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Jo Brand At The Albert Hall


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I know that this programme has been mentioned elsewhere ('Celebrity organists') but did anyone else watch this programme last night and, if so, what did they think of it ?

 

I thought it was better as a programme about the role that playing a musical instrument can play in your life than as a programme about the organ per se. On reflection, it was more like a documentary about the role music plays in a family, rather like 'Who do you think you are' with an instrument thrown in as an afterthought.

 

However, it may have served a useful purpose if only in showing to the layman how complicated and challenging it is to play the organ well. Whilst watching it my wife remarked that so many people who go to a wedding in church just assume there will be an organist, without having the first idea of the demands and dedication involved.

 

The one thing the programme really lacked was significant footage showing what can be done in the hands of a master ; there was about 3 seconds at the top of the programme of Wayne Marshall playing the Dupre Allegro Deciso at Rochester, but not much else. That was disappointing for organ enthusiasts, and I feel would have given more zest to the programme. There was not a great deal to make, for example, the competent pianist sit up and think 'wow, I want to try that'

 

I actually thought that Jo Brand's performance was hugely impressive, given her starting point just a few months earlier, but felt, putting this tactfully, that a different teacher could have produced better results. I was not convinced that HDW was the most empathetic teacher, able to put his own agenda aside, feel his way into where Jo was and lead her to a convincincing performance. To this extent I felt that Howard Goodall was actually nearer the mark in his approach, and more emphasis on dramatic articulation would have produced a better result than plodding through pedal exercises. However, perhaps that was a wiser choice to show the difference between learning one piece as a party trick, and the dedicated study of the musical instrument.

 

What do the rest of the board think ?

 

M

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It was entertaining, as far as it went - though I could have done without the Hammond and Blackpool stuff.

 

I was rather impressed with HDW. However, in the end, I think it came to be apparent that both approaches were needed in order to enable JB to engage productively enough for a performance. That she did so was a credit to all three, her, HDW, and HG.

 

It was interesting to find nothing in there about registration, and only a little about organ management - perhaps there was insufficient time for anything but the music. And perhaps we were not shown more than a snippet of what went on throughout those lessons.

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Guest Cynic

I'm a Jo Brand fan anyway, but that only influenced me to the extent of getting me to make a firm mental note not to miss the broadcast. It was also interesting to hear some of JB's recent Desert Island Discs, where her one luxury was to be a pipe organ. I'm pretty sure that the Radio 4 broadcast was aimed at drawing attention to the TV one - a good idea, I'm sure.

 

Tremendously relieved that she had not been signed up for lessons from a whizz-kid, (determined to impress us in his/her own right!) I thought that HDW was pretty well spot-on, actually. He warned her how difficult her targets were, but allowed her to modify things so as to make them practical. He set up several (most varied) opportunities for her to have 'preliminary' performances and I found him particularly un-judgemental. His reaction to her performance at the RAH came across as (profoundly and genuinely) moving and sympathetic. I have to say that I, too, found the performance very emotional to watch.

 

Well, of course the real fanatics here could have done with more extended time to appreciate Rochester, New College Oxford, WM etc., but considering that our instrument was taken pretty seriously for an hour of prime time I think it was a triumph. It showed

1. how much of a thrill playing a proper organ can be

2. several people taking a (sometimes despised) instrument seriously, including a major comedic talent

3. that anyone who can play half respectably has put in a lot of work.

Several members of congregations watching last night are bound to have learned that, for instance, just playing a hymn is not as easy as they might have thought!

 

Not perfect (what ever is?!), but a splendid effort all round, I reckon.

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I'm a Jo Brand fan anyway, but that only influenced me to the extent of getting me to make a firm mental note not to miss the broadcast. It was also interesting to hear some of JB's recent Desert Island Discs, where her one luxury was to be a pipe organ. I'm pretty sure that the Radio 4 broadcast was aimed at drawing attention to the TV one - a good idea, I'm sure.

 

 

Not perfect (what ever is?!), but a splendid effort all round, I reckon.

 

 

==================

 

 

I couldn't agree more Paul, because we saw a funny lady trying (successfully) to be serious.

 

I could tell you a story......and....I will.

 

I knew an extremely witty and rather "crazy" 16-year-old youth; fired up with a heady combination of testosterone, a fair degree of personal insanity and boundless imagination: all of which added up to a certain comic tragedy, for whom no-one had the slightest understanding or tolerance. He was totally OTT, and yet beneath the humour was a very confused person with a deep sense of self-loathing.

 

I threw down a challenge to him, in one of his wilder moments, and told him that I could get him to play the organ in just two weeks and play it in public.

 

Thus, we set about learning the "Toccata in D minor" from scratch and without any previous attempt at heyboard playing.

 

Two weeks later, after a lot of effort on his part, he played it as a final voluntary at a rather well known London church, and it was superb. In fact, I still have a recording of the moment.

 

Even to-day at the age of 33, and although he didn't pursue music very much after that, he still talks about that moment as one of the proudest in his life, because it was the first thing he ever did right and on his own.

He's now relatively sane, and "doing all right for himself," and I always like to think that music played a small part in that.

 

As a former psychiatric nurse, I think Jo Brand would understand that.

 

Well done everyone, it was GOOD TV as compared to the usual rubbish we have to endure, and a splendid Warhol moment of fame for the instrument.

 

MM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was entertaining, as far as it went - though I could have done without the Hammond and Blackpool stuff.

 

====================

 

 

Oh dear, what a pity.

 

I bet you couldn't play either of them!

 

:P

 

 

MM

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Guest Roffensis

I thoroughly enjoyed the programme, I love JB anyway, not least for her dry humour and very laid back approach, which I find a lesson for those out who may take life too seriously (personally, I don't! :P )

 

I think JB had enormous courage and I have utmost admiration for her, and it made a wonderful change to see how far one can progress in a short time. Her enthusiasm, although probably offset by her own lack of confidence (which will doubtless have affected her playing) was lovely to witness, and I got a real kick out of seeing a wonderful glint in her mothers eyes! ;) The whole programme really was a treat.

 

I missed WM at Rochester. I assume he played all of the Dupre Allegro in the "3 second" slot referred to earlier?

 

Hats off to JB. I think she is a great character.

 

R

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Oh dear, what a pity.

 

I bet you couldn't play either of them!

 

:)

 

 

MM

 

You're quite right! Never tried, just don't like the sound.

 

However, I have no expectations that, even if I did try, I would make any sense of them - so it's likely that I would produce an even more execrable sound than they are normally capable of emitting.

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.

 

However, I have no expectations that, even if I did try, I would make any sense of them - so it's likely that I would produce an even more execrable sound than they are normally capable of emitting.

 

 

Surely any organ is capable of emitting "execrable sound" in the "right" hands ? A lot of people who attended the opening recitals at the RFH thought that was what it did. (Darling, its boiling..."). Do I detect that you consider Wurlitzers, Hammonds et al are only capable of emitting "execrable sound" ? If so, I would recommend you to listen to some of the big installations in the USA , like San Filippo with 80 ranks of pipes, including 3 chamades, playing real organ music (Bach, Mulet, Widor and so on). It might cause you to revise your opinion. At any rate a fair trial would have been held.

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It's simply a personal opinion, certainly not intended to apply to anyone else, that I would have little or no confidence in myself to have the patience to make anything good out of my attempting to play, for example, a Hammond.

 

As a consequence, as a personal opinion, I was less interested in those parts of the programme we are discussing where JB was dealing with that genre of instrument, compared with the other parts.

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It's simply a personal opinion, certainly not intended to apply to anyone else, that I would have little or no confidence in myself to have the patience to make anything good out of my attempting to play, for example, a Hammond.

 

As a consequence, as a personal opinion, I was less interested in those parts of the programme we are discussing where JB was dealing with that genre of instrument, compared with the other parts.

 

 

==============================

 

I hate to use the word ignorance, when it's more often "a lack of being in the right place at the right time,"

but I would back what Brian Child states about some of the American theatre-organs, which are utterly magnificent in the right hands. We don't have too many such instruments in the UK, but we do have one or two of the best players, such as Richard Hills, Simon Gledhill and Robert Suddall. With players of this calibre, the theatre-organ can be wonderfully expressive and quite beautiful.

 

As for Hammond organs, maybe I'm lucky enough to have heard some of the greats live, such as Harry Stoneham, the later Harold Smart and the late Bryan Rodwell, and believe me, when it came to jazz Hammond, those guys were stupendous.

 

I often regret that those who feel the need to play transcriptions, would first learn to do it on the right instrument, and then learn to do it well. I think I would much prefer to hear the "William Tell" played on a big Wurlitzer, to "William Tell" played at the Albert Hall, whatever the merits of the latter as a concert instrument.

 

Anyway, "drd" might like to know that Bach probably played a Wurlitzer. The family name has its origins in 17th century Germany, where they were very respected makers of violins.

 

 

MM

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I don't know why you're making so many assumptions.

 

All I've said is that I did not find those parts of the programme all that interesting, and that I suspect that I would not have the patience to do well on those sorts of instruments that which others can do.

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I recorded the programme, and I have just watched it, and I found it very interesting.

For someone who had not played since her childhood days, I thought Jo Brand was very brave, especially learning the pedal parts.

The Albert Hall concert was pretty good even with the mistakes, and the audience were very appreciative.

There are too many organists around who are full of themselves and think that they are God's gift, but Jo Brand showed that some potential players can be human. Well done.

Colin Richell.

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Mmm.

 

It was certainly brave of Jo Brand to put her self through this, including as it did several public ordeals along the way. It's probably also fair to say that she can be proud of what she achieved in a short period of time. Beyond that I think previous correspondents have been a little generous. The Bach was pretty dire to my ears, if any of us turned up and played like that in a public concert at the RAH we'd be booed of the stage. Repton was played in an obviously simplified version, and the Waltz was always going to fail due to her inability to play a steady 3 beats in every bar. Don't give up the day job.

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Well it's true she doesn't pose any serious threat to Thomas Trotter, but I would be delighted if I could get an adult learner to that sort of level in four months.

 

However, may I suggest that the standard of Jo's playing, or lack of it, is neither here nor there. What the programme did was to put the pipe organ in the public eye in a blessedly unstuffy way. Several people I know who have no particular interest in classical music saw the programme and have commented that they found it interesting viewing. That is where the programme scored.

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Guest Psalm 78 v.67
Well it's true she doesn't pose any serious threat to Thomas Trotter, but I would be delighted if I could get an adult learner to that sort of level in four months.

 

However, may I suggest that the standard of Jo's playing, or lack of it, is neither here nor there. What the programme did was to put the pipe organ in the public eye in a blessedly unstuffy way. Several people I know who have no particular interest in classical music saw the programme and have commented that they found it interesting viewing. That is where the programme scored.

 

Agreed.

 

Playing regularly for funerals etc at Benenden (where JB played "Repton") I can say that it is not the easiest organ to play in any respect, and it has been ruined tonally in its recent rebuild/enlargement.

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As a postcript, I ought to add how much I enjoyed this Sunday evening's programme with Frank Skinner learning the banjo (a sentence I never thought I would ever find myself typing, for all sorts of reasons).

 

If anything, I actually enjoyed this programme more than the Jo Brand programme, and felt that it conveyed the reality of what it is like to have a committment to music in your life, including above all the hours of practice needed to become good at an instrument, the sensitivities of the pupil / teacher relationship, the stress of performing, and the profound joy of making music with other people which has the power to sweep aside all those other stresses and limitations.

 

As other contributors have remarked, the programme may serve a very useful purpose in this way, as well as our narrower hope of awakening interest in the organ.

 

M

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