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Upcoming Performances

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

March 9, 2018, 12:15 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, National City Christian Church, Washington, D.C.

March 11, 2018
Guest recitalist, Waldensian Presbyterian Church, Valdese, N.C.

May 13, 2018, 5:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, First Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, N.C.

Thursday
Jan292015

Franck-ly speaking, Part VIII: Fantaisie in A

This is the eighth installment in a series on my take on playing the twelve large works of César Franck. Today’s topic is the Fantaisie in A. See the first post in the series for background information.

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Measures 1-8 and 13-20: No need to play the left hand, since everything is coupled to the Pedal. You could split the right-hand part among the hands so that the right hand does not have to work so hard to position itself in the lower tenor range.

Measures 1-8 and 13-20: It is compelling to break at the phrase marks, and I do so throughout the piece. (Don’t forget that wall-to-wall legato was an idea that came along just after Franck.) Any breaks have to be executed carefully so that they sound neither like coffee breaks nor panic moments. Compare this with the all-legato approach for, say, the Prière.

Measure 28: I take the lower E with the Pedal (no Pedal stops on), just to preserve all the legato I can.

Measure 34: Ditto for the low A. That means needing a piston for 35.

Measure 40: See those hairpins? I insert them in 36 and 38, as well.

Measure 51: I “thumb” the E in the left hand with the right to preserve legato.

Measure 59: I “thumb” the high A in the left hand with the right to preserve legato.

Measure 84: I “thumb” the A in the left hand with the right to preserve legato. It’s a stretch!

Measure 86 and following: Now we get into the dangers of turning fermatas into events. Franck is exploring form, fantasy, and improvisatory effects. But if we go out for a burger on each and every fermata, then the piece grinds to a halt at every turn, and the emotional impact is lost. I recommend deciding which fermatas are worth some extra time and which are worth barely more than a breath. For example, I don’t hold the fermatas very long in 86, 88, 90, 95, and 98. Even though those measures are pausing for “punctuation,” they are still “telling a story” that needs to go on. Commas, not exclamation marks. In contrast, see 101 below.

I reduce registrations little by little at 87, 96 and 99. I feel this makes a smoother transition down to the voix humaine. And while I observe the fermata in 98, I go into 99 without breaking. I just like that effect, especially if the boxes are capable of closing things down to nothing.

Measure 101: Now THERE is a fermata worth sitting on for some extra time (but not all day). That’s a major seam before introducing the voix humaine theme.

Measure 102: No voix humaine on your instrument? I’m not surprised. Welcome to America. But sorry, the voix celeste is not a suitable substitute. It is often used as a substitute just because it contains the word voix in its name, which is a worse transgression than using it as a substitute in the first place. However: once you get past the “rules” of registering in the French manner, you may start experimenting with registering this section in the absence of any necessary stops. I’ll make a long story short: when faced with no voix humaine, I do use the celeste, but without the string, and add the 4’ flute and the tremulant. That lends an air of mystery to the sound, and it’s probably not a combination that has been heard on a given organ. If the organ is well voiced, I have discovered that this can elicit an audible gasp from an astute audience.

Measures 119 and 121: Notice there are no fermatas like there were in 88 and 90.

Measures 118-132: I do here what I did in 87-101 with fermatas and registration.

Measures 161-162: There are no fermatas there. I go right on without breaking, after some healthy Molto rall.

Measures 165-166: I keep the uppermost note legato. For whatever reason. Same thing in 175-176.

Measure 167: There is no fermata there. Neither is there one in 177. Keep going, and in the “Poco animato” tempo, not the “1º Tempo.”

Measures 170-171: Before this section begins, I have cancelled the Pedal and added only the Récit coupler to it. I play in the Pedal the last two notes of the right hand in 170 and the first note of the right hand from 171. That achieves complete legato. But look at that final D – the Pedal already has that note, but the Pedal will need its stops back on for that note as Franck wrote it. So I also hit a Pedal divisional piston in time for that note, and then hit a General to bring everything back on for 172. This sounds like a lot of trouble, but if you have the pistons and the stomach for all these little details, then we have the technology.

Measures 197-198: I don’t pause or break before 198. Ritard, yes. Stop or break, no. I feel the swell of sound is more effective if we use all that endless wind the organ can use!

Measures 198-213: Franck’s Très largement will have to be gradually (and subtly) sped back up in time for 214, if you want 214 to match the tempo of 47. That is an approach I take; I feel the two themes require different tempos. Or perhaps more accurately, I feel that the theme at 214 is not as effective if it’s slow; those punching triplets suggest a bit of a driving sense to me.

Measures 213-214: I take the final three eighth notes from the left hand with the right. That prepares a smoother move for the left hand to the Positif. Since I’m retaining two voices in the right hand on the Great there, I also “complete” the lower voice by adding an alto A in the right hand on the downbeat of 214, then I release it, and it is then present on the Positif when the left hand arrives there.

Measure 218: I “thumb” the left hand E with the right. Same thing with the left-hand alto A in 226.

Measures 258 and 260: I reduce a bit. I like to use the entire section as a long cool-down.

Measures 275-276: It’s hard to get a quiet-but-French sound here. I just go to whatever stops are quieter than 274 was. I tie everything from 275-276.

I often get asked the question, “What’s your favorite piece?” I usually respond truthfully by saying, “Whatever I’m working on at the time.” Although the Franck E Major Choral is my favorite Franck, the A Major Fantaisie runs a close second. The E Major thrills me most, but the A Major haunts my ear.

Monday
Jan192015

Growing up

Tell me again: when was I supposed to grow up?

For my entire career, I have been doing for pay what I was doing as early as grade school: playing keyboards. At what point was I supposed to transition from being a wunderkind into being a professional? At what point does your typical prodigy transition into being just another performer, if not just another great performer?

When was I supposed to go from being clueless to being respected in the field? It’s really scary to recall that during my work at a certain church, I was thrust into the leadership due to the boss’s illness. We made it just fine, and I didn’t feel any different then, but I am horrified today to think what my immaturity and inexperience might have done.

I did not feel one bit smarter when I turned in my dissertation. I did not feel one bit relieved when I released the final chord of my final doctoral recital. I did not feel one bit more degreed when I got hooded. And I have never been taken by surprise when anyone addresses me Dr. Bell.

I am teaching in the same building where I was an undergraduate student. Sometimes I have to reflect on my past and my present to remind myself that I am no longer a student in that building. (Maybe that's why I grew a beard and wear a coat and tie to work.) I still feel energized in that building, just as I always did. I don’t feel any different now vs. then, but I see external evidence that I’m now making a difference and an impression, which helps when I lapse into kid mode and feel that no one will take me seriously unless I yell and scream.

I don’t need my students to love me in order to make me a good teacher. I just need them to do what I teach them to do, at least until they graduate. I don’t need to win a teaching award to know that I’m doing good work. (Good thing, because I haven’t won a teaching award and probably never will. I just don’t teach enough students directly to generate votes among the student body.) Tenure and promotion are designed to reward good teaching and retain good faculty. But if I may put those under a microscope, isn’t it reasonable to conclude that I became a good teacher at some point before the hiring committee decided I was a good teacher? And that I was a good teacher before the tenure/promotion committee decided I was a good teacher? I did not feel one bit different when my tenure and promotion were approved, nor when they actually went into effect, nor when I saw the raise in my paycheck. My art and my work ethic didn’t change when those things did.

There is deeper therapy to be explored here. At what point was I supposed to stop being a good little boy? My rebellion wasn't much -- it consisted of playing the organ rather than the piano, attending grad school in Texas rather than in North Carolina, joining and leading an Episcopal church rather than a Southern Baptist one, and establishing family and friends among gay people.

Though our statuses rise and change, we are much the same person we were way back when. Now, just as then, there are still accolades and approvals some of us crave, yea even need, to continue doing what we’re doing. I can’t work in the pragmatic vacuum I have discussed here today. I need human interaction and human approval. Therefore, yes, I do need students to love me. I do need audiences to celebrate my work. I do need presenters to keep calling me. I do need committees to consider me worthy. I do need (or at least want) pastors and conductors to acknowledge me as an expert, rather than as hired help.

To many, I am da man. To myself, I am often merely the same man. To those who seek an organist or organ teacher, I am their man. As a boy, I wanted to be a man. As a man, I sometimes miss boyhood. I think I’ll just continue being Joby the organist and good man, if it’s all the same to you. If you’d like to give me an award for any of that, I’ll gladly accept it and proudly display it. But otherwise, I’m still practicing my notes, teaching my students, and continuing to grow up.

Thursday
Jan152015

Franck-ly speaking, Part VII: Prière

This is the seventh installment in a series on my take on playing the twelve large works of César Franck. Today’s topic is the Prière. See the first post in the series for background information.

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“Prière” is one of those titles that seems as if it might have been born of desperation to find a title. Picture Franck agonizing over what to call this piece and then discovering that he could call it what we all need in the first place: a prayer! Not a true story, but the title is perfect, really. The piece sounds like a prayer – more like a litany – with a single theme being presented and re-presented in full and in part for fifteen minutes.

And I wonder if Franck suspected that people would resort to prayer to play every note of this piece and still maintain their dignity! This piece is the hardest thing the man wrote, I believe. It’s piano music without a damper pedal. It’s ten-key data entry for a hand missing two fingers. It’s a leap across the Grand Canyon with a sack of bowling balls. Everyone knows that Franck had huge hands, and this piece proves it. [Check out that photo of him seated at the Ste-Clotilde organ. Notice how long his fingers on that stop knob are.] The Prière is full of tenths, elevenths, cross-rhythms, and everything else that makes us want to take up knitting instead. I can usually provide good advice to someone with small hands how to get through a spot or two in a given piece, but when that “spot” is fifteen minutes long, we’d need to publish a separate edition! Ah, but what beautiful music it is. Let’s see what we can do with it:

The entire piece should be ultra legato, which means going to some trouble here and there to preserve the legato. Only melody notes should be broken when they are repeated in the score. Virtually everything else may be tied; the only exceptions I make are when a beat needs to be heard more clearly in another voice.

At the beginning: BUT OF COURSE, couple the manuals to a dead Pedal to help get through the wide spreads. People who don’t do that are just showing off, or they’re compromising the integrity of a complete legato. Franck was fine with using the feet to achieve manual legato – don’t forget that he composed vertically, not linearly in these sections; and he was also saving paper this way. When I use the Pedal in these manual-only sections, I use it only when needed, rather than playing every one of the lowest notes down there. For example, I’ll use Pedal for the first three measures and then I’m able to cover everything with my hands for a few beats, then I use the Pedal to cover the wide stretches in measures 6 and 7, etc. The Pedal here is a convenience, so I use it only when necessary.

Measure 49, beats 2 and 3: The alto has the same melodic fragment that the soprano just played, and so I repeat the alto E notes to announce that fragment.

Measures 50-51: The melodic fragment mentioned just above seems a little obscured here, to my ear. I clean things up a bit by omitting the tenor E in 50 and the alto B in 51. Heresy, I know, but I like how it makes the melodic fragment in the alto clearer. It’s just two little notes, you know…

Measure 71: I “finger” the alto D-sharp with the right hand until the left can get to the scene from the previous measure.

Measure 72: That same D-sharp mentioned just above can be released from the left hand on beat three. The right hand now has it in the alto.

Measure 79: I delay the left hand’s arrival on the Great until 81. I feel that makes a more effective and smooth crescendo. The entire section that follows is full of opportunity to re-distribute notes among the hands. Don’t ask the poor left hand to do all the work there.

Measures 95-96: Most people just jump the left hand to the Positif, and you can hear the bump when they do. That can be smoothed out: in 95, take the alto D-sharp with the right hand on beat 2. Then in the 3rd beat, take the tenor F-double-sharp with the right hand. Now your left hand has only the final C-sharp to play, during which time it can be positioning fingers on the Positif to set up for 96.

Measures 108-109: The transition to the Positif can be smoothed out by moving a beat earlier in the lower two manual voices, leaving only the final G-sharp on the Great.

Measure 110: Theoretically, both hands are still on the Positif here, but on some organs, the right hand may be well served to play those few remaining melody notes on the Great.

Measures 114-158: This is the “development” section, if one is required. It would probably be well served to sound like an ongoing improvisation rather than a series of events. Even Franck indicates at 120 “with a certain liberty…” as opposed to a disorderly one. Keep things moving; it’s still only one theme.

Measures 146-147: I use the (dead) Pedal to help maintain legato in the manuals.

Measures 149-158: Don’t rush through here. That would be out of character with the piece, and you’ll only have to come to a screeching halt again for the recap at 159.

Measures 159-174: Plenty of opportunities to redistribute notes among the hands. Don’t be lazy.

Measures 175-187: This is that section that sends people screaming into the night in their underwear. There are some obscenely wide reaches plus some nasty cross-rhythms. General suggestions: 1) If you have large hands, congratulations. Use them well. 2) Keep the melody legato at all costs. 3) Jump the left hand lightly when necessary. Do not lunge for notes – astute listeners can hear the panic in the sound when you do that. 4) People with small hands deserve every permission to leave out some notes, re-configure some octave placements, etc. Do what you have to do; feel free to ask for help.

Measure 182: In the interest of melody legato, I move the final alto note E-sharp up an octave. Who’s going to notice?

Measures 190-196: Left hand still on Great.

Measures 197-198: I play the left hand on the Positif for some extra decrescendo. The left hand goes back to the Great for 199.

Measure 198: If the left hand takes the final C-sharp in the alto, that will allow complete legato for the right hand’s return to the Great.

Measure 205: Second beat, lower alto: I add a G-sharp (second line) on the final triplet of that beat. I feel we just need another pitch there to keep the texture from thinning so much in that little spot.

Measures 212-222: This is one of the most beautiful passages I know of for the organ. I go into some interesting contortions to keep the right hand legato. It is possible, but it will require your absolutely best Gleason “Finger Crossing” technique. If you’re interested in the details, I’ll send you a copy of those measures with my fingerings.

Our Prayer is concluded. Amen.

Monday
Jan052015

Help Yourself XII: Three saints

Here are a few more free PDFs of re-harmonizations of mine. Feel free to click, print, and use in your services at will. Honest!

ST. ANNE descant only

ST. DENIO

ST. THOMAS

Thursday
Dec252014

Christmas Eve 2014

Christmas magic never gets old. But I believe that my particular brand of magic might be a little warped from everyone else’s. From 1988 until 2004, I was employed in churches and had Christmas Eve duties. That means that with few exceptions, 2014 was the tenth consecutive year that I did not play anywhere for Christmas Eve. I have enjoyed church-hopping each year, wherever I am.

But I tried something new this year. Last month, I decided that I needed a change of pace for Christmas Eve. I decided that if I can help out a church in need that night, I might as well put my talents to good use. So I emailed a few key friends and posted on Facebook my availability; I included the stipulations that the church must be in need of an organist, not just looking for someone to cover for an organist who didn’t want to play that night. I also stipulated a general geographical area so that I could make it to my sister’s at a decent hour that night. As it turned out, no one needed me. I suppose that’s good news that all organists in the region I was advertising must have been in good health and willing to work that night! I’ll try harder next year.

All that to say that my warped sense of Christmas magic is that I miss the sheer size of Christmas Eve as experienced from the organ bench. I miss practicing for it and preparing a 30-minute organ recital before the services. And I certainly miss the singing of choir and congregation on that night. I also miss that magical feeling that the Willcocks arrangements give off – even when I was playing in warm, humid Houston all those years, it was very easy to imagine that we were in a quaint stone church with snow falling outside and that everyone was going to walk home in the snow with their candles and spend a joyous and solemn Christmas with family near the fire. That’s the Christmas magic I love, the part that I create on my own with just a little musical cueing.

Anyway, since no church needed my services, I church-hopped again this year. I suppose it would take a minimum of two churches attended to constitute church hopping, and that’s all I had time for this year. The magic described above is still present, even though I don’t experience it from the organ bench any more. But we all know that a blog post of mine wouldn’t be complete without some subjective statistics thrown in! Here are some observations by Joby the professional musician. You know I can’t resist:

So this year, I heard half of one service that was perfectly dreadful, and then I scooted across town to a full service that was quite nice. One service had a good organist seated at the worst appliance of an organ I have ever heard. I couldn’t see anything, but I’m figuring that that organ came from the old building when the church relocated in 1973. Perfectly hideous. Another service had a pianist seated at an above-average pipe organ. He played with very good rhythm, but I could tell he misses his beloved damper pedal. One sermon was about death, pain, and how to attain salvation. The other was much, much better. One center aisle runner was crooked; interesting sight on the way back from communion. Speaking of communion, I was struck by the taste of grape juice coming out of a golden chalice; I was expecting some fermentation. Finally, both services had sound systems run by deaf music haters. That will be worth its own blog post one of these days.

I believe it’s no accident that Christmas Eve and Good Friday tended to be my favorite services of the year. They have something in common: at some point, both are done in darkness. I enjoyed hearing a pipe organ played in the dark. I enjoyed working in the dark while so many other people were at Christmas parties or already in bed.

Whatever your magic, embrace it! It’s kind of fun. And a Merry Christmas and a blessed 2015 to you.

Tuesday
Dec162014

Franck-ly speaking, Part VI: Choral in E

This is the sixth installment in a series on my take on playing the twelve large works of César Franck. Today’s topic is the first Choral in E. See the first post in the series for background information.

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This is my favorite Franck. I love Franck’s harmonies in these sharp keys, and I feel this piece is perfectly ravishing at every moment. With the three Chorals, we clearly have a much-matured style by a much-matured composer. The titles are troublesome if your audience does not recognize French. I have even heard a Franck Choral announced as a ‘coral’ on the radio. The use of the English “Chorale” in print is perfectly acceptable; I usually send it in one way or the other, depending on the venue.

At the beginning: Of course, couple the manuals to a dead Pedal to make life easier. Franck was saving paper and time by writing on two staves. It might even be convenient to cover two notes in the Pedal here and there. Experiment. On the other hand, there’s no need to play a pedal part all the time in this section; I just use it to keep the wide reaches legato, rather than learning and memorizing a complete Pedal part.

This piece is an ultimate challenge in deciding what to tie and what to break. Do take the time to figure out how you’re going to play every note. But don’t consider it a chore; consider it an opportunity to get to know some beautiful notes more intimately. I break only when a beat needs to be heard or when a voice needs its line clarified.

Measure 8: Keep going. Don’t stop for coffee before moving to the Récit. This is a long piece, and it will get longer and disjointed if there are too many stops and starts. (The Grande Pièce Symphonique is particularly dangerous in that regard.)

Measure 64: Let that be a moment of completion before moving on. The whole piece is stated in measures 1-64. Everything else is derived. Although the audience might not catch all the connections, you will be discovering interactions from section to section for the rest of your life.

Measure 65: This is the beginning of a variation on what we have heard up to that point. If you’ll phrase it just like before, it will carry itself to its own completion in 105. No need to work too hard at squeezing juice out of it.

If your Great is in the middle, I recommend coupling the Positif to the Great for this same section [from 65]. That will facilitate many instances of “thumbing” across manuals to preserve legato. Here are but a few of the spots I thumb (or finger) into the other hand:

Measure 79: I take the alto G with the left hand.

Measure 80: I take the alto Ds with the left hand. That makes a smoother transition for the hands to exchange manuals.

Measure 85: I take the alto G in the second beat with the right hand.

Measure 86: I take the alto F# in the second beat with the right hand. 

Measures 89-92: This will probably be the most unorthodox thing I have mentioned in this series. From the last beat in 89 all the way through 92, reverse the hands! Play the left-hand part with the right and vice versa, hands crossed. The “recovery” will occur naturally at 93. This will eliminate those lightning-quick and dangerous substitutions on the last beat of 89 and the last beat of 92. Go on – give it a try; you know you want to.

Measure 93: As if all the above weren’t enough, if you also put on the Récit to Pedal here, you can cut out some of those lowest notes in the left hand and facilitate better legato. The coupler will need to come off at the end of 94. If you value legato and are willing to spend some extra time working all this, it’s worth the trouble. As I’ve said before, anything to preserve legato is legal. I haven’t played notes with my nose, but I’d be willing to, even if it saved just one note from eternal detachment and damnation.

Measure 101: This is another good time to bring on the Récit to Pedal for the duration of the phrase.

Measure 106: This is only an interlude, so don’t give away the store just yet.

Measures 123-125: I reduce during every rest. And see Wayne Leupold’s discussion of 121 for permission to reduce the Pedal there.

Measures 138-140: I use echo effects by opening and closing the box for the re-statements of those little phrases. I just can’t resist.

Measure 147: If you’ll take the first note of the right hand with the left, you won’t have to have a coffee break for the Positif entrance. But you’ll need to hit your piston carefully in between.

Measure 148, second and third beats: I take the bottom notes of the right hand with the left. Same for 150.

Measures 152-166: Opportunities abound for thumbing/fingering across manuals to preserve legato. This section kicks off one of those places where it’s helpful to provide fingerings for both locations of your Great manual. See my discussion of that in the post on the Cantabile.

Measure 167: The Récit to Pedal may come on here to facilitate legato. It should come off again in 169.

Measure 174: This is probably the trickiest thumbing exercise I have encountered [invented]. The left hand E-flat should be released on the final sixteenth of the measure, because it has to be repeated at 175. On top of that, in the third beat of 174, if you’ll take the second and fourth sixteenths with the left hand, AND in 175, if you’ll take the right hand’s lowest two voices on the first beat with the left hand, all this will facilitate the right hand’s journey up the octave in 175. It takes practice, but you will then understand how Cameron Carpenter plays every piece. [Actually, I have heard him play this piece, and he doesn’t go to the trouble in that measure. However, he goes to a lot of trouble in a lot of other places to create counter-melodies where Franck didn’t write them. Whatever.]

Measures 183-192: thumb/finger across manuals freely to facilitate the wider intervals. Too many to list here.

Measure 200: Life is easier if you reverse the hands here. Right plays left hand part and vice versa.

Measure 205: I release the manual first chord early to give the Pedal some space to assert itself.

Measure 209: I add some more stops here, especially if they’re under expression. Same for 218.

Measure 232: This moment separates the lazy from the diligent. The melody that begins in 233 actually begins on the third beat of 232. Therefore, the additional stops need to be added on that upbeat. But to do so would build the Pedal too much, which is probably why Franck cuts the Pedal note by an eighth. An easy solution is to add all the manual stops you’re going to add on the third beat but actually reduce the Pedal a bit (probably a coupler or two) to keep it from blasting for that one note. Then while your melody is underway in 233, hit another piston to finish building the Pedal.

Measure 233: This section kicks off one of those rapturous moments with few peers in the literature. Make good decisions about tying vs. breaking. And make the Pedal entrances match the manual statements in phrasing.

Measures 243-244: On some organs, it pays to move the left hand to the Récit. And in that case, if your Great is in the middle, it’s also easier to return to the Great from above, rather than from below. In 245, I thumb the first eighth in the left hand with the right; that works best from above (Récit), rather than below (Positif on bottom).

Measure 249: I add the Pedal 32’ reed here, of all places. Kind of like bringing in the tubas and a rolling tympani for the climax to come.

Prepare the final cadence carefully. If 252 rushes, it will ruin it.

Measures 256 and 257: I play the left hand quarters on the first beat (just those two notes) on the Positif, so that we don’t hear that note repeat while being used in two different voices.

Final chord: I add tenor E with my right foot. Might as well!

Saturday
Dec062014

A road trip report

My students are Guest Bloggers today. They say:

We live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and that means we do not live near a big city. We often make up for that by going where the locals call “down the mountain” to attend recitals, Evensongs, workshops, and organ “crawls.” We have enjoyed visits to many organs in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Burlington, Hickory, and a wonderful all-day crawl in the Duke Chapel, and we are planning future trips farther out-of-state.

In the spring of 2013, we began brainstorming about a different kind of crawl. What if we were to plan a road trip around organ builders rather than organs? It wasn’t long before our teacher, Joby Bell, had identified an area of the country not too far from us that would have several shops along an easy, circular route. After receiving very enthusiastic replies from the builders we hoped to visit, we made our plans and set a date. On June 23, 2013, we embarked on a five-day itinerary to points north in and around Cleveland, Ohio, then westward to Indianapolis, Ind., and Champaign, Ill., then southeast toward Knoxville, Tenn. The following is a short diary of a magnificent week, during which we visited the shops of Schantz Organ Company, Kegg Pipe Organ Builders, The Holtkamp Organ Company, Goulding & Wood Pipe Organ Builders, John-Paul Buzard Pipe Organ Builders, and B. Rule & Company.

Monday, June 24: The entire week was nearly derailed when we discovered the Smucker’s headquarters and factory on our way into Orrville to visit Schantz. But we made the difficult decision to keep to our plan of visiting organ building shops, and on we went! Perhaps our visit to Schantz was the most enlightening. We were already familiar with their work because they have built many organs in our part of the country. But also, with such a huge, comprehensive shop, it was instructive to learn in one place about all aspects of organ building, so that by the time we visited the others, we recognized many more tools, techniques, parts, and jargon. Schantz President Victor Schantz, head pipemaker Neil Jackson, and front officer Darlene Steele were enthusiastic hosts, and we were treated to a full tour and some free goodies afterwards, including CDs and beautiful full-color brochures. We also took Mr. Schantz’s excellent advice to have lunch in downtown Orrville at Heartland Point Café.

Then it was off to the Kegg shop in Hartville, a longer-than-anticipated journey during which we learned that apparently most of Ohio is under construction. But we made it and enjoyed a delightful tour of the shop with Charles Kegg himself guiding the way. The shop had just sent a project “out the door,” which meant that there wasn’t much to see on the floor. But we discussed with Mr. Kegg his tonal philosophies, and he showed us a lot of the beautiful woodworking that is a hallmark of his instruments. The highlight of the shop was a fully assembled Moeller on the floor, being played by original Moeller organ rolls. Mr. Kegg was generous with his time, and we listened to roll after roll. It was for many of us our first experience with player organ mechanisms.

Tuesday, June 25: We spent the morning at Holtkamp’s shop in Cleveland, where we marveled at their beautiful “inner sanctum,” a chapel-like room that was finished with exquisite woodworking and stenciling during the Depression, when Mr. Holtkamp gave unemployed or bored workers something to do. Holtkamp is a large, prolific shop, and we enjoyed seeing room after room full of equipment, supplies, and projects being completed, all with Head Voicer George Cooper as our guide. We got to see pipes being made and soldered, a process that opened our eyes to the meticulous care that goes into building an organ. Pipe making must represent a huge overhead, and we have gained a much greater appreciation for that particular art.

For the afternoon, we enjoyed some unplanned bonuses! Our comrade Jonathan Poe made some calls and managed to get us some time at the Church of the Covenant, Cleveland, and in Severance Hall. Jonathan Moyer, Organist and Director of Music at Covenant, was a most gracious host, taking time out of his day to welcome us unannounced and to allow us as much time as we liked on the E.M. Skinner/Aeolian-Skinner/Holtkamp organ up front and the Richards, Fowkes & Co. organ in the back.

After treating Dr. Moyer to lunch, we walked just down the street to Severance Hall. We were allowed to walk among the organ chambers and admire the console of the E. M. Skinner. We did not get to play, but just being in that splendid, historic space was a treat, and we thank our guide, house Administrative Assistant Laura Clelland, for her time in welcoming us and sitting down to answer our many questions.

We then headed west, destination Indianapolis. On the way, we took a slight detour into Oberlin to walk around and see what Dr. Bell assured us was a beautiful campus. After a snack downtown, we made our way to the Oberlin Conservatory, where we discovered practice organ after practice organ. Mr. Don VerKuilen, Oberlin student, happened upon us and offered to show us the Fisk in Finney Chapel. What a coup! We all played a bit and enjoyed getting to know Don. The entire afternoon was wonderful, filled with extra instruments and beautiful buildings and the kind hospitality of strangers who were not expecting us. Thank you all.

Wednesday, June 26: In the morning, we made our way to Goulding & Wood, where the firm’s Business Manager Phil Lehman took us on a tour. At this shop, we saw our first pipe bathing facility, a fascinating part of long-term maintenance of older organs. Thanks to some scale models of Goulding & Wood’s designs, we also learned more about the inner workings of windchests.

Thursday, June 27: In the morning, we made our way west to Champaign, Ill., to visit the shop of John-Paul Buzard. Service Department Foreman Dave Brown was our guide. Even if he had done nothing else, he should probably win the prize for most gracious host, because he had doughnuts and coffee waiting for us upon our arrival! We thoroughly enjoyed admiring all the interesting consoles and other parts in the organ console “cemetery” in the firm’s warehouse and maintenance/restoration shop a few blocks away from the new construction shop. In the main shop was a large, new instrument about to be dismantled and delivered to its new home across the country. We marveled at how well organized and clean the Buzard shop was, given the fact that it is spread vertically over several stories in an old downtown building. Also in the building are the Organ Loft Apartments, operated by Mr. Buzard. Some of us are ready to move there, if for no other reason than to live in a place called the Organ Lofts!

After our tour, Mr. Brown took us around town to visit the Buzard instrument in the Chapel of St. John the Divine on the University of Illinois campus, the E.M. Skinner at Wesley United Methodist Church in Urbana, and the Wurlitzer at the Virginia Theatre. It was an inspiring day of generous hospitality and introduction to three completely different organs only blocks apart from each other.

Friday, June 28: Our last stop before heading back home was Brad Rule’s shop just east of Knoxville, Tenn. This was the only all-tracker shop we visited, and the differences in some techniques and machinery were fascinating. Mr. Rule walked us through his charming shop, set up in an old church building. His drafting area is in the former chancel, and the main shop is in the old nave. Mr. Rule also trains local students in the art of organ building.

Throughout the week we noticed some rather entertaining sights. In one voicing room, there were figurines of characters from The Simpsons sitting among the pipes. At another shop, a voicer had on his arm a beautiful tattoo of an organ façade. We also saw here and there the usual girlie calendars and funny signs and notices. One shop had a box of drill bits labeled “bits,” with the word “naughty” scribbled above that. In Brad Rule’s shop, we were apprehensive at asking why there was a photo of Chairman Mao on a shelf. Mr. Rule picked up Carl the shop cat, held him up in front of the photo, and said, “Carl, who’s in the picture?!” Carl said, “Mao!” Mr. Rule also had a clever “doorbell.” A visitor pulls a rope hanging outside, which then activates a small wedge bellows inside, which then discharges into three en chamade pipes tuned to the same pitches as the whistle of the freight train that used to pass through the town.

In every shop, we saw familiar techniques, equipment and concepts at work. Even though different shops are different in their approaches, they are all quite similar in their quest for excellence. We wish them all well and thank them so very much for their time.

Wednesday
Nov262014

Franck-ly speaking, Part V: Pastorale

This is the fifth installment in a series on my take on playing the twelve large works of César Franck. Today’s topic is the Pastorale. See the first post in the series for background information.

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Beautiful piece. Enough said.

Throughout the piece, notice that Franck places fermatas on notes, not on rests. Therefore, it interrupts things too much to go out for coffee during the rests in, say, measures 4, 8, 12, 16, 18, etc. Once you have released the elongated chord, the tempo should resume on the rest. This is even more important in, say, the Grande Pièce Symphonique, which if one isn’t careful with all those rests and fermatas can sound like a 20-minute organ demonstration. To be continued.

Measure 3: Don’t panic in the Pedal department. Keep it smooth. You can hear the panic in many performances as the feet scramble to substitute on tenor E and then on low B – it usually throws off the lovely flow in the hands. The easiest solution is simply to cross the right foot over to play the B, using no substitutions at all. Consult Gleason for the proper way to do that. :)

Measure 5: same tempo, please. It might be good to use this measure to determine your beginning tempo.

Measure 6 and similar spots: As it is with all of Franck, you have to make some decisions between tying and breaking repeated notes. Franck didn’t mind one way or the other. It was the guys who came later, such as Dupré, who established the rules on all this. For sections like this, keep things clear. Detach repeated notes only if it serves a rhythmic or melodic purpose.

Measure 28 and similar spots: in most cases when I have played this piece, I have been able to maintain voice consistency by tying the last note in the right hand from the alto. Example: the last melody note F# in measure 28 could be tied from the alto F# one eighth note earlier. Although neither breaking nor tying is ideal (breaking seems too broken), tying seems the lesser of two evils to me. There are several such spots, such as measures 29, 32, 33, 170, 171, etc.

Measure 37: Yes, there is a fermata there, but we’re not done yet. This section isn’t over until 40.

Measure 45: The obligatory “storm scene” is not much of a storm here. It’s more like a cloud and some drops, just a gentle shower while at the café. Please don’t try to make this section what it is not. One trompette doth not a full organ make, and Quasi allegretto means, “This ain’t the William Tell overture.” Keep the staccatos clean; perfect half-values ought to do it.

Measure 81: During the fugato, wide reaches are better facilitated with a dead Pedal with Récit and Positif couplers on.

Measure 98: I move the left hand on the downbeat and the right hand on the second eighth note. Not only does that complete one phrase before beginning the next, it also helps smooth out the transition to the Positif. If those two manuals are not adjacent, I recommend coupling one of them to your Great in the middle to make them so.

Measure 121: ditto, only this time moving to the Récit.

Measure 151: I know it’s hard, but same tempo, please. Thumb the higher notes in the accompaniment with the right hand: the upper E in 151, the upper C# in 159, the upper C in 165, the upper Bs in 166. And since the manuals are coupled, you can leave out the upper F# in the left hand in 152, plus the upper D# in 160.

Measure 179: a tempo may be taken with a grain of salt. Not only is the end near, but also if you had to slow down for the hard part before this, then it makes no sense to speed back up at 179, only to arrive at the end nine measures later.

Tuesday
Nov182014

Help Yourself XI: Two for Advent

Here are two more of my numerous re-harmonizations in this series. Feel free to click, print, and use in your church, with my compliments. And a blessed Advent to you.

HYFRYDOL with descant

VENI, VENI EMMANUEL

Monday
Nov032014

Clara Belle

I didn’t even know her name then, but I had to have her.

Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1457-B was one of identical twins contracted for Concordia Teachers College (now Concordia University) in Seward, Nebraska. Opus 1457-A is still there and being used regularly:

Op. 1457-B didn’t last long there, if she went at all. Only three years after contract date, B went to Clyde Holloway’s residence, where she stayed in regular use until Clyde’s death in December 2013:

After Clyde’s death, I couldn’t shake the notion of owning Op. 1457-B myself, having in my own home the instrument on which my teacher made his career while he was teaching me to make mine. I finally got up the nerve to write to Clyde’s executrix Kay Hartley and made an offer. Wheels began turning, and I retained an attorney friend in Houston to grease the skids as necessary. I would make a long story short here, but the story actually shortened itself! Kay called a very short time later, in June 2014, and said that the organ would be mine for the price I offered. Once I picked myself up off the floor, she and I discovered that we were both in Houston, and so I took a check over to her immediately, met her, and started making plans for moving the organ out. Ask, and ye shall receive.

I immediately called Tom Martin of the St. Dunstan-Art Organ Works in Houston, who had cared for my beloved Aeolian-Skinners at First Presbyterian, Houston. He and Kay started working out dates for crating, and I started working on dates for loading and hauling. As things began to come together, I realized that there was not going to be a good time for getting all this done. Fall semester was about to begin, and I had recitals nearly every weekend in September and October. So I made quite sure I was ready to play all those recitals well in advance, and we set a date for Labor Day.

I put out an appeal on Facebook for someone to ride shotgun in the Penske truck I was going to rent. Keith Weber won the prize (if you like to call such a thing a prize). Labor Day Sunday I flew to Houston and stayed with a dear friend Stephanie from First Presbyterian days. The next morning, Labor Day, we got up bright and rather early and made our way to Intercontinental Airport, where Keith was leaving his car for his return from the road trip. The three of us then made our way to pick up the truck, and I promised breakfast at the location of their choice. We ended up at the 59 Diner, an establishment that none of us frequented often enough over the years. Then Stephanie delivered Keith to his church to play a funeral (those things come up quickly), and I went to Clyde’s with the truck.

“Heavy” doesn’t begin to describe the weight of the chest, the console, and the crates containing the biggest pipes. But they all went down a flight of stairs and around two tight corners into the garage and into the truck. Another long story short: if you need movers in the Houston area, call Treasure Movers. Not a scratch, and nothing shifted in the truck during the trip.

Keith got a ride to Clyde’s from church, and we hit the road with Keith driving so I could rest up for when we dropped him off in Atlanta. Keith and I had never spent much time together, but within about ten minutes, we had the world in our cross hairs, and the discussions began. We solved a number of problems on behalf of crazy people everywhere. What a road trip! The best kind. We stopped for a delicious lunch at Steamboat Bill’s in Lake Charles. Beyond that, it was munchies only during fuel stops, which in a Penske truck are numerous.

Keith got out in Atlanta Tuesday at 4 am, and I carried on to Boone, N.C. I had made plans with one of my more responsible students that I would send him a text ninety minutes before my arrival, so that he could rally the troops to help unload. I arrived, and we started unloading. And unloading. And unloading. Hauling “an organ” kind of makes it sound like it’s all in one piece. Buzzer; thanks for playing.

I had made arrangements with Brad Rule to reassemble the organ. We set a date for later in September. Meanwhile, I walked around organ parts in my house for three weeks and took some time to get better acquainted with them. I organized things a bit better for reassembly and created better paths to the refrigerator and the bathroom.

Brad Rule arrived, and we set to work. The organ had been well marked which pieces go where, and after working out a minor leveling issue with the floor, it all went back together quite neatly. Electrically, we had to figure a few things out with the rectifier and the Zimbelstern, of all things. On top of that, the console had to be hard-wired back together, note by note. My wife Susan wins MVP: she soldered at least half the wires back into the console and proved once again to Brad Rule that women are sometimes the best help around.

Brad and I had to perform a surprising amount of voicing and regulating. Many of the taller pipes had been tubed off to offset chests to accommodate Clyde Holloway’s short ceilings in his homes over the years (see the photo above -- see those backmost pipes not standing on the main chest?). With tubing off, you sometimes have to open pipe toe holes to make the pipes speak promptly. But in my house, we had enough ceiling height to put the pipes back on the main chest, which meant that many of them were now a little too “hot” with wind. So we did a good bit of surgery on some toe holes and got everything back in order. Note to self: if you ever move again, make sure there is an 11-foot ceiling somewhere. Well, here is the finished product:

 

You can find the full spec and more technical/mechanical description here, in the Organ Historical Society organ database.

You can see a full photo journal of the move here, on my Facebook page.

The organ is two ranks: Gedeckt (97 notes) and Spitzflöte (85 notes). The Gedeckt changes its nature as you proceed up the scale, going from a Gedeckt in the bass to a Chimney Flute in the alto (notice the gold chimneys on the front of the chest, right side). The Spitzflöte changes toward a Gemshorn as you ascend, which renders it a successful surrogate “Principal,” as it were.

The action is a tracker imitation. I flipped the keyboards up to look at it only once and don't know much about it, but it is a pretty ingenious system that never wears out and stood up all those years to Clyde Holloway's legendary attacks and releases. It is a resistive action at first which then gives way to full attack, like a tracker. The downward key travel is surprisingly shallow for an electric action, but not surprisingly so for a tracker. Very interesting and very comfortable. All this was sort of the thing in those days, especially if the organ was originally destined for a Lutheran college in the Heartland, I suppose.

Now for the organ's name: I put out an appeal among my students and on Facebook for people to help me name her. She had to have a feminine name, of course. Beyond that, I felt that she should have two names, or at least a multi-syllabic one. It would also be good if her name/s could refer in some way to Aeolian-Skinner personnel or to me or to Clyde Holloway. The names started coming in, and my wheels started turning. Within about 2 days, I had it. You can follow the thread here.

Her name is Clara Belle. Her initials CB are Clyde Barrington Holloway’s first two initials. Her first name begins with ‘Cl’ as ‘Clyde’ does. Her second name is a version of mine and a nod to French, which style Clyde and I agreed was a specialty for us. Her double name nods to her current status as a good Southern girl. In addition, the console is nicknamed “Clyde,” not only for the obvious but also for the fact that that console has worked harder than a Clydesdale over the years. The bench is nicknamed “Big Mac,” in homage of Clyde’s love of all things Apple/Macintosh and for the fact that it is extremely heavy with a pecan top and formica structure.

Finally, Clara Belle stars in a two-part video series that shows in photos and tonal demonstration everything you have just read: here and here.

Clara Belle is a princess in my home, and she will give audience to any who wish to visit her.

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