Sunday, 31 August 2008

Back Again

So, my incredibly busy weekend is over. All in all, I rather enjoyed it.

On Friday, I managed to get 3 1/2 hours of organ practice done. I also managed to hurt my wrist learning Pachelbel's Canon in D. That piece has some interesting note combinations in the right hand. I also had a lovely conversation with my little brother, who very conveniently interrupted my organ practice for half an hour. It was great to catch up with him - haven't spoken to him for ages.

On Saturday, the wedding went very well except for the second half of every verse of the second hymn. Alas, my decision to add the pedals in was not vindicated.* The bride and groom were signing the register in a different room at that point, so I probably didn't ruin their special day, but it was embarrassing nonetheless. On the plus side, none of the 35 minutes of music I played before the service went horribly wrong, including Pachelbel's Canon, which I only started to learn on Tuesday. This indicates that I may be slowly creeping towards being justified in calling myself an organist. In fact, I am probably as good an organist as this sentence, and the one before it, is, or are, well-constructed! So now you know.

This morning was the vicar's last service. Having stayed overnight with Heather, who lives close to church, we arrived about 20 minutes before my usual arrival time. This meant that there was a lot more time than usual for me to play before the service - I normally play for three to five minutes. Today I played for fifteen, recycling much of my repertoire from the morning before.

Normally when I play before the service, I make sure that it is nice and quiet, so as not to disturb anyone's conversation. This morning, I did not. I wanted to play something wonderful and memorable for the vicar, so I played Barber's Adagio for Strings.** Listening to some of the recordings on YouTube, perhaps I played it a little fast (mine lasted about 5 1/2 minutes), but it seemed to lack something when I played it slowly - either I do not have the musical skill to make it work at this speed, or I need a better organ, with a bit more of a dynamic range. I suspect it is the former, but am happy to hide behind the latter. Certainly, this music would benefit from all of the notes on the organ working, and stuff. Anyway, if you listen to this piece (which I recommend that you do - it really can be beautiful), you will probably observe that it gets loud at the end. I did this, too. This is the first piece I have played on this organ with any actual stop changes - just like a real organist! The climax was comparatively spectacular,*** and made me feel happy.

I also played a pretty little piece after the service, and that also did not fall in a crumpled heap - I played most of the right notes in the right order at the right time. I look forward to a time when that is not blogworthy.

Alas, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when the vicar left. He will be missed rather a lot. His choice of hymns wasn't always brilliant, but they were either nice or easy (sometimes both), and I'll take that; much as I love to play beautiful music, I have rather a weakness for the simple stuff. Aside from the vitally important issue of the music, he has also been a great father figure to the children at church, and has made a big difference to the community as a whole.

I don't know what will be happening about a vicar for us now. I'm not sure that anyone does. I daresay we will find out over the next few weeks...

Coming soon (if you're lucky) - an interesting post.****

*Am I using that correctly? Can a decision be vindicated, or would it be the person making the decision who was vindicated?

**This was the recording I found which was the closest to how I played it. I played it slightly faster, and not quite so excessively rubato (this guy is making me giggle a bit). You could also look up this version - it's played by an actual orchestra, an I reckon it sounds better. However, my organist friend, Dave the Organist, plays it beautifully (although it hurts my ears during the loud bits - he has rather a mighty organ ;-) and it is rather wonderful.

***For best effect, compare it with everything else I ever played, rather than with anything good. And, of course, you didn't hear it - you'll just have to imagine it. Imagine it well for me, please. Also, imagine that I got all of the notes right, without a lapse in concentration resulting in me forgetting what I was supposed to be doing. Thank you. That was kind of you.

****Ha! In your dreams...


Elizabeth McClung said...

Hmmm, I only know the bass or cello part of Canon in D and I am trying to transpose it to organ and figure out what goes where (do the feet do the bass part?).

Congrats on the practice and the playing. The great news about 90% of the population is that they know nothing enough of classical music to know you have gone off, particularly on an organ (it is much like a double bass, we, meaning all four of us, once played four entire bars out for a minute and a half before one of us noticed and members of the audience thanked us for our performance - sigh) - the part who DO get all squishing about being critical usually criticise the part you played perfectly, showing they don't know much either. While any musician knows that the best laid practice only lasts until the actual performance and is actually rooting for you (or wincing...or both).

I am not sure what to say on the fact that you used YOUTUBE to determine the tempo of your playing?!?! Not that I haven't decided to ignore the tempo notes and play things in double, triple or quadruple time for amusement. So if it sounded right to you, I am sure it was (YOUTUBE!!!!!)

"Certainly, this music would benefit from all of the notes on the organ working" - this produces so many, many questions I have to start from the first entry and read forward.

Congrats on doing the stop changes, I think that organists like good precussionists are undervalued how hard thier job is - it is more than being asked to rub your tummy and tap your head but to rub your tummy in one temp, tap your head in another and then pet the dog with your foot in a timed manner as well as belly dance. Or something, I think my metaphor hit a brick wall there somewhere.

Well you definately reached the hieght of blogging which is to have a really facinating entry. When I want to know, will the other notes for your organ be arriving? Or is it just like those practice pianos which are missing the top octave?

Thanks for the read.

Abi said...

Yes, the feet do indeed do the bass part. I don't know how authoritative my arrangement is, but everything I remember seems to be in the hands...

I rely heavily on my congregation not knowing what the music is supposed to sound like. I am aiming towards playing the right notes some day soon, but in the meantime a clueless congregation is almost as much of a blessing as a forgiving one. Congregations do not get much better than mine! My friend Dave the Organist says that an amateur practises until they can play it right; a professional practises until they cannot play it wrong. That takes a long time, apparently.

The fact that music is on YouTube does not automatically make it bad. There are real orchestras, with real conductors, who have studied the music and played it how they thought it sounded best. I find that their performances sometimes lack a little energy, but that's their call...

Yes, playing the organ is difficult. It is getting easier as my feet start working without instruction (sometimes). The first time my feet went to the right notes was amazing! The stop changes are incidental compared to the pedals, but when you don't have any free hands to change stops, and there are no suitable breaks, it can be challenging. It's more fun than any other instrument in the world, though - it has its rewards. No other instrument is so loud, nor has such potential for playing such wonderful harmonies.

The missing notes are mostly caused by oxidation of electrical circuits. They get better with use - the organ is recovering from being very ill for a few months (and completely unusable for a few weeks), and is now better than I have ever known it. I am a good organ nurse. There is a coupler which doesn't work for one important note, but that will not come back until I either learn how to do it myself, I summon the builder back, or hell freezes over and they pay for it to be fixed.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Oddly your friend Dave and my Bass teacher in Wales must have had the same teacher themselves hers was just the same except I think it was 'a profession plays until it cannot be otherwise' ('otherwise than perfect') - which I typed out and put on the wall of my office to inspire me, but it turned out drove the feminist studies master student who I shared the office with insane for reasons I can't understand (maybe she didn't realize it was a quote from practicing music?) and would rant about how she wished I would graduate so she could tear it into little bits (Or so I was told by other people after she ranted for over a year with me in ignorance).

Very true, sometimes I think youtube is sort of the universal music site until I REALLY want something like a very good version of some older piece and then they don't have any or it is sung by Ms. C. Church (ack!).

The feet must be amazing, I can't even fathom doing something like that other than the fact that I used to drive and I would use my hands and feet independantly and eventually stopped thinging about it (or more scary, arrived places and didn't remember driving there) - but that was like TWO pedals and you have many, many and thus is almost exponentially more complicated.

On a bass you have duff notes and learn to go around them, making the duplicate on the previous string by going half way up - I don't suppose that is an option?

Our organist used to put in bars of abba during othe offratory (partilarly "the winner takes it all" and "Money, Money, Money") without anyone non musical in the congregation noticing - not that I am advocating such as a general practice...but if you are bored.....

Abi said...

Maybe she had issues with autonomy and personal choice - if you can't be other than perfect, where did your personal choice go? You'd have to practise again until you were bad to have that choice.

I did notice that none of the organ music I listened to was actually worth listening to. It is good to have the option of finding out what a piece actually sounds like (especially when buying sheet music unseen and unknown, 'cause you like the composer), but I suppose little of the really good stuff actually gets on there. Also, the laptop speakers aren't really up to much.

Apparently organists pass their driving test first time, because the pedals are nothing to them. This demonstrates that I was not an organist when I took my driving tests.

The pedals are surprisingly intuitive, basically just a big keyboard. In my opinion, it only really gets hard when the hands are added. I have never really had a problem with right hand and pedals, and left hand and pedals is not too bad, but I always used to have problems with my left hand following my feet (never the other way round). Oh yes, and with the feet come the 16' pipes (one octave below piano pitch) and occasionally 32' pipes (one octave lower; you feel them rather than hear them; they are a very expensive draught). Yummy.

Sometimes I work around duff pedal notes. Some notes can be transposed up or down an octave without anyone noticing. Others can not. Sometimes people just have to make do with a gap.

I really want to start playing any old rubbish and dressing it up as something appropriate to play in a church. Dave the Organist used to do that a lot, as did one of his teachers (can't vouch for the others). Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer used to come out a lot at Christmas, and if you were lucky, you got a 'Happy Birthday'. Didn't someone arrange a Bach piece with that in? I can't find it on YouTube, so maybe they didn't...

I can probably pull off "I'm a little teapot" in classical style.* The vicar who has just left used to be a professional conductor, so I wasn't brave enough to try (had I been confident in my improvisational powers I would have done, but messing up nursery rhymes is embarrassing). The new vicar is musical, but not in a professional capacity. We will have guitars. I shall take weeks off and have organ lessons. Dave the Organist does not yet know this - I need a lot of preparation to be good enough for a lesson with him. He takes getting all of the notes right consistently as the minimum standard required - we would work from that.

*I reckon that the trick is to have an overly elaborate left hand (no feet involved in most of my improvisation at the moment), and to play each line then pause for a bit to let the left hand do something else elaborate.