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February 11
Inaugural recitalist, Casavant organ, Forest Lake Presbyterian Church, Columbia, S.C.

March 9, 2018, 12:15 pm Eastern
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March 11, 2018
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Monday
Feb242014

Don't slobber

An organist is sometimes given too many notes to play. British composers, particularly of the Victorian persuasion, will write full chord progressions in each hand, octaves and all, and then put a slur above it, as if legato were possible. Modern composers, particularly those who have received bad advice when composing their first piece for organ, will do the same thing. And far too many accompaniment transcriptions will say "for piano (or organ)," but there is no way the organ nor organist could play the same notes that the piano score has in it. Case in point this week is the Persichetti tone poem for trumpet and strings, "The Hollow Men." Persichetti prepared the piano reduction and marked it "Piano (or Organ)." Fail. Could never work.

At the end of the outer movements of his first organ Sonata, Hindemith writes full chords in each hand, then marks it all pianissimo. Fail. The appearance of all those notes makes everything suddenly louder. On a large instrument, that's not such a big deal -- just hit (yet another) piston, close the box(es), and play away. But on the instruments we were building in this country when Hindemith was composing the Sonatas... [I shudder to go on].

These days, there is a more subtle form of too many notes going on in organ playing. Many organists will smear attacks and releases, as if they were playing the piano. There is no cleanliness to the end of one note and the beginning of another. Organists who do that are apparently trying to play expressively, slushing attacks and releases rather than manipulating rhythm (which is ultimately the organ's only means of expression). With unclear attacks and releases, each note eventually becomes TWO, and that makes everything suddenly louder. The sound goes in and out, loud and soft, lurch and brake. The piece lunges and lurches in sound intensity. Phrases are lost, and the listener is exhausted afterwards, even if subconsciously. I call that kind of playing 'slobbering.'

But it's an easy fix. Just listen to every note. And with all the notes we are given to play sometimes, that ought to keep us off the streets for a while.

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