May. 6, 2016

The Ten Commandments Of Organ Practice

by Daniel E. Gawthrop, as published in Keyboard World, ca. 1975

1. Thou shalt practice every day, even if only for a short period;

2. Thou shalt NEVER practice faster than thou canst play perfectly, for it is written, Perfect Practice Makes Perfect;

3. Thou shalt NOT put off working on the hard parts; David did not invite Goliath to come back after tea;

4. Thou shalt work out a usable fingering, inscribe it on thy papyrus, and NEVER vary from same, for Fumble Fingers Find Fate Fickle;

5. Thou shalt never apologize for thy playing, nor say "Oops!" when thou makest a mistake, for thou wilt only draw attention to things which otherwise would never be noticed by the thick people;

6. Thou shalt practice each composition in short segments; that thy fingers may not break off more than thy mind can chew;

7. Thou shalt listen ... and not only to organists, for it is written: What this untidy world needs is fewer organists and more musicians who can play the organ;

8. Thou shalt NOT play pedals without shoes (photo) ... for thy Odor-Eaters may be spent, and besides, it leads to sloppy playing;

9. Thou shalt begin and end each practice session with something thou canst play readily, that thou mayest not be discouraged;

10. Thou shalt always remember that thy practice is a labour of love and that by persistence (oft proved by thyself in other undertakings) thou canst bring to pass many wonders.

The important thing to see in this Decalogue is that nobody's perfect.
Every organist, without exception, has "sinned" somehow against this Decalogue and has fallen short.
Sometimes it's their own fault -- sometimes it can't be helped.
There are all sorts of reasons, for example, why organists can't keep Number 1; the bills have to be paid -- people have to be gainfully employed to do that -- and sometimes we have so much administrative work that day with our regular job that we don't make it to the bench -- or maybe we're too exhausted mentally to make it to the bench -- even world class organists are not somehow immune to this.
Number 1 is also harder to keep when we fall into bad habits.
Bad habits are easy to develop but hard to live with.
The bad habit of making a bookshelf out of the bench of our own home practice instrument, for example, or keeping the fallboard down and locked when we're home makes Number 1 all that much harder to keep.
An organ bench is NOT a bookshelf -- and the habit of using it for one discourages practicing by requiring us to clear the bench just to sit down and play; seeing the bench empty and begging to be occupied, and seeing the organ's keys will help keep us on the straight and narrow way by beckoning us to practice.
When we're around home the bench should ALWAYS be clear and unoccupied -- and the fallboard should be up.
Granted, good habits like this are harder to develop, but they're easier to live with.
Number 8 is broken constantly, deliberately, and in some cases very happily with excellent results [See blog, Playing Barefoot].
Playing and practicing in street shoes is acceptable if and only if they're absolutely clean on the soles, of the proper construct, and made of suitable materials [See blog, Shoes Part I, Balance in Organ Playing Part I, Playing Barefoot].
For those organists who play in shoes who represent the majority of players it's generally best to have a special pair of them used for organ playing and nothing else [See blog, A Third Hand]; the habit of keeping those special organ shoes on a shoe rack in the bedroom, or in a shoe box or shoe bag in another room, instead of right next to the organ bench, makes it necessary to specially "fetch them" just to get them on our feet, thus adding an extra step when trying to stay in line with Number 8.
Measured against this Decalogue, every organist is a "lawbreaker," but, while it's couched in humor, it has a serious message: adhering to it as best we can will help keep our practicing productive and more enjoyable over time.
NOTE: The sign above (photo) is an example of a demandment (not a commandment) issued by or with the consent of the instrument's owner. Judging by the black greasy paw mark above the ripped masking tape used to attach the top of the sign to the wood, IT'S ALWAYS BEST TO BEWARE OF WARNING SIGNS LIKE THIS AND COMPLY WITH THEM UNTIL THEY'RE TAKEN DOWN. Ignore them, and one never knows what might happen. Touching something this uncared for could unleash one of the plagues of Egypt. An organ genie could be released and start beating all brazen transgressors over the head with an 8-foot cylindrical metal diapason pipe. Seriously, when a console looks like a whole new civilization could be started from the pap smear taken from it, it's better to not even think about playing it until it's cleaned up.