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Phoneuma

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  1. 'A professionally qualified organist wrote yesterday on this forum of the cliqueiness of the organ world. How right he is.' I suppose that is to a certain extent true. However, if I sleighted the poor amateur organist then please accept my apologies, it was not intentional - Hans Keller once came up with a very true comment something on the lines of 'the love of music is most apparent in the amateur musician even if you don't necessarily hear it'. Nevertheless I'd suggest that there are some basic standards which I'd regard as essential. One or two current threads are pointing out quite clearly that the current reputation of the organ world is in a bit of a parlous state. I'd agree but I might take the opportunity to make some points which have become apparent to me over the past 20 odd years. Hymn Singing – right from the outset I was fortunate to have an excellent teacher at a local Baptist Church (I should point out that I've no particular allegiance to the Baptists, it was the nearest one and I was in a scout troop there). He was not a regular recitalist but he knew how to teach well, a very pleasant, kind and humble man who was meticulous in his service playing. He would practise hymns himself, memorise the tunes, pencil in registrations and keep a rock-steady tempo. It was an excellent start and those particular skills were imbued in all his teaching. Nothing was left to chance. Words were paramount and I was encouraged to memorise the tune and follow the text (same went for Psalm chants later on of course). And yet, I'm sure we've all heard / suffered the megalomaniacs hell bent on drowning out the singing, the shape-shifting tempo pullers intent on adding a drawn out ritardando at the ends of final verses and other such transgressions. As Rowland quite rightly says this is the organists number one job. It's not a sideshow, its what they should do – lead, inspire and support the spiritual act of worship and if that can be further enhanced by tasteful musical means then all the better. It's not rocket science to support and to lead a hymn. I'll add here that I never left any post as the consequence of an altercation with any member of the clergy – it was always other organists who were the troublemakers (like the one who would not permit music in major keys during Lent!). What is to be done about encouraging take up? Study at degree level has shrunk with no courses now at the RNCM, a severely depleted organ department at Huddersfield (which is where I studied – it has a first-class concert organ and the new Phipps organ to boot, what on earth is happening there?). Churches and organs are routinely locked (yes, I can see why but it's an important reason). Where they are accessible you might then find and over-zealous organist who won't allow his (sic) precious instrument to be made available. Practise then becomes well-nigh impossible. I fondly remember the encouragement I received from some well-known cathedral organists – Richard Lloyd at Durham who I approached to 'have a go' on the Cathedral organ there and was most welcoming. It was something on the lines of 'I'll just drop the latch to the loft on my way out and no-one will bother you for an hour or so' with a huge grin! John Sanders at Gloucester was similarly helpful (by then I was teaching and had a big Founders' Day service every year and wanted some practise time). Michael Tavinor when Precentor at Ely, a fine organist himself but he was very complimentary when I visited with another choir even though I suspected he could have easily played better than me. Does this still happen now – I do appreciate that with large and paying visitor numbers it's not as simple. I stopped playing around four years ago (mostly due to a debate I lost with a paint scraping tool!). But even then the robed choir was a thing of distant memory, congregations were shrinking and there was, as now, little or no organ music broadcast by the BBC. I'm of the opinion now that it's almost too late to rescue anything from the fragmented remains, the odds are stacked quite firmly against the organ world. I feel somehow that many of us have stood helplessly by whilst this demise came to be.
  2. Phoneuma

    Room 101

    As there seems to be some cross-referencing between two recent threads (BBC Organs and Organ Recitals : Audience Preferences) I thought I'd start one off which might be worth debating. There seems to be some consensus that there is some repertoire which we might consider to be less than attractive for general audiences. I'd suggest there is also quite a lot of music which is also overplayed and I'd like to kick off by suggesting my nomination for Room 101, a piece I'd be glad never to hear again in a recital. However, I'm also suggesting that we should suggest something we consider more worthy to take its place, let's try to be positive I'm mindful that there are some sacred cows out there in print which should remain forever but here is my own nomination for the abattoir – Widor's ubiquitous Toccata. Now, I realise that its sheer sonic impact alone is almost a reason for including it. I remember (as many others will) the impact it had upon playing the Germani/Selby LP for the first time. But, as time passes I came to realise that its not really a very good piece at all. I'll pass on the 'it's the prototype for the French Toccata' on the grounds that if it is then it could have been a lot better. What is there to admire in a piece that relies heavily on an over-repetitious RH figure which is then doubled by the pedals as a so-called pedal theme? And on and on it trundles, with such predictability that even a first-timer at an organ recital knows what's going to happen next. Even the (probably) easier Boelmann Toccata has much more variety and certainly more interesting harmony and modulation - it seems to have fallen out of favour as well and I don't know why, it's a fine Toccata. Just before I pull the lever on Widor I might also mention I attended a recital a few years back where it was played on this organ (!) https://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=D06838 Anyhow – my own nomination to replace the Widor would be Franz Schmidt's Toccata in C. It's one heck of a technical challenge and I suspect that's why it's not programmed more frequently. But what a delightful piece. Clearly delineated themes, a logical Sonata form structure which I think is pretty straightforward for an audience to follow and some very interesting and taxing tests of dexterity (it would be fun for the audience to watch on a big screen, I think they'd be impressed).
  3. ‘So whydoes live pop music attract such crowds? ‘ - (tongue in cheek here) - because it’s popular?! I’d also suggest that the prospects for bassoonists and violists are possibly better. By pure chance I had a very interesting conversation with a professional horn player who has had to be laid off recently. In a general discussion about the sorry state everything is in now he was very much of the opinion that there are far too many trumpeters, clarinettists, flautists around for the amount of work. Pre-lockdown and as a horn player he found little difficulty in staying on the podium.
  4. I don’t think I could have come up with a better selection of organists who are really worth hearing. Correct me if I’m wrong but at least three of them have no other church duties which suggests that the more successful organists seem to be the ones who can solely concentrate on that aspect. Thanks for clearing up some of the mysteries of the German system, I had a vague recollection of the ABC designations and, like the entire tertiary music education system are we turning out too many highly qualified and competent musicians - there doesn’t seem to be anywhere near enough employment for them.
  5. A valuable exercise indeed. There’s probably a case for saying it might be too late but there are some points where the marketing and planning of recitals falls way short of similar events in, say, local music societies. One of my biggest gripes is the abject failure to publish the programme of music in advance and this is pretty widespread. I simply won’t go to any recital if I don’t know beforehand what is to be performed. There’s really no excuse for it and it strikes me as lazy and even amateur. You wouldn’t be expected to turn up at the Wigmore Hall not knowing the programme so why is it that this happens at organ recitals? Organ recitals.com has the facility to append programmes, easily. Leeds TH, for instance, publish their full programme at the start of the season. I attended one recital in which a respected organist programmed the entire Elgar Vesper voluntaries, a guaranteed turn off. These are of such insignificance as to be rightly forgotten, the sort of bland doodlings to be found in those Victorian Vademecums, serviceable music to fill a gap but nothing more. My other bugbear is the outdated ‘every organ recital should include Bach’ statement. Colin’s analysis appears to quash that. Why Bach? Why not Buxtehude for instance? And, biggest turn off (for me) - transcriptions (or, more accurately, arrangements). It’s almost admitting that there’s no decent organ music and I’m inclined to agree at times with that. Decent organ music is there, it’s mostly written by organist composers (much like guitar repertoire) and can I think capture the imagination of the audience. This ‘transcriptions’ lark reaches its absolute nadir in a certain organists fixation with Mahler symphonies, an utterly pointless exercise, futile. Maybe some of my comments are abrasive, possibly prejudiced, but the organ recital business is a victim of its own narrow mindedness. There are exceptions of course but joe public isn’t going to be persuaded by a lack of publicity/programme, obscure repertoire, attempts at popularity (arrangements of lollipops from other genres) and a feeling that there is some sort of special alchemy involved - there isn’t.
  6. ‘So what we're seeing is that the conventional bounds of accepted wisdom in the recording industry can be broken and are ripe for re-investigation, and in the 21st Century defined by uncertainties of unstoppable biospheric forces rather than the anthropocene illusion of dominance of the 20th century, all areas of accepted wisdom are ripe for re-evaluation.’ Good grief - care to offer a translation in layman’s terms!? From many years of recording a variety of performances, including the organ, it became clear that a lot of the built-in mics on portable digital recorders were excellent (admittedly I did have a pretty expensive Sony, PCMD50). However, I always felt that those old school Tandy PZM mics were fantastic. Durable, easy placement and uncoloured. I invested in a Rode stereo mic which was expensive (and still is) - the old Tandy’s still did better. There’s so much choice now that I’d be hard pressed to recommend anything - they all claim to do everything.
  7. I recall a discussion at school with some pupils in which I posed the question - which is the easiest key to play. True to form they nearly all said C Major, I suspect due to subliminal piano teacher brainwashing, that it has no accidentals and was therefore easier to read. Fair point I suppose. However, I suggested they try playing a B major scale and say how that ‘felt’, under the fingers. Unanimously the answer was ‘dead easy’. And why? Because thumb passing is simpler off black keys, C involves a contraction to pass the thumb. Same principle goes for D flat, a similar easy feel. It’s Not conclusive by any means but at least they began to think about physical movements rather than getting bogged down deciphering sharps and flats.
  8. PM sent Peter.... RIP Donny Dave, a good friend indeed and great company. Peter is correct - he knew or had almost everything on record, in print and out of print and was a close friend of FJ.
  9. I’ve looked before and it’s not easy to find but there is some information here. https://www.cm-mafra.pt/cmmafra/uploads/writer_file/document/420/dossier_tecnico__1_.pdf
  10. Darius - I’m not sure you have the answer for this but I was a little puzzled attending a couple of orchestral concerts over the last year (Also Sprach and something else which had an organ part). Both times a toaster was used. Is the Town Hall organ perhaps not at concert pitch or might there be another reason? It seemed unusual the first time and I wasn’t sure of any reason.
  11. Tchaikovsky - Manfred Wiki has this list (although it looks a bit thrown together). SL - Brian does figure more then once as you suspected! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Music_for_orchestra_and_organ
  12. Holst - Planets Strauss - Also sprach Respighi - one of this Roman things. Mahler - Symphonies 2&8 Vaughan Williams - Job (?), Antartica agreed - there isn’t a lot springs to mind!
  13. ‘On the subject of Angela H*witt she is highly commercially promoted and has achieved a name thereby. It doesn't mean that I admire her playing. I've heard her play Mendelssohn as if it were Prokofiev as well as the Haydn Variations in F Minor. As soon as I hear a pianist play those variations on an equally tempered modern piano I conclude that they don't know much about the music. Likewise pianists who are willing to play the 48 on an equally tempered modern instrument.’ I’d maybe suggest that yours is a minority view regarding her abilities. Leipzig (and do look up the signatories to that award) think otherwise. This is the eternal problem with HIPP and related movements - it polarises opinion,entrenches views and ultimately achieves not much at all in musical terms. Mission creep on a grand scale.
  14. By sheer coincidence today this was awarded - ‘In 2020, the City of Leipzig Bach Medal will for the first time be awarded to a woman: the Canadian pianist globally acclaimed for her interpretations of Bach and for her Bach tours, Angela Hewitt.’ Might this be ‘that Canadian woman’ referred to in an earlier post? It seems that Leipzig holds Bach played in a modern concert grand, tuned to Equal Temperament in very high regard.......
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