case, this new hymn works when played quietly and slow or faster with a fuller sound; it's good for communion, offertory, Lent, Easter, or Thanksgiving.
Placing a brand new hymn score arranged for organ like this in the hands of an organist friend is one way to remember that dedicated person with a gesture of appreciation and assist in gently nudging others in the audience one more inch along their path back to God, all at the same time.
(con't in Part II)

Oct. 28, 2020

This photo image bluntly illustrates an important principle:
The organist is the only musician on the face of this earth who plays
too loud and too soft ...
too fast and too slow ...
too detached and too connected ...
too mechanically and too ad lib ...
too insipid and too dramatically ...
too predictably and too unpredictably ...
all at the same time.
The lesson for organists is this: be not tentative.
Don't be hesitant to play loudly when the music calls for it; don't be timid about drawing the stronger stops and opening the swell shutters to dramatize the music at dramatic places.
Being able to play delicately is an important part of organ playing.
People also want to hear what this organ of theirs can do -- they want to hear its full voice.
The organist is the master of the most stupendous, the most wonderful musical instrument ever fabricated by the hand of man, one which can express the entire range of human emotion and sensitivity at the touch of a key.
This implies that, no matter how large or small the instrument at hand may be, we should never be afraid to use the organ's sheer, thrilling power judiciously to bring out all the majestic powers at work on the page; the same applies when improvising.
The organist has yet to be born who can please everyone.
Bottom line: In situations where the organist is free to do so and the musical requirements would be enhanced thereby, there is no reason to be reticent about drawing full combinations and opening the swell box.
As for those listeners in the crowd who are drawn to good orchestral music but have never learned that the organ also can be played orchestrally with color, life, fire, movement, and amazing spirit, who expect nothing from the organist save for the production of some kind of dull, stodgy sound never over a mezzo-piano dynamic they admit they can't bear, one of two things will happen ...
They'll either die or get over it.
And those who get over it, get over it in a big way.

Oct. 18, 2020

(con't from Part IV)
A word of caution about using powered keyboard amps ...
The word "amp" in general usage is short for "amplifier" and can refer either to 1) an electronic amplifier or 2) some type of gear containing both an electronic amplifier and one or more loudspeakers within the same enclosure.
A virtual pipe organ, as we all know, must speak through loudspeakers driven by at least one amp which functions to boost the incoming audio signal it receives; the amp and loudspeaker(s), as stated, can remain separate units or be housed together as found in a conventional powered keyboard amp (photo).
The latter, as its name implies, is specially made for keyboard use and typically controlled by a series of adjustable knobs.
For best results the function and operation of these knobs is critical and needs to be thoroughly understood.
It's important to understand the difference between Gain and Volume.
Gain is the parameter for the amount that the amp circuit is going to increase the amplitude of the input signal; usually when adjusting the Gain some sort of pre-amp and how it's going to handle the incoming signal is being manipulated.
In simple terms, Gain is the control for what comes "in" to a piece of gear.
Volume level, or loudness, on the other hand, affects the output headed from an input channel to whatever bus is assigned to it and can be thought of as the power amp level.
In simple terms, Volume is what comes "out" of a piece of gear.
A simple way to think of these from a mixing perspective is that the Gain is going to be the sensitivity, and this is usually a "set and forget" setting.
One reason to not ride the Gain control is that as the Gain increases the noise floor of a signal, i.e. the audible noise of components in the signal chain, increases with it; usually this noise floor is below the threshold of hearing, but, as the Gain is brought up, this noise floor comes with it.
When relating this to amp settings, the Gain or drive is going to control how hard the incoming signal is hitting the preamp, and this is where the term "overdrive" comes from as the preamp stage is being literally overdriven.
The Line level input Gain knob first should be adjusted for tonal purposes and then the Volume knob should be used to increase the level of the power amp to bring the signal to the loudness desired.
Doing this the other way around can bring unwanted noise into the signal.
In addition, with certain types of gear equipped with multiple Line level input jacks where the first jack is built to receive either Line level input OR Mic input (photo), bypassing that jack may result in a Gain structure that's suboptimal; this is because such a jack would be supplied with a special Mic preamp to help boost the Mic input signal, as the latter is much weaker than any Line level input signal would be.
This leads to certain "Points" of operation:
POINT NUMBER ONE -- When a powered keyboard amp is supplied with multiple Line level input jacks with the first one capable of receiving either Line level input OR Mic input, THAT jack would be best to use with a single Line level input source.
POINT NUMBER TWO -- In such a case, the Channel One Line level input Gain knob (far left in photo) should ALWAYS be kept at a higher level than the amp's Volume knob (far right in photo) and preferably somewhere near the median position; put another way, the Volume knob should NEVER be set at a higher value than any Line level input Gain knob in use -- or noise will result.
POINT NUMBER THREE -- When some experimentation has been done using the ear to adjust Line level input Gain and Volume, the positions of these knobs (along with Treble and Bass knobs, when present) should be marked in some way, such as with a pencil (photo).
That way, in the event these settings (which may have come at the price of considerable time and effort) manage to get disturbed during transport -- OR if the amp is to be connected at times to a different keyboard instrument -- the same settings can be retrieved easily enough at a future time.
Labeling the male audio cable plugs connected to the console's Line level channel output jacks, showing exactly where they plug into the back of the console, is also a very good idea; a battery powered adhesive label maker can be used to create these labels which then can be wrapped around the plugs very easily.