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Posture At The Console


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This is my first post, although I've been 'lurking' for a while now, reading the various discussions with interest. Bit of a weighty topic for an opener, but I hope it's of interest!

 

I've been playing for fifteen years now (since the age of 12), and although the organ and related music has always been a big interest for me, I've often felt less than comfortable when playing. In particular, my pedal technique is almost non-existent because it has always felt like a real physical struggle, and I'm afraid that the standard of my playing suffers considerably. Nonetheless I got through the ABRSM grades at school, and I'm now looking at doing the CertRCO. I recently bought a toaster to do some home practice, and got my girlfriend (a proper musician well versed in Alexander Technique) to look closely at my posture at the console as I play. Now, at 6' 5" tall, I realise that most consoles are unlikely to be designed with me in mind, but I never realised just how bad my posture was while playing. Once pointed out, it became clear that:

 

1. To allow my feet to slide across the top of the pedal keys, I had to lift my legs up quite strongly, leading to muscle tension in the tops of my legs (and resultant restriction of both vertical and horizontal movement).

 

2. Partly as a result of (1) I was also lifting the toes of my feet hard and holding my heels back towards me, leading to my legs/feet ending up in a sort of 'Z' shape. All of this gets my feet in roughly the right position to play, but rules out any chance of flexibility and quickly leads to cramp - not the best way to play any instrument!

 

3. Because of the placing of my knees and the need to raise the bench (and, if I admit it, to be able to find pedal notes by sight because of (1) and (2) above) I was sitting too far back, causing me to slump forward and leading to back muscle tension.

 

All of this shouldn't have been a surprise, but it was certainly an eye-opener. Essentially, I enjoy playing and I'd like to think I have the musical ability to play well, but physically I'm a disaster area because of my height. The question is, are there any other tall organists who've found/solved this problem? I know that raising the bench must help to an extent, but how far can I raise it before I start creating problems with my physical approach to the manuals instead? Should I be aiming for the soles of my shoes to brush across the tops of the pedal keys when relaxed, or is some sort of raising of the legs needed by everyone to play the pedals properly?

 

(Apologies to those who weren't expecting a post mentioning 'legs' this many times. I'll try not to do it again... :rolleyes: )

 

NH

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Guest Barry Williams

I have always thought adjustable benches to be an anomaly. Adjustable pedal boards are far more important.

 

Barry Williams

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Now, at 6' 5" tall, I realise that most consoles are unlikely to be designed with me in mind, but I never realised just how bad my posture was while playing.

 

 

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

 

 

Well I have the opposite problem, in that I'm only 5ft 6in and couple of communion wafers high.

 

I just manage somehow, by sort of perching myself well forwards on the bench. I have yet to actually fall off, and with some awkward pedal passages, I do have to shift around a bit, like a jumping-bean, to reach some of the notes. I think I must also be slightly deformed, because for some strange reason, I am only really comfortable with the right-side of organ bench closer to the manuals by 2 inches or so.

 

I tried an adjustable bench once, and screwed it down almost to periscope-depth. The big problem was then staring obliquely upwards across the manuals, which elicited the sort of gut-terror normally only experienced by climbers about to ascend the Eiger.

 

Now if organ-builders were not so stuck in their ways, we could have scissor action consoles, where the pedals come up as the manuals move down. In fact, coming to think of it, there is no earthly reason why pedalboards should have to remain static on a console, and some sort of spring loaded adjuster, with a pedal to lock and unlock them would be just a spiffing feature.

 

At least I can resort to flamenco shoes, but for Nachthorn, surgery appears to be the only (rather drastic) option.

 

Of course, the Netherlands organists tend to be tall. They are the tallest people on earth apparently, but the consoles are often old and cramped. They seem to cope OK.

 

MM

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I tried Alexander Technique at University - the person running the sessions seemed never to be able work out where organists should posture - so to speak! My instrument at home is mercifully quite comfortable however - and I am prone to back problems when the slightest 'variable' is out - from car seats to over soft beds and odd chairs at work. I once drove all the way up France in my previous car and then had to have 6 weekly session with my osteopath to get over the fact that the pedals were never quite in the right position for my lenght of leg or ability to change gear comfortably. I used to play an organ in Devon fairly regularly where prolonged use of the Swell manual used to mean slipping slowly off the front of the organ stool. I am sure that despite the near standard measurements of consoles these days all of us can account for those that are comfortable and those that for some unknown reason are not.

 

AJJ

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

Well I have the opposite problem, in that I'm only 5ft 6in and couple of communion wafers high.

 

I just manage somehow, by sort of perching myself well forwards on the bench. I have yet to actually fall off, and with some awkward pedal passages, I do have to shift around a bit, like a jumping-bean, to reach some of the notes. I think I must also be slightly deformed, because for some strange reason, I am only really comfortable with the right-side of organ bench closer to the manuals by 2 inches or so.

My old teacher, the late CD Atkinson, was similarly short and also had the bench at an angle!

I tried an adjustable bench once, and screwed it down almost to periscope-depth. The big problem was then staring obliquely upwards across the manuals, which elicited the sort of gut-terror normally only experienced by climbers about to ascend the Eiger.

I'd be more scared coming down, I think. But on a 4- or more-manual organ most of us will be staring upwards, even the 6' 3" ones.

Now if organ-builders were not so stuck in their ways, we could have scissor action consoles, where the pedals come up as the manuals move down. In fact, coming to think of it, there is no earthly reason why pedalboards should have to remain static on a console, and some sort of spring loaded adjuster, with a pedal to lock and unlock them would be just a spiffing feature.

 

At least I can resort to flamenco shoes, but for Nachthorn, surgery appears to be the only (rather drastic) option.

 

Of course, the Netherlands organists tend to be tall. They are the tallest people on earth apparently, but the consoles are often old and cramped. They seem to cope OK.

I wonder if anyone ever gave up the organ on account of their height.

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Of course, I can't speak for organs in the UK, but for Holland Ican only say this (and I'm 6 foot 5 too) - live with it, sorry.

No adjustable benches/pedals around here (sure is dirty language here), not to mention the 'fine' sit at old instruments.

Take the 'great' organ in our church - very uncomfortable at my length, but take the Hill in the choir (nearly same age): fits like a glove.

Worse still: new organs built here (if any) mostly follow 'old' principles, so unless you're hobbit-sized with small feet, you will leave with strain in muscles anyhow ...

 

You might wonder what would happen here if playing the organ was considered a 'serious' job here with regard to regulations on the circumstances under which to work (sorry, don't know the proper term in English). How long would I be allowed to play at a console which doesn't fit me (or to which I don't fit) and causes musclestrain at any serious piece ??

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Adjustable height pedals sounds like a good idea, but how could a tracker action be designed to allow it? Electric action - easy; mechanical - not so easy.

I'm also fairly tall at around 6', and have found some instruments where the clearance between the underside of the lowest manual and the pedals was agonisingly uncomfortable. Raising the stool doesn't always help, even if the stool is adjustable which many aren't, because then my knees get jammed under the afforementioned lowest manual. Can't win!

 

Regards to all

 

John

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In America you can have adjustable stools and pedal boards on the same instrument. I think Washington Cathedral has these. You simply adjust the stool heignt to your comfortable position for playing the manuals, then raise or lower the pedalboard as necessary. Q.E.D. - at considerable cost I suspect!

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Adjustable height pedals sounds like a good idea, but how could a tracker action be designed to allow it? Electric action - easy; mechanical - not so easy.

I'm also fairly tall at around 6', and have found some instruments where the clearance between the underside of the lowest manual and the pedals was agonisingly uncomfortable. Raising the stool doesn't always help, even if the stool is adjustable which many aren't, because then my knees get jammed under the afforementioned lowest manual. Can't win!

 

Regards to all

 

John

 

Its about developing a posture that fits you...While that sounds a bit strange, every organ is so different. My own instrument, while only a 2 man is one of the most comfortable consoles to play...its 1930s R&D..yet a large 3 man of the same firm and similar age down the road is a nightmare to play because the choir to ped distance means its impossible to get my knees under, and the swell pedal also becomes a nightmare.

Most instruments have a poorer lower man to ped distance on 3 man instruments, but its about overcoming those difficulties. Good pedal technique - including a straight back and knees together help enormously by moving your centre of gravity further back. There's lots of ways to look at it, but most importantly, keep it simple. Alexander Technique is useful, but I have never knowingly put it into practice at the console. At nearly 6' 7", i sympathise with fellow tall organists...but just think of all the positives...we can reach each end of the pedal boards, large chords are no problem, thumbing on the great while playing on the swell is going to be a swizz and playing on the Solo is not out of the question!!!!

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Adjustable height pedals sounds like a good idea, but how could a tracker action be designed to allow it? Electric action - easy; mechanical - not so easy.

 

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

 

 

Due to the fact that pedal-action first pulls down rather than pushes up, it would be quite easy to use a low-friction, flexible cable as the first pull.....in other words.....something like a clutch or throttle cable in a car.

 

My own car has quite a heavy clutch and quite a big cable operating it. The main problem would be one of "feel," which could become a bit squishy if the cable is not properly supported, but as human height difference is halved with the tibia and fibia at a 90 degree angle in the sitting-position, one must assume that the required height adjustment would therefore be 6 inches at most.

 

The actual height could be controlled by mechanical means, hydraulic means, hydro-pneumatic means or even inflating air-bags with height-sensors and electronically activated control-valves.

 

Easy peasy!

 

:rolleyes:

 

MM

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

Due to the fact that pedal-action first pulls down rather than pushes up, it would be quite easy to use a low-friction, flexible cable as the first pull.....in other words.....something like a clutch or throttle cable in a car.

 

The toaster that I play uses magnetic reed switches on the Pedalboard, so what I could do if I had alot of free time would be to take the pedalboard out and place the magnets on a higher point of the pedal so the height of the console could be put up a bit. I am just over 6' and I also have the problem where my knees hit the bottom of the lower manual, so this could be something to look at.

 

JA

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At least I can resort to flamenco shoes, but for Nachthorn, surgery appears to be the only (rather drastic) option. Of course, the Netherlands organists tend to be tall. They are the tallest people on earth apparently, but the consoles are often old and cramped. They seem to cope OK.
Of course, I can't speak for organs in the UK, but for Holland Ican only say this (and I'm 6 foot 5 too) - live with it, sorry.

 

Aside from adjustable benches or pedals, MM and heva have the only choices, so I think I'll stick to living with it :rolleyes: I'll console myself with blaming my Dutch ancestors... :(

 

Although I'm obviously not advocating schadenfreude in this case, I'm at least happy to know that it's not just me flailing away at the console in odd positions. Incidentally, I think the most uncomfortable organ I've played recently was the Willis at St. Michael's Tenbury - a low (non-adjustable) bench with no room behind it. Some consoles seem to work much better though, and not for any obvious reason.

 

Incidentally, regarding posture, how do people rate Peter Hurford's diagrams and instructions in 'Making Music at the Organ'? Obviously PH has had a reputation as an impeccable player - is his advice equally reliable?

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I'm a mere dwarf of 6'3" and I get over the problem by not wearing any shoes to play. It makes your heals an inch or so higher. With shoes on I find it impossible to move my feet sideways without pressing pedals on the way. Having to have the bench so far back is a problem, the highest manual is a long way away. If I do not take care my back does get very stiff. I find it is better if I reach by keeping my back straight and rocking forward from the hips. I have a horrid feeling this makes me look like John Cleese taking the mickey out of schoolmasters...

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I am lucky in that I am not too tall - 5'11 - so cannot comment directly on the points raised.

 

Having said that, some consoles are certainly much better designed than others for the average human form.

 

I recently played at Queen's College, Oxford and whilst the organ is beautiful to listen to, it is very uncomfortable to play for just about everyone. I practiced for two hours in the evening and could not work out why my back and legs ached so badly the next morning.

 

I must say that as soon as I read this topic, I thought about the advice of Peter Hurford in 'Making music at the organ' which I have found to be very useful. He imagines all of the bodily movement radiating out from a point just below and behind your navel.

 

This is very much in keeping with the approach of Pilates which I have found a very useful system of exercises. I have found Pilates has improved my running, swimming and playing, being the three main areas where I draw on its approach, although it is one of those things that you can integrate into all aspects of your life.

 

I think the only other helpful advice I can add is that keeping the knees together and gliding the soles of the feet over the pedals seems to improve my pedal playing no end (the latter particularly in fast pedal passages) so when considering my posture at the console, I would give primacy to these considerations.

 

M

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I'm just over 6ft 2 ins. I always used to carry around 1ins wooden blocks to fix the unadjustable benches.

Although sometimes I found that foot pistons dissapeared from view.

 

I found Harrison consoles were always easy to sit at; 4th manual easy to reach.

 

I never had any sitting problems except for Bath Abbey...!! :rolleyes:

 

Suitable organ shoes are a problem for big feet (see shoe thread) and low heels essential - probably parallel pedals are easier to play cleanly.

 

I think more of a problem for player's posture is the absence of music racks on most modern upright pianos (and all the electronic keyboards) -there is the nasty little thing inside the lid to put the music on - you cant help sitting round shouldered and hunch backed!

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I'm 6"3' and found Queens Oxford quite comfortable, long practice session before a recital and the night before.

 

I also agreee with the point about the small space under the lowest manual in a number of 3 and 4 manual instruments and the pedals, almost to the point where your legs can never be at 90 degrees to the pedal board, always at an angle, and very difficult to play at the lowest and highest extremes of the pedalboard.

 

My slight grumble isn't so much the historic organs where there isn't much space, but at historic copies where it isn't acknowleded that we are bigger than we were 300 years ag. Worst culprit? Reid Organ in Edinburgh University. Splendid sound, excellent action etc, but problems with knee space for anyone over 6 foot (and about a 34' waist), the stool doesn't move at all (up/down, or even back because the Positif is right behind you).

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I think the only other helpful advice I can add is that keeping the knees together and gliding the soles of the feet over the pedals seems to improve my pedal playing no end (the latter particularly in fast pedal passages) so when considering my posture at the console, I would give primacy to these considerations.

 

M

 

For those of us old enough to have been about in the days of Dr G D Cunningham and have watched him play - he always kept his knees together.

 

FF

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All this talk of adjustable benches and pedal boards reminds me of one of my trips "out of

organ retirement" to give an organ recital at the old Peter Conachar organ in

The Parish Church of St John in Old Colwyn on the North Wales Coast.The

recital was part of a Lenten concert and the piece which sticks out in my

memory is the First Movement of Mendelssohn Sonata #1 in F Minor.

 

When my wife and I got to the Church, there was only time for a brief run

through of the pieces, and during this I became conscious that the bench was

set too low for me to reach the swell keys of this three manual heap.

Further, the bench was so low that the pedal board was uncomfortably close!

We noticed following the rehearsal that the bench had a couple of hinged

blocks attached to its base, so on putting it on the blocks, the bench was

raised up by about 2 and a half inches. I tried it for size, and it was a bit

high for me and the pedals seemed much further away. There I was towering

over the keys of the swell organ with music inches away from my nose. A brief

debate then followed as to whether or not I would prefer the higher position

to the lower, and I opted for the blocks ON.

 

What I did not realise was that the bench was indeed higher, but it was now also

inclined forward. The recital swiftly turned in to the RECITAL FROM HELL as I

found myself slipping forward. Even a simple Karg Elert Chorale Improvisation

turned into a battle with the bench as one's posterior failed to grip the

polish. Wrong notes abounded, and the sweat began to pour as the Mendelssohn

came ever more perilously close. My wife was up in the pulpit singing solos -

blissfully unaware of the crisis which was looming. None of the pieces I had

selected would allow me to rest a foot on that ever faithful balancing

mechanism, the swell pedal.

 

Then it finally came . . . the dreaded Mendelssohn - not a moment's rest in

the pedal to lift my foot on to the swell - pedal. My wife came to turn the

pages of the ever-faithful Novello edition. The bench was if anything getting

slippier and slippier by the moment. "Forget the pages", I commanded . .

."and just grab me round the waist!" All of this was in the clear view of the

utterly unsuspecting audience.

 

To carry out this last instruction would have been too much for my wife who

has had a strict LUTHERAN upbringing. So instead she firmly placed her hand

in the back of my trousers and began to pull like fury. In itself this was a

major distraction as you will imagine. Still the bench had the same grip on

my behind as a banana skin has on the ground - but somehow . . . we got to

the last solemn chords, pedal passages 'n all without falling in as ruinous

an heap as the Walls of Jericho.

 

The moral of the story is - get a catalogue from one of the organ-builder

types on this list and order an adjustable bench complete with brass winder -

doesn't matter whether it's gothic in design or not - just make sure that it passes the spirit level test!

 

Yours, still suffering Mendelssohnian nightmares from time to time..... B)

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What I did not realise was that the bench was indeed higher, but it was now also

inclined forward. The recital swiftly turned in to the RECITAL FROM HELL as I

found myself slipping forward. Even a simple Karg Elert Chorale Improvisation

turned into a battle with the bench as one's posterior failed to grip the

polish. Wrong notes abounded, and the sweat began to pour as the Mendelssohn

came ever more perilously close. My wife was up in the pulpit singing solos -

blissfully unaware of the crisis which was looming. None of the pieces I had

selected would allow me to rest a foot on that ever faithful balancing

mechanism, the swell pedal.

 

Your polished bench brings to mind the occasion when Gillian Weir performed at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester a couple of years ago.

 

An overenthusiastic cleaner had brought the bench to a highly polished shine, not realising the consequences.

 

DGW did not, as I recall, slide off: that would have been most unseemly. Instead, a blanket was hastily found which seemed to help somewhat.

 

Her Liszt, incidentally, was superb. (No, not a pun, she did play Liszt.)

 

John

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  • 2 weeks later...
Incidentally, regarding posture, how do people rate Peter Hurford's diagrams and instructions in 'Making Music at the Organ'? Obviously PH has had a reputation as an impeccable player - is his advice equally reliable?

I think so. Anne Marsden Thomas recommends the same: back upright, "as wide and tall as you can"; lower legs vertical, toes just in front of the sharps; upper arms not stretched too far forward (obviously a lot here is going to depend on the ergonmics of the console).

 

I wish I'd had the benefit of this advice and the Alexander technique when I was young. I might have avoided developing the crippling trapezius muscle problems that now so limit the amount of practice I can do.

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