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Flor Peeters' Ars Organi


nachthorn
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After spending the last three years in a large city in the West of England almost entirely devoid of good instruments, I'm shortly moving to Bournemouth and will have access to a tracker instrument suitable for decent practice. I did Grade 8 in 1999, and haven't formally progressed since, although my experience and capabilities have obviously improved over time. I have heard about, and acquired, books 2 and 3 of Flor Peeters' Ars Organi which look to be pretty useful in terms of technique and repertoire. Has anyone else used these, and how have people found them? Or is there something better I should be using?

 

My aim is to get rid of those nasty habits I've picked up (especially my horrible tendency to learn pieces by repetitive sight-reading, rather than by careful assimilation of muscle-memory) and to develop my technique to a level where I can confidently sit the ARCO practical in the next couple of years, and also to expand my repertoire to match.

 

NH

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The title of this thread caught my eye because I started learning from 'Ars Organi' all those years ago. I remember it as a thorough technical guide, which is to be commended.

 

However, I think there are two separate questions here that need looking at ; first, the question of building a reliable keyboard technique and second, the question of a disciplined and effective practice technique.

 

I think the simple answer to both questions is 'find a good teacher'. From my own experience, this can be a bit of a hit and miss exercise, but if I was at your stage and looking for a good teacher today, I would look for someone who actively pays attention to your technique and constantly disciplines it. If I had a teacher who only talked about interpretation without also talking about technique, I would be a bit careful.

 

This is precisely what I did not have, and as a result I have picked up my technique as I have gone along. I think my technique is basically sound ; if so, though, this is largely the result of having a very old - fashioned, piano teacher when I was a schoolboy who gave me a thorough grounding in keyboard studies. Boring at the time, but I am really grateful for it today.

 

If I had had a more disciplined organ teacher for my technique, my technique would not necessarily have been better, but I think that my technique would have been consolidated faster than it was.

 

I had a few lessons with David Sanger and always remember how he tempered his wonderful inspiration for the art of making music with thoroughly pragmatic advice on points of technique. This must be the ideal to aim for.

 

In terms of tutors, as I say, I remember Ars Organi as thorough and workmanlike, although it is years since I looked at it critically.

 

I would certainly pay attention to David Sanger's Tutor, also Peter Hurford 'Making music at the organ'.

 

I have not seen Roger Fisher's 'Masterclass' published by Animus, but from many discussions with him, as well as reading his excellent articles in the Organists Review, I imagine this would be an absolute gold mine of good teaching on keyboard and practice technique.

 

So far as practice technique is concerned, it is hard to beat Anne Marsden Thomas' book. Some of the material might seem a bit primary school - ish, but it is all very sound. The longer I play the organ, the more convinced I am that a clear, directed practice technique, is essential in making progress at the organ. It concentrates your learning, helps you to learn better, and helps you to learn faster.

 

Every time I sit down to practice I remember the following -

 

1 How much time do I have before me ?

 

2 What do I want to achieve in this session ?

 

3 What is the most effective way of obtaining that result ?

 

4 Am I always playing as well as I possibly can ?

 

5 Remember ; if I am not practicing playing right, then I am actually practicing playing wrong.

 

There are many other contributors on this board who are much more qualified than I am to answer this question, but I hope these thoughts from the front may be helpful.

 

Let us know how you get on and, above all, enjoy your playing.

 

All best,

M

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Many thanks for a thorough and constructive reply. I found AMT's book a few months ago, which condensed a number of my thoughts on practice technique - something neither I nor many seem to have been taught, but which seems invaluable. I have learnt one or two pieces using the new technique, to very good effect, which has given me much hope for the future.

 

I also have both of David Sanger's books and the Hurford book - the latter seems a little academic at times, but there is plenty of practical advice there too. I must admit to fighting shy of finding a teacher - I had a friendly teacher at school when I started, who nonetheless avoided technique and scales wherever possible. When I went to university, I had two teachers in two years who I just didn't feel comfortable with, and since then, I've had about three lessons in the last six years - not inspiring stuff. Bournemouth does seem to have a number of good players around, though, who may teach.

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I have not seen Roger Fisher's 'Masterclass' published by Animus, but from many discussions with him, as well as reading his excellent articles in the Organists Review, I imagine this would be an absolute gold mine of good teaching on keyboard and practice technique.

I had gathered this was available and would be most interested in learning more about it. I am surprised not to have seen any reviews of it (maybe I have not been looking in the right places).

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I have taught using The Organists' Manual by Roger E. Davis (Norton 1985), while Anne Marsden Thomas's A Graded Anthology for Organ (Cramer 1997) has provided excellent repertoire for my pupils. I myself was brought up on Peeters' Ars Organi back in the early 70s and it has placed me in good stead. I feel compelled to defend my teacher's [Hurford's] book from the opinion that it is "academic". At least he lays his cards on the table, as it were, in the book's introduction and explains its purpose. If nothing else, the beginning of his first sentence says it all, "This book is about making music..." (my italics).

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Just a very slight diversion, because my memory may be playing tricks.

 

Didn't Flor Peeters do a set of recordings with the same title "Ars Organi" to accompany the books, or am I going senile prematurely?

 

I recall listening to some utterly magical recordings, I think largely on Netherlands organs, and at a guess, I would say that they were around about 25-30 years ago. What fascinated me at the time, was the way the music just came alive on the chosen instruments, and which had quite an impact on me. I changed musical tac completely, and found a new passion in baroque (and earlier) music largely as a result.

 

MM

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As always, some further thoughts occurred to me last night which are worth adding.

 

I have been playing the organ seriously now for getting on for 30 years, and it is funny how it is only now that I am really grasping the basics that I was taught all those years ago.

 

In particular ;

 

The more you use your toes in pedalling, the more defined your pedal playing will be. I find I am re - learning a lot of pieces that I learned quickly as a student, and this is the main change I am making, namely, revising pedalling to play with toes alone wherever possible.

 

Your pedalling will, again, be more precise if your keep your knees and ankles together as much as you can. Another basic that I am only now really understanding. At the moment I am learning the Durufle Fugue on the Carillon of Soissons, which has some fast pedal scales. After hours of trying to get them really clean I discovered - surprise, surprise - that the only way to do it is to use toes all the time, and keep your ankles touching one another so far as your can.

 

Another 'ladybird book' basic. When you practice, practice with hands and feet in separate combinations for a long time (that is, significantly longer than you think necessary). This brings clarity and focus to your playing. For a long time I thought this was babyish advice, and I was far too advanced to need this. I was wrong, and I have taken up this technique again the past year which really pays dividends.

 

Practice slowly = quarter speed. I recently discovered that this was one of Flor Peeters great techniques. I picked this up from an interview with Joanna Macgregor, and I recently learned that this is how Thomas Trotter gets such phenomenal results. If it is good enough for them, it is good enough for me. It is mentally very tiring, but watch how your playing improves.

 

Specifically in relation to ARCO, think long term. It took me the best part of 18 months (off and on) to get the tests up to scratch. There is only one way to do these tests, and that is to practice them every single day, so that you feel guilty if you miss a day. I remember practicing my ARCO tests on Christmas Day, just so that I could say I had done them. I used to think that the great players just sailed through these exams without practicing. The best lesson I had in my RCO preparation was to talk to three world class performers, including John Scott, and this is all that they said. Even the immortals have to practice !

 

Also in relation to ARCO, the performers notes for the pieces now published by the St Giles School are excellent. It is invidious to single anyone out, but Kevin Bowyer's notes are superb ; again, that combination of musical inspiration and very practical advice on how to get round the notes the right way (I remember reading tips in his notes on breathing, muscle relaxation, performance psychology and exactly when to press a piston - this strikes me as the ideal approach).

 

To finish on that note, when I took my FRCO I went straight to the teachers at the St Giles school and they were uniformly excellent, embodying many of the sort of points that I have touched on in these notes. I believe that Daniel Cook is teaching at Salisbury, which is not that far from you. Perhaps this may be a useful contact.

 

Let us know how you get on !

 

Best regards,

M

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Didn't Flor Peeters do a set of recordings with the same title "Ars Organi" to accompany the books, or am I going senile prematurely?

 

I recall listening to some utterly magical recordings, I think largely on Netherlands organs, and at a guess, I would say that they were around about 25-30 years ago.

MM

 

I think there was a wonderfully illustrated book on "The Organ in the Netherlands" (or some similar title) and it had records to go with it (78s?). I located a copy a few years ago from a specialist second hand book shop (in the Lake District?) - but regrettably decided not to aquire even more clutter - after stern warnings from my wife. :angry:

 

I think the Ars Organi Tutor series was leagues ahead of anything else when it was published. Anyone who gets to the end will be a jolly good player. I play the pedal exercises in books 2 and 3 to delay terminal technical decline. There is extensive use of the heel - which I recall even went on to black notes :blink: in one exercise. You would develop enoromously flexible ankle joints to get around some of the exercises. Maybe there is more use of the heel than is currently advocated for Bach Buxtehude etc.

 

I too remember a master class where Peeters said it was essential to practice really slowly.

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Gosh, I can come out of the closet at last! I also learnt from Ars Organi and had to keep it to myslef for years as no one I knew (other than those taught by my teacher) used it. It took some getting used to and I wouldn't recommend it for all learners, but I was glad I had used it. I do remember the tenor clef making a particularly early appearance in studies, which frightened the life out of me at the time.

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Anne Marsden Thomas's A Graded Anthology for Organ (Cramer 1997) has provided excellent repertoire for my pupils.

This series is great so long as you weed out all the misprints. I remember going through book 2 and finding quite a few. Maybe the other books are more accurate; I hope so.

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