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Upcoming Performances

August 20, 3:00 pm Central
Inaugural recitalist, Christ the King Lutheran Church, Enterprise, Ala.

September 10
Guest recitalist, First United Methodist Church, Charlotte, N.C.

October 1, 4:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, First Presbyterian Church, Gainesville, Ga.

October 15, 4:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, First United Methodist Church, Gastonia, N.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
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.

Thursday
Oct232014

Franck-ly speaking, Part IV: Pièce Héroïque

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

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Trivia: this was the first Franck I learned in college. I also remember playing it in a masterclass with John Ferguson at Second Presbyterian in Knoxville. The things we remember.

This piece is rather heroic for Franck. He’s usually grand, noble, heartfelt, etc., but rarely does he grab his sword and mount his trusty steed like this. Even the Final is not this warlike. So stay heroic, never flabby – not even the soft, pretty part in the middle should be allowed to get too sentimental.

The title itself has three different accents on vowels. Learn how to mark those correctly by hand or how to make them on your computer, and make sure whoever is printing the program pays close attention to them, too, lest a font substitution sneak in.

I take the maestoso in Franck’s marking of Allegro maestoso seriously. This is a march, not a cavalry charge. If it’s played too fast, it becomes just another casualty at the hands of just another organist showing off.

Measure 1: I begin a bit under tempo and torque things up going into measure 2. I also begin with the box open, then closing it during the first measure. That lets the opening make a nice statement and then get out of the way for the melody. Keep the repeated eighths absolutely steadfast in their rhythm – Dupré would say they should be exactly half-values: sixteenth-note durations followed by sixteenth-note rests. I agree; such is the backbone of the heroic element of the piece. If the accompaniment gets flabby, our héro will fall off his horse.

Opening melody: Our American organs rarely have enough power in our 8’ and 16’ stops, and so I usually end up adding a 4’ flue of some sort to the melody. Fortunately, Franck allows some wiggle room by suggesting jeux de ____, rather than so many specific stops.

Measure 2, melody, last note C#: Here is one of those places where you might explore the notion of shortening that note just a bit, so that it doesn’t bloom too much in such a rhythmically weak part of a measure. For heaven’s sake don’t clip it to death, but see if the phrase might taper off by releasing that last note just a bit early. Any time a short, weak note is followed by a strong rest, you might explore that option, such as in measures 8, 22, 71, etc., and 60-64.

Measure 12: I take the right-hand alto B-sharps with the left, “thumbing” across the two manuals. Same goes for the E-sharps in measure 32. This is one of the many lengths to which I go to preserve legato whenever possible, in this case the upper voice of the right hand. Now, for those two spots, it will require some inventive fingering, but it can be done if your fingers have the length and you’re willing to go for it. See my post on the Cantabile for a discussion of fingerings for the Great on the middle manual vs. Great on the bottom.

Measure 14: Decision time: should the Pedal notes, marked as eighths, be half-value like the accompaniment, or should they be full-value eighths? I make them full eighths, while still keeping the accompaniment half-value. But it might depend on the acoustics or the fullness of the organ – if you’re not careful, it could just sound like bad rhythm.

Measure 15: Careful that the last note [C] of the melody doesn’t get clipped. Give it a little TLC to finish the phrase. Same for measure 17 and plenty other spots like that.

Measure 18: I hit a piston here to kill the Pedal and couple the accompaniment to it. I then use the Pedal to help out in measure 21 by taking the entire lower voice, just for that measure. After that, there is plenty of time to hit the original piston to return the Pedal into service.

From measure 34: Instinct tells me to play 34 and 35 detached, including the Pedal. Then instinct tells me to go legato for 36 and 37. Detached at 38-39, and legato again from 40 on. I can’t tell you why, but it works for me.

Measures 47-51: Just memorize that section! And don’t telegraph to your listeners how hard it is. Keep things heroic.

Measures 60-64: see the discussion above for measure 2.

Measure 79: I move to the Swell, just to continue the decrescendo.

Measure 83: I take the right-hand alto E with the left.

Measures 111-120: You might take a look at Dupré’s edition for some clever solutions to keeping (most of) those octaves legato.

Measure 129: by this time, we have probably slowed down or gotten a little romantic along the way. At 129, I pounce immediately back on the heroic tempo. No warning.

Measures 129-132: I keep the right-hand melody legato and the left-hand accompaniment detached. Can’t tell you why; I just like it. HOWEVER: In measures 130 and 132, I hold the tied melody note full value, while still keeping the accompaniment half-value. That sort of thing is a bit of trouble to keep up with, but it adds elegance to the sound by keeping each voice or ensemble consistent. For 133-138, see my discussion above on measure 2.

Measure 139: This section is clearly an older sibling to the final buildup in the B minor Choral. Don’t slow down here; it needs to continue building. Yes, we know it’s difficult. But we’ll be mighty impressed (and grateful) if you’ll keep the tempo absolutely steady and heroic.

Measure 151 will need some preparation by slowing down into it. I begin a ritard in 149 and make sure that my ritard does not get any slower than I intend to go in 151. That way, 151 simply proceeds out of 150, rather than starting a new idea. Practice the cross-rhythms in 152, 154, and 158 to perfection.

Measure 164: notice there are no fermatas leading up to this full rest. Don't sit on the last eighth of 163 -- you'll give away the surprise! Make 164 an unexpected pregnant pause. This measure is perfect to use against those parishioners who won’t shut up during the prelude. Spring this piece on them sometime and watch/listen them wither during that measure, then slap them over the head with 165! Priceless.

From measure 165, you’ll keep yourself busy deciding when to detach and when to go legato. For example, I play pretty much detached, but I go legato 167-168. For whatever reason.

Measure 168: the fermata is on the rest, not on a note.

Measures 173-179: I take the Pedal and the upper voices of the hands legato. I detach (heroically) the repeated notes in the hands. Notice the Pedal does not break going into 176. That can work to your advantage for giving the Pedal some direction into the next phrase. Same for 178-179, even though there’s a pesky repeated note to deal with.

Measures 179-183: This isn’t much of a pedal solo, and so it isn’t showoff moment. (There are no showoff moments in Franck’s organ music.) Make it musical. Make it build somewhere. Make your listeners wonder where this is going, how it's going to get back to B Major, and how it’s going to end.

Measures 184-end: More decisions between detached vs. legato. I play the pedal legato. For the B-F# “tympani” hits, I play the left foot legato and detach the right. That’s just a thing with me, but I feel the legato left foot adds weight to the passage, and the detached right foot adds clarity. I also play the hands legato 185-187; it gives a sense of crescendo to the hemiola.

Monday
Oct132014

Dear Teacher

Students of Mildred Andrews called her “Dear Teacher.” Surely other teachers have been similarly endeared, but she was the most famous of the nicknamed. Recently one of my classmates called our own teacher Clyde Holloway that, which isn’t surprising, given that he was an Andrews student himself. Here is an excerpt from a hypothetical letter I might send to my Dear Teacher today, were he still around:

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... I remember those long Tuesday evening studio classes, listening to people perform their recital pieces. Two, sometimes three hours. It felt like family; we were glad to be there. For the first time ever, my studio resembles yours. I have eight students now, including three grads. Everyone now speaks the same language, because they have studied with me long enough. The older ones are shepherding the younger ones (for the most part). If there’s one thing I do differently in my studio, it is in disallowing people to look down upon others slogging through Gleason exercises while everyone else breezes through Vierne, Buxtehude, Bach, and Roger-Ducasse. One should never become smug about being done with Gleason, because the fellow actually doing it just might come up and pass you before long. I saw that happen in your studio more than once...

... I miss your smooth, soothing voice full of good advice. I miss going to Luby’s and catching up. I miss seeing you show up at my performances in Houston. But I believe I miss most of all any opportunities for you to hear some of my students play. You heard only one, but you should have heard THESE. It is such a feeling of connection to know that my students speak the same language you taught me and that if they were to fly to Houston and play in a blind competition in your presence, you could identify them as mine...

... Let me tell you about my students. They love to get together. They love to eat. They love to go to Kilgore every year for the festival. They love to gossip. They love to compare notes on church politics, beautiful music, and performance critiques. I say to them all the time how I wish they could play some Gleason for you. Imagine how NERDY that would sound to any other studio but how absolutely thrilling it would be for you and me. Alas, you heard only one of my students, but you could tell that I was on the right track as a teacher, and that means everything...

... I was particularly excited about one student who NAILED every lesson, every assignment, every detail, the first time. There are a lot of details in what you and I do, and consequently there are many lessons I am prepared to re-explain the following week, student after student. But not this student. This one was, to use your word, a thoroughbred...

... Then there was another student who played better and better, having discovered inner genius. Also a thoroughbred, but it took a few years to get used to the saddle...

... Then there was the student whose lousy practice habits reminded me of a story you once told about Mildred Andrews. She had instructed a student that he was to practice that evening and was not to attend a certain recital in Oklahoma City. He went to the recital anyway but had a flat tire on the way home. Miss Andrews passed right by him in her land yacht, glaring at him the whole time. Teachers can always tell that a student hasn’t practiced, but we always have other ways of finding out why, don't we. You and I don’t set out to find out these things – the information just comes our way. I have plenty more stories of students goofing off, but then when a thoroughbred shows up the next semester and starts providing some competition, the game is on. Such is this studio now. There is a lot of traffic on the practice organ, and people are making weekly rather than monthly progress...

... I tell your stories. I use your vocabulary, at least the cleaner parts. I can still hear your voice saying some things I now say word for word. I channel you every time I walk into a lesson. Even so, I have found ways to keep Gleason from feeling like punishment or boot camp, and I’m constantly searching for ways to speed things along. For example, I teach all new students twice per week during their first semester: once on hands, once on feet. That gets them going faster and into “real” music sooner. The material covered is the same; perhaps the biggest difference between you and me is that I’m never late for lessons. :) ...

... Perhaps the ultimate closeness to you comes from now owning your practice organ, Aeolian-Skinner Op. 1457-B. I think of you constantly when I’m sitting there. (That's why I'm writing this letter while seated next to that organ, rather than practicing on it.) Many people have commented to me that they took many lessons on that organ. I don’t recall ever having taken a lesson on it, but as it turns out I taught some Gleason on it within two weeks of setting it up in my house! Anyway, I have named the organ Clara Belle, an amalgamation of your first two initials, the first two letters of your first name, and my own last name. I have nicknamed the console Clyde, not only after you but also for the fact that that console has worked harder than a Clydesdale. And I have nicknamed the bench Big Mac, in honor of your love for all things Apple/Macintosh and also for the fact that that bench weighs five thousand pounds. Really? Solid PECAN for the bench top?...

... You played so well and worked so hard. But you didn’t know squat about organ maintenance, did you. Your Aeolian-Skinner needed a fair amount of voicing and regulating at my house. I fixed things that should have driven you crazy. With an organ that close to my ear, I need things perfect. But I also noticed that the organ was beginning to show signs of under-use, as if it hadn’t been turned on in a few years. I am saddened to think why...

... Remember before my final doctoral recital some notes on the Rice organ that were out of tune? I was going crazy not because of the tuning but because every time you climbed up there to tune something, you knocked something else out, whether with the tuning knife or with your butt. So I committed a crime one night by bringing a friend over after hours. She held notes, and I tuned the problem notes, plus those that you knocked out. I never told you that, and I enjoyed a quiet triumph at our next lesson when you announced, “Hmm, those notes seem to be fine now. The whole thing seems to have settled down. I won’t bother.”...

... You loved your gadgets and your technology, and you had no idea how to use any of it. You had read all the promo materials to know what something was supposed to do, but you didn’t read the manuals and had no idea how to do it. Even the phone at the Rice console was a mystery to you in some ways. It is all now very endearing, but I was a nervous wreck when your learning interfered with your teaching...

... I have had several mentors, none of whom was perfect. I have spent countless hours in therapy (most of it with wonderful counselors you recommended), learning how to hold on to the good stuff and ditch the rest from my mentors and parents. You were no exception, but the good stuff I get to keep from you is far greater than anything I needed to ditch from you, and what I am able to keep has given me the tools to maintain a reputable career in teaching and another one in performing. I really do owe you everything. There was no way to repay you even when you were alive. The best any student can do is pay it forward to his own students. Rest in peace...

Sunday
Oct052014

Franck-ly speaking, Part III: Cantabile

This is the third installment in a series on my take on playing the twelve large works of César Franck. Today we look at the Cantabile. See the first post in the series for background information.

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The Cantabile is the shortest of the big twelve. Perhaps it’s also the easiest, but none of them is truly easy, so don’t get too excited.

I insert a lot of inter-manual “thumbing” to keep things legato, and therefore I try to place the hands on two adjacent manuals whenever possible. If the Great is the middle manual, then keeping hands on adjacent manuals will require a couple more pistons to convert the Great into the Positif and back several times. This also brings up the issue of fingering for a Great on the bottom or a Great in the middle. Solution: finger it both ways, and write it all in. Things won't always work in both directions, of course, but when it is possible, I’ll draw an up- and a down-arrow to show which direction to travel to the other manual, and then I’ll write in the fingerings for both configurations. Then it’s only a few extra minutes for me to memorize both ways and then be ready for anything at the recital site.

Throughout the piece, you’ll need to make innumerable decisions between tying and breaking repeated notes. Don’t forget that Franck composed vertically, not contrapuntally, and so he didn’t mind when notes were tied across. But of course, repeated notes in melodies should be broken. I break repeated notes among other voices to hear/show a beat better, and I break when a voice sounds imitative of a melody. I try to break in voices that aren’t terribly exposed, so that the beat is merely heard rather than hammered.

Registration: our American Swells can be sorely lacking in the colors Franck is looking for. Trumpets are too strong or weak, Hautbois are too weak or strong, and there’s very little in between. You might consider adding the 4’ flute and/or the 8’ string to the Récit texture. They might come in handy later as the piece winds down; more on that later below.

In the U.S., rarely does the Positif/Choir have enough 8’ flues to do what Franck asks, and so I usually add a stop or two from the Great to give the Positif more presence. Of course that’s not always possible, but if you have the stops, the pistons, and the time to switch stops back and forth between the "real Great" and "contrived Positif," then surely Franck would approve. For the Cantabile, that means I use one piston for the first two measures of pedal “solo” against Great and Positif 8’, then I hit another one in measure 3 to reduce the pedal and remove some of the Great to sound like a Positif. All while remaining on the Great. Back and forth like that we go: measures 6 and 8, measures 11 and 12, measures 25 and 27, etc.

Franck’s initial dynamic of p is unnecessary. To the French organist, a dynamic indication is a box indication. But the Récit is not playing there, and when it does show up in measure 3, the dynamic is mezzo forte. So set the box to mf before you begin, and for heaven's sake don't lunge for the box in a panic at the last second. But on the other hand, if you choose to hit extra pistons as explained in the paragraph above, you could add Récit fluework to the Great to strengthen the 8’ registration when the solo is not playing, then operate the box accordingly. If you have time to do all that in the moment, it’s a nice idea that helps our American organs nudge closer to what Franck heard.

Franck marks the piece Non troppo lento, so don’t get stuck on half notes and quarter notes. The piece still needs to pulsate with some life.

Measure 1: notice that the Pedal foreshadows the real melody coming up in measure 3. Franck even registered those first two measures and their later siblings to bring out the Pedal, but for whatever reason the registration was watered down at publication. In his complete Franck recording, Jean Guillou registers a quiet reed in the Pedal for those. I also try to bring it out a bit, but I try to use fluework.

Measure 5: It’s curious that Franck does not insert the global quarter rests from measure 5 into 6 and 10 into 11 that he inserts from, say, 2 into 3 or 7 into 8. Nevertheless, I insert the rest for all voices. It just begs for it, I feel. One exception is in Measure 11, where I go into measure 12 without breaking, not only because it’s possible but also because I don’t want things to get predictable. Non-breaking requires some quick fingerings and substitutions.

Measures 13-14. I get across that barline legato in the left hand.

Measures 15-16: I carry the melody from measure 15 without breaking. With the box closing, I feel it’s a nice enough arrival without the break.

Measures 18 and 67: I thumb the second quarter note in the alto with the right hand. I do the same thing in measures 24 and 73 for the first eighth in the left hand. See the discussion above regarding playing this piece on adjacent manuals.

Measure 27: I thumb the b in the alto with the left hand.

Measure 32: if you’ve been on adjacent manuals up to this point, you’ll need to move your right hand to the “real” Positif here (assuming it's on the bottom), to be in position for Measure 43, where all three manuals are needed on their own terms. Everything can be re-positioned as you wish at 65.

Measures 38-39: I don’t break the melody across that barline. I like the continued crescendo that allows.

Measures 51-61: The canon is exquisite. Register it carefully so that the Pedal gets its due, and phrase the Pedal melody exactly the same way as the right hand melody. Keep careful track of the couplers, and know that you could cheat with an extra coupler to the Pedal, if you need it.

Measure 59: I take the lowest right-hand note E with the left.

Measure 61, fourth beat: I take the lowest right-hand note E with the left.

Measure 62, third beat: I take the lowest right-hand note F# with the left.

Measure 64, third beat: I take the lowest right-hand note D# with the left.

I live for measure 74. I believe it’s a stunning repose the piece has been yearning for all this time. I start preparing for it in 72 with a subtly graduated ritard and a smooth closing of the box.

At 78, some Swells have little left when the Trumpet comes off. Here you could use those extra stops I suggested at the beginning, such as the string or a 4’ flute. Hopefully, there’s an Oboe that would also have been on from the beginning. The reason I mention all this is because I remove all but the Oboe from the Swell at 82. It helps with the decrescendo, and it gives me a chance to get rid of any lingering stops (such as my added 4') that may not contribute to a quiet ending.

Measures 86-end: Use the slowdown to buy successively more time on each note so that you don’t have to add a fermata at the end where Franck didn’t write one.

Measures 88-89: I add a stop or two to the Pedal so that it can be heard. This is especially important if the left hand has been coupled all along to the Pedal. (Sometimes coupling the accompanying manual to the Pedal makes a more subtle 8’ than the Pedal’s own.) Play those Pedal quarters with a nice tenuto; don’t clip the penultimate one prematurely.

Sunday
Sep282014

Franck-ly speaking, Part II: Prelude, Fugue, and Variation

This is the second installment in a series on my take on playing the twelve large works of César Franck. Today we look at the Prelude, Fugue, and Variation. See the first post in the series for background information.

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The title is problematic. Not only is there only one Variation (not Variations), but also the use of the Oxford comma gives some of us fits. Against my usual punctuation morality, I insert the extra comma just to show the three sections at a glance. The original edition cleverly gets around this with the title “Prélude, Fugue, Variation,” omitting et [and]. I don’t recall as of this writing what Franck called it in his manuscript/autograph. The later Durand edition says, “Prélude, Fugue et Variation” (no Oxford comma). Anything is possible, and I’m over it. All I'll ask is that when printing the title, stay in one language: use the accent in Prélude with the French conjunction et, or use no accent with the English and. I’ll stay in English below:

The truncated version which omits the Fugue is a bastardization and should never be used in public. The original piece is a complete whole, for heaven’s sake. The interlude alludes to the Fugue subject, so it makes no sense to play the interlude without the Fugue attached. And it makes no sense to play the Prelude by itself, because it ends in the wrong key. So about the only excerpt-able section is the Variation itself, which is hard to play, in which case you might as well learn the whole thing.

The Prelude and the Variation are trios. The left hand spends a lot of time in the alto range, and the feet spend a lot of time making surgical little movements from note to note in the tenor range. The whole body is put into traction to play this piece, and there are just too many pitfalls to be checking music AND feet AND hands. If one of those gets derailed, the others are likely to follow. Therefore, this is one of those pieces that will go better if it is memorized (and well).

Throughout the Prelude and the Variation, play the melody and make the accompaniment fit around that. The most common error I hear is the left hand rushing into the second eighth note of each beat, following the rest. Once that is under control, the piece flows quite naturally beautifully. Sometimes I think it’s silly to hear a different instrument in your head when you play a melody on the organ, but in this case it works: pretend you’re an actual oboist, and the melody will speak for itself. First eighth of each beat stronger than the other two eighths.

Measure 10: obviously, the right foot needs to make the crescendo in this measure, rather than lunge for the box AND high B at the same time for measure 11. You can hear that panic every time otherwise, so just take care of the box earlier. This applies to the other similar spots throughout (31, 156, etc.). Remember that Franck’s organ had the box lever placed all the way to the right, which means that he could have (but did not necessarily have) had someone moving the box for him. Franck was known to have said that you should play as many pedal notes as possible with the left foot so that the right could operate the box. But myself, I sacrifice neither notes nor their legato for anything. So I work out some box movements at other times as required to preserve line and legato. Throughout Prelude and Variation, only slight box movements need be used; just enough to hear a difference is plenty.

Throughout Prelude and Variation, obey Franck’s every rhythmic command. He built the breaths into it, so don’t cheat the breathing voices. And don’t hold left-hand notes into rests. Keep it clean.

Measures 39-42: it is suddenly about the pedal, so let that melody rule the rhythmic motion of everything else. The same goes for 177-180.

Measures 51-59: the interlude is just an interlude. Don’t make it an event. Notice that it alludes to the Fugue subject, so make it sound that way. And notice that the fermatas have been placed on notes, not on rests, so don’t go out for coffee during the rests.

Fugue subject: I cheat a little by making a slight(!) break after the half notes in measures 64 and 65 and all other similar passages in other voices (72, 73, 82, 83, etc.) throughout the fugue. Such is (barely) legal in Franck – don’t forget that he was developing organ playing from ordinary touch into legato, but that did not fully arrive until Widor and later. So don’t arrest me.

Measures 117-122: fingering here will be unorthodox to many. Don’t be lazy – work out a legato fingering. It is possible.

Measure 128: I decrescendo here. I love that arrival on the Picardy.

Make the Variation flow. Again, make that left hand obey the rhythmic wishes of the melody. Yes, I know that 162-169 is difficult for the left hand. Tough! Learn it cold and make it fit.

This is one of those pieces that is beautiful to the ear but horribly awkward to play. Go with making it sound good; never telegraph how difficult it is. Sit up straight, and refuse to lunge for any note or swell shoe in a panic.

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