Jump to content
Mander Organ Builders Forum

Pedalling For Little People


MusingMuso
 Share

Recommended Posts

I expect I am in the midst of people with fabulous pedal technique, and a few who clumsily navigate their way around like demented weavers on treddle looms.

 

My own lack of proper technique is utterly lamentable, but at least I have an excuse.

 

I prod with my toes at Bach, I work out one-off pedalling for the romantic repertoire, and if called upon, do amazing things with just my left foot when sat at a theatre organ.

 

The fact is....I'm quite small in stature.....a bit like one of those "Borrowers" who live under the floorboards.

 

Consequently, not all things are possible short of shape-shifting, which usually involves a sudden upwards leap to re-position the posterier in such a way that I can actually reach certain notes. Not that this ghastly handicap has ever deterred me from the more adventurous pieces in the repertoire, you understand, but I do have to think twice before embarking upon Vierne and all that other French rubbish.

 

In fact, each piece of music in my repertoire, is carefully marked (at the critical bits) with a unique technique designed around my body, rather than around a text-book technique.

 

I'm sure it is all very wrong and very awkward, but the fact is, I have successfully learned pieces which require a fair degree of pedal dexterity.......Liszt, Reubke, Bach, Schumann.......you know the sort of thing.

 

So as a point of discussion, just how important is "proper" pedal technique, when there are clear alternatives?

 

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I expect I am in the midst of people with fabulous pedal technique, and a few who clumsily navigate their way around like demented weavers on treddle looms.

 

My own lack of proper technique is utterly lamentable, but at least I have an excuse.

 

I prod with my toes at Bach, I work out one-off pedalling for the romantic repertoire, and if called upon, do amazing things with just my left foot when sat at a theatre organ.

 

The fact is....I'm quite small in stature.....a bit like one of those "Borrowers" who live under the floorboards.

 

Consequently, not all things are possible short of shape-shifting, which usually involves a sudden upwards leap to re-position the posterier in such a way that I can actually reach certain notes. Not that this ghastly handicap has ever deterred me from the more adventurous pieces in the repertoire, you understand, but I do have to think twice before embarking upon Vierne and all that other French rubbish.

 

In fact, each piece of music in my repertoire, is carefully marked (at the critical bits) with a unique technique designed around my body, rather than around a text-book technique.

 

I'm sure it is all very wrong and very awkward, but the fact is, I have successfully learned pieces which require a fair degree of pedal dexterity.......Liszt, Reubke, Bach, Schumann.......you know the sort of thing.

 

So as a point of discussion, just how important is "proper" pedal technique, when there are clear alternatives?

MM

 

I think pedal technique is one the the higest empiricle arts; i.e. whatever (really!) works for you is therefore correct. I have had adult beginners over the years who have demanded that I tell them the official, proper way and I have annoyed them by maintaining there isn't one! I have heard about all these folks who state very firmly that 'knees together is the only way', this advice categorically does not work when you get onto advanced repertoire, so insiting upon it must limit your students IMHO.

 

Unfashionably, I can recommend major use of the heel, especially when locating notes like GG - come round the F sharp with the left foot and (on radiating and concave boards) GG is right there waiting for you. Until recently The RCO examiners were criticising the use of heels in Bach, but I noted (as maybe you did) a recent German article where it was shown after major research that several of Bach's pupils used the heel and the strong implication is that he did too.

 

I have seen major names looking down (!), I have heard major names playing pedal parts that are unrecogniseable as music. If I take Bach's words literally (..that every slur and every ornament ought to be executed as well by the feet as by the fingers..) the 'whatever works for you' approach is fully justified and as long as what comes out is Musical, what the hell else matters?!! I am still waiting for a text which acknowledges that there are three playing points to the shoe... I know I use three. Inside toe, outside toe (often rolling between them) and heel.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with Cynic: whatever obtains a musical result is best.

 

I'm sure you've thought of this, but is there any scope for building up the heel on your organ shoes? Might help eliminate the contortions in the romantic stuff. Also, speaking as one who is taller than average, I would say that too much leg is worse than too little (at the risk of sounding like Peter Cook) The pedalboard only need be an inch too close to the player in relation to the manuals to make playing really difficult.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Until recently The RCO examiners were criticising the use of heels in Bach, but I noted (as maybe you did) a recent German article where it was shown after major research that several of Bach's pupils used the heel and the strong implication is that he did too.

 

Can you tell me where I could find a copy of this article, please? I would be interested to read it; I, too, have been supsicious of the notion that Bach never used his heels when playing the organ.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I well remember attending a recital at Birmingham Town Hall given by the late, lamented Prof Ivor Keys.

 

For the Bach F Toccata pedal solos, he grabbed with each hand a couple of stops near the top of the stop jambs on divisions he was not using, in order to anchor himself in the right place to facilitate the pedalling.

 

It's entirely an empirical art, as Cynic has said. Fundamentally, pedalling which reliably enables one to convey the music is what is needed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

grabbed with each hand a couple of stops near the top of the stop jambs on divisions he was not using, in order to anchor himself in the right place to facilitate the pedalling.

I was once told that one should play pedal solos sitting relaxed with arms folded! (I was tempted to ask whether I should also be balancing a book on my head).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was once told that one should play pedal solos sitting relaxed with arms folded! (I was tempted to ask whether I should also be balancing a book on my head).

 

Mmmm - I can see nothing wrong with grasping (lightly) either side of the bench; this is, I believe, preferable to attempting to play pedal solos with one's hands clasped in the lap. In addition, it is likely to assist in preventing the player losing balance and falling nose-first into the music desk - which is, of course, undesirable.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My own lack of proper technique is utterly lamentable, but at least I have an excuse.

I'm glad I'm not the only one, but I have no excuse. I confess I'm a great one for doing heinous things like playing adjacent notes with either side of the toe instead of toe and heel (may I be boiled in oil and condemned to playing worship songs on Heles for evermore). But it works for me

 

I was interested to read that Roger Fisher recommends everyone to play with the inside of the toe - with the ball of the big toe, I suppose he means. How I wish someone had told me this when I was young. As a "default" technique I can well imagine that it encourages greater accuracy, but, alas, I am too long in the tooth to change my technique now.

Until recently The RCO examiners were criticising the use of heels in Bach

Good Lord, are you serious? :o

 

If I take Bach's words literally (..that every slur and every ornament ought to be executed as well by the feet as by the fingers..)

Well, actually it was Gerber who claimed that Bach did this, not JSB himself. And Gerber also claimed that a certain organist's staccato style would not have pleased those who knew Bach's legato style. But Gerber was a late witness and I am pretty sure he is regarded as unreliable - as in prone to a touch of Romantic fancy. Anyway, it suits me to believe that. I really find it difficult to believe that he imitated every manual ornament in the equivalent pedal passages The copies of Bach's pieces that are fairly fully ornamented do not back up this view.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm glad I'm not the only one, but I have no excuse. I confess I'm a great one for doing heinous things like playing adjacent notes with either side of the toe instead of toe and heel (may I be boiled in oil and condemned to playing worship songs on Heles for evermore). But it works for me

 

Do not condemn yourself, Vox - in the case of the adjacent 'black' notes in the semiquaver pedal scales during the last three pages of the Final from Louis Vierne's Sixième Symphonie, I am not sure how one could do anything else....

:o

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was taught that one should play with knees together, and when using the toes, with the foot angled inwards to play on the inside of the toe. I would have to admit that this has always seemed pretty damned uncomfortable to me at best, and when you have left-foot towards the top end of the pedal board, or right-foot reaching towards the lowest notes, more-or-less impossible. Its quite encouraging to read that others fail either through accident or design to keep on the inside of the foot.

 

Back in the dark ages when I took my Associated Board exams there was no requirement for pedal scales, and I was never taught to play pedal scales. Is there an accepted method for these in the same way that there are standard fingerings ? I'd have to admit that the start of the Bach D major needs me to be on a good day for it to be really tidy!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Barry Oakley
I think pedal technique is one the the higest empiricle arts; i.e. whatever (really!) works for you is therefore correct. I have had adult beginners over the years who have demanded that I tell them the official, proper way and I have annoyed them by maintaining there isn't one! I have heard about all these folks who state very firmly that 'knees together is the only way', this advice categorically does not work when you get onto advanced repertoire, so insiting upon it must limit your students IMHO.

 

Unfashionably, I can recommend major use of the heel, especially when locating notes like GG - come round the F sharp with the left foot and (on radiating and concave boards) GG is right there waiting for you. Until recently The RCO examiners were criticising the use of heels in Bach, but I noted (as maybe you did) a recent German article where it was shown after major research that several of Bach's pupils used the heel and the strong implication is that he did too.

 

I have seen major names looking down (!), I have heard major names playing pedal parts that are unrecogniseable as music. If I take Bach's words literally (..that every slur and every ornament ought to be executed as well by the feet as by the fingers..) the 'whatever works for you' approach is fully justified and as long as what comes out is Musical, what the hell else matters?!! I am still waiting for a text which acknowledges that there are three playing points to the shoe... I know I use three. Inside toe, outside toe (often rolling between them) and heel.

 

I attended James Lancelot's excellent recital at Hanley last Saturday and his pedal technique shone through brilliantly in the two pieces of Bach he performed and where much intricate footwork (heeling and toeing) was called for. And he made no bones in referring to the fact that he occasionally looked down at his feet. As you say, Paul, "...whatever works for you is fully justified..."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was not told this directly but a chap I was at college with swears that he was told that the feet must never cross ie the right foot should always be to the right of the left foot. Has anybody else heard this? (What about eg the pedal passage in Preston's Alleluias where there are those triplet D - G# - D passages?)

 

Also it is difficult to see how you could play eg the pedal line in "that" toccata with the knees together.

 

Peter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There is a lot to discuss here, and I do not have much time at the moment. If I get more time, I may develop a more extended response, but for the time being, I hope the following thoughts may be of interest. I do not think there is any place for 'rules' in this sort of thing, but I adopt the following as good guidelines.

 

1 As with fingering, if your pedalling is secure and gives musical results, then it is 'good' pedalling.

 

2 In fast scale passages, I find it helps hugely to keep knees and ankles together ; imagine you are a penguin or doing a Charlie Chaplin impression. (Also in fast passages it helps to keep your soles close to the pedal board and glide around as much as you can). This is not because it is what the books say, it is because it works.

 

3 With experience, I find myself revising my pedalling to use toes as much as possible. It gives a cleaner and more controlled result, both in Bach and with Romantic music. A few years ago I got the Bach D Major as accurate as possible for a diploma. After trying many possibilities, the only way to get the opening scale really clean at speed was to play it all toes.

 

4 I will happily use heels - even in Bach - if it gives that secure and musical result. I am bound to say that I have never heard of the RCO marking a candidate down for pedalling with heels in Bach. I used heels at ARCO and FRCO and no mention was made. I remember a remark attributed to Gillian Weir on listening to a (bad) performance with authentic fingering ; 'I don't care whether he plays it with his elbows, so long as it gives a musical result'.

 

5 I find that, using the toes more, I also cross my legs more. How else do you play the fugue subject of the Dupre B major ? Again, if it is secure and is musical, it is OK. I am learning Ad Nos at the moment, and find myself doing almost all the pedalling with toes, involving quite a lot of crossing.

 

6 Last week I went to a superb recital by Jane Watts. She regularly crossed legs, and even attacked notes with the heel if that gave a more decisive attack at that point in the pedalling.

 

Happy pedalling !

M

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was not told this directly but a chap I was at college with swears that he was told that the feet must never cross ie the right foot should always be to the right of the left foot. Has anybody else heard this? (What about eg the pedal passage in Preston's Alleluias where there are those triplet D - G# - D passages?)

 

Also it is difficult to see how you could play eg the pedal line in "that" toccata with the knees together.

 

Peter

 

This being a respectable site and I having attended a high-class dog-kennel or two (at my parents' expense) when young, I will not tell you exactly what I think of that gentleman's advice. Put gently, what he obviously knows about this subject is extremely limited and (based on this totally erroneous pronouncement) I would not put any faith in his advice on any subject whatsoever.

 

I have to ask: is this a gentlemen of whom any of us have ever heard? if so, I imagine he restricts his playing either to

1. extremely early repertoire

2. severely un-melodic and detatched pedal lines

 

 

What worries me is, there must be others who have laboured under the misfortune of having met and listened to his total and utter B.S.!

 

 

 

 

 

Thinks: do you think this comment has its roots in an overheard but distant conversation which was actually about Star Wars' Light Sabres?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was not told this directly but a chap I was at college with swears that he was told that the feet must never cross ie the right foot should always be to the right of the left foot. Has anybody else heard this? (What about eg the pedal passage in Preston's Alleluias where there are those triplet D - G# - D passages?)

 

Also it is difficult to see how you could play eg the pedal line in "that" toccata with the knees together.

 

Peter

 

I take it said gentleman does not play the fugue from BWV 532 (D Major P&F)?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There is a lot to discuss here, and I do not have much time at the moment. If I get more time, I may develop a more extended response, but for the time being, I hope the following thoughts may be of interest. I do not think there is any place for 'rules' in this sort of thing, but I adopt the following as good guidelines.

 

1 As with fingering, if your pedalling is secure and gives musical results, then it is 'good' pedalling.

 

2 In fast scale passages, I find it helps hugely to keep knees and ankles together ; imagine you are a penguin or doing a Charlie Chaplin impression. (Also in fast passages it helps to keep your soles close to the pedal board and glide around as much as you can). This is not because it is what the books say, it is because it works.

 

3 With experience, I find myself revising my pedalling to use toes as much as possible. It gives a cleaner and more controlled result, both in Bach and with Romantic music. A few years ago I got the Bach D Major as accurate as possible for a diploma. After trying many possibilities, the only way to get the opening scale really clean at speed was to play it all toes.

 

4 I will happily use heels - even in Bach - if it gives that secure and musical result. I am bound to say that I have never heard of the RCO marking a candidate down for pedalling with heels in Bach. I used heels at ARCO and FRCO and no mention was made. I remember a remark attributed to Gillian Weir on listening to a (bad) performance with authentic fingering ; 'I don't care whether he plays it with his elbows, so long as it gives a musical result'.

 

5 I find that, using the toes more, I also cross my legs more. How else do you play the fugue subject of the Dupre B major ? Again, if it is secure and is musical, it is OK. I am learning Ad Nos at the moment, and find myself doing almost all the pedalling with toes, involving quite a lot of crossing.

 

6 Last week I went to a superb recital by Jane Watts. She regularly crossed legs, and even attacked notes with the heel if that gave a more decisive attack at that point in the pedalling.

 

Happy pedalling !

M

 

 

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

 

 

Some ever so interesting answers; especially since I puzzled over Germani, pouted at various English "methods", been told to keep my knees together, (which restricts me to the middle octave only) and NEVER, dear boy, to cross one's legs!

 

Ha!

 

I gave up on "methods".....to see the way I energetically dash off those arpeggios in the very quick version of the No.2 BACH Schumann.....legs flying like shuttlecocks....is to witness...erm....something or other!

 

Then I weep when I watch Virgil Fox.....relaxed, just lightly grasping the bench, and whistling through the Middelschulte like it is a two part child's exercise. THEN TURNING TO THE AUDIENCE AND SMILING!!!!!

 

As for my Bach toes only; this I try to do, in order to get the right articulation (on a good day when I can be bothered), but there are bits here and there where it is far more secure to use heels also. (The D-major is a good point in question).

 

As for leg length....well....I think this is one of the reasons I feel fairly comfortable on old Netherlands organs. I guess people were smaller in those days. It's quite amusing to watch a Dutch organist with the bench almost hanging over the gallery, and leaning forwards as far as possible to reach the manuals.

 

Serves them right for being 6ft 6in on average!

 

Thank you for the contributions. I feel less paranoid, but no more secure!

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...