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Teaching Styles And Instruments At Music Colleges


Colin Harvey
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I thought Bazuin made a very apposite point in a recent topic, which I thought was worthy of further exploration:

 

(they) purchased an organ to teach properly a single area of the repertoire... to replace the organ with a new Central-European 'eclectic' factory organ upon which none of the repertoire can be taught in a contextual way (in a sense duplicating their teaching instrument at St Marylebone) is, in my opinion, pretty backward

If you go to, say, the Amsterdam, Hamburg or Innsbruck Academy, there is a great emphasis on teaching using period instruments (or faithful reconstructions) to guide students in their understanding and learning of period repertoire. So students will get the opportunity to practice and be taught Franck, Widor and Vierne on a Cavaille-Coll, Bach on an early 18th Century organ, Frescobaldi on an Antegniati, etc. In a nutshell, the guiding thought is that letting students listen to and play period repertoire on period instruments lets them experience what the composers knew themselves and allows them to make their own discoveries and conclusions about playing their music.

 

Quite often, this will go hand-in-hand with studies on other period keyboard instruments at the Academy - so Harpsichord and Clavichord for early music, piano and harmonium for romantic music. The cross-over between the techniques of playing these different keyboard instruments with corresponding technique on the organ is emphasized - such as the use of clavichord techniques playing Bach.

 

Other academies and conservatoires have a different focus and do a greater proportion of their teaching on modern, "eclectic" instruments - with standardised console dimensions and modern console accessories, etc. Their rationale is to equip their students for the flight decks of modern concert hall organs and cathedral organs - so one can tell the difference between a sequencer and a stepper and knows how to control scope, I suppose. Plus develop a modern technique - Germani pedal technique, etc. Based on the recent evidence of the latest organ being built for the RAM, it could be inferred the RAM overall fall into the latter camp, although I know they also organise annual trips to the continent for their students to experience organs of different periods and schools and have lectures from William McVicker on organ history so this may not be entirely fair.

 

What do people see as the relative merits and advantages of each approach? Of course, I don't think any single conservatoire offers a single, wholly polarised approach (such that they ONLY play historic organs built before 1850 or ONLY play modern eclectic organs built since 1970) but what are people's thoughts on the merits of different teaching styles?

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I think -

 

1) that we have in the UK the relative luxury of being within an hour's journey of an immense variety of instruments

 

2) that, if you look objectively at the standard of players going into music colleges, you may find that the provision of authentic instruments would be of secondary concern to how to use the pedals; if Oxford are struggling to fill organ scholarship places, and someone with 2 terms tuition and a Grade 5 pass can get into one of the country's top 5 establishments as an organist, that might be a valid point.

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This subject is very dear to my heart. For me, one needs musical instruments to teach on at all levels and certainly the middle to higher levels. But I underline the fact that the sounds must be of the highest musical order - not so many stops I suppose. I want to teach the music - phrasing, fingering, analysis etc. I am not particularly looking for the 'authentic' sounds at that stage. There seems (alas) such interest on playing the sounds before knowing the music. When we need the 'right sounds' I have come to the conclusion that we travel. As well as having an opportunity of seeing the lands that bore the instruments and the rest of the culture/architecture, it is of such importance to experience the real thing when the player is prepared for that stage. The sounds are then stored in their memory bank.

In the USA and places some distance from Europe and those Organ Schools that form the basis of our repertoire, they have reproductions for teaching and then they send their scholars on to the Summer Schools and the like, on the continent. That's great fun and a joy to see their eagerness. It is good to have a mixing as students and their experiences seem an admirable talking point and lasting friendships can be made. I know because they were some of my happiest moments in my formative earlier life in the last century.

I have just returned from taking a goodly group of Organ Scholars from Oxford (and an infiltrator from Cambridge) on a week's intensive course on Baroque music of France and playing in a French Abbey and on the 'real McCoy' with 4 manuals, suspended action, Plein jeu's, Grand Jeux's, Grand Nazards and Tierces, Echo Cromornes etc etc etc and even a ravalement pour les anches to send the senses into the stratosphere plus plats des jours! You have to travel - and now with frontiers down, all the great and noted places in Europe are only a couple of hours away or so from St Pancras. I find it quite unnecessary (unless things are small - like the little Italian organ at RAM) to have instruments in one particular style. For a start, the organ needs to be correct for the room and not 'we need a so-and so'. That is courting disaster in my estimation. Furthermore, if you put your main 'stylistic' organ in the main Concert hall, your exposure to it is greatly limited because of the other groups, ensembles and concerts that must take priority. The luxury of an organ Faculty and with all necessary dedicated rooms (and size) is a dream - certainly in the UK. Putting organs and sharing them with a local church is also courting danger at times and needs careful co-operation. There was a thought in my mind that St Cyprian's, Clarence Gate could have been a venue for another RAM organ and Holy Trinity, Prince Consort Road for a RCM linking. But ...... Oxbridge Colleges need eclectic instruments which in many folk's mind need to be accompanimental instruments first and foremost with a nod to one tradition or another if they can. Some have gone further than others in this way - but all have musicality which can inspire in one way or another.

To have the wrong instrument in the wrong room is not a good spending of dosh. A French instrument emulating the 17th/18th century needs a grand acoustic. Nothing more disheartening than playing a Plein jeu and having no ambiance to envelop the slow moving harmonies. That's why they evolved surely. 5 minutes on an instrument in the right place is a priceless moment to treasure - for ever. The Organ is the teacher.

I am prompted by the Heading here to put the Video Diaries on YouTube that the Oxford lads and lasses made last week so that you can appreciate what I mean. I shall post a link on the appropriate room here. I find that we need to be teaching the fundamentals of technique, analysis/history and to show how to learn and study works with a proper formalized list. So many people just play what they want to these days and miss out the absolute foundation/bed-rock works that are totally necessary for their serious education. Much Sweelinck for instance. There are of course an odd exception to what I say - but organ students these days seem to have so little time to do 3 or 4 hours of practice a day which other instrumentalists try to find. Lamentable.

All best wishes, and apologies for writing so much.

Nigel

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I think -

 

1) that we have in the UK the relative luxury of being within an hour's journey of an immense variety of instruments

 

2) that, if you look objectively at the standard of players going into music colleges, you may find that the provision of authentic instruments would be of secondary concern to how to use the pedals; if Oxford are struggling to fill organ scholarship places, and someone with 2 terms tuition and a Grade 5 pass can get into one of the country's top 5 establishments as an organist, that might be a valid point.

 

This is an interesting point. I have been informed by a colleague (reliably, as far as I know) that a few Oxbridge colleges were virtually appointing organ scholars on the strength of successful candidates being able to locate the power switch for the instrument. This was not said facetiously, either.

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Nigel, as ever, puts the situation so well. Do let us have the video links. I am reminded of when I asked someone a few months back whether I should spend over £50 on a book of approx 100 pages about registering the music of JSB. The reply was that I would be better off putting the £50 towards a trip to hear and play the organs that JSB played on and that this would tell me more than any book can.

 

So far as reports of the standard of candidates for Oxbridge organ scholarships, one is reminded of the OT passage, so beautifully set by Michael Wise - "how are the mighty fallen."

 

Malcolm

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This is an interesting point. I have been informed by a colleague (reliably, as far as I know) that a few Oxbridge colleges were virtually appointing organ scholars on the strength of successful candidates being able to locate the power switch for the instrument. This was not said facetiously, either.

 

Hearsay like this is not very informative and can give many wrong impressions to others reading here. Please do state your source "I have been informed by a colleague" and those Colleges that have appointed such people else your mail and motive might be misconstrued. So far I have yet to find one such place to which you refer and look forward to your facts. Until we have such information your post can be seen to be rather ungracious. I feel that I must say that one is not solely appointed on the prowess of organ playing and tests. I know that Senior Tutors look first and foremost for academic qualifications and a blisteringly brilliant player who cannot produce for Oxbridge triple A's at A level will not stand much chance of entry.

N

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Hearsay like this is not very informative and can give many wrong impressions to others reading here. Please do state your source "I have been informed by a colleague" and those Colleges that have appointed such people else your mail and motive might be misconstrued. So far I have yet to find one such place to which you refer and look forward to your facts. Until we have such information your post can be seen to be rather ungracious. I feel that I must say that one is not solely appointed on the prowess of organ playing and tests. I know that Senior Tutors look first and foremost for academic qualifications and a blisteringly brilliant player who cannot produce for Oxbridge triple A's at A level will not stand much chance of entry.

N

 

Reply by PM.

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Reply by PM.

 

Thank you for your message, but you throw no further light nor provide any tangible evidence to support your observation although I shall be delighted to learn what Classical Music had to say about Organ Scholars and who wrote it. Do send it. Thank you. As for David Coram's post to which you refer, I honestly couldn't understand what it implied so thus cannot comment.

N

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Different Oxbridge Colleges (which NB are not music colleges) have diferrent requirements. Some will require a very talented player. Some will require a good player who also has the skills (including people skills) to run a choir (over and above an occasional rehearsal). Some will require someone to play hymns at a weekly service and very little more. Which part of this spectrum is allegedly struggling for recruitment?

 

As for "a few Oxbridge colleges were virtually appointing organ scholars on the strength of successful candidates being able to locate the power switch for the instrument"... my own experience of this sort of situation would suggest that blowers are normally switched on for the candidate before the audition, rendering this skill rather useless as a means of differentiation.

 

Nigel, what you write about the inherent musicality of an instrument being most important I agree with, though I might suggest that even at a fairly low level of attainment acquaintance with a variety of different style instruments is useful. Possibly best if the instruments were VERY different; say, for example, exposure to Queen's and Exeter colleges in Oxford.

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Possibly best if the instruments were VERY different; say, for example, exposure to Queen's and Exeter colleges in Oxford.

 

Indeed - that's why I wrote:

Oxbridge Colleges need eclectic instruments which in many folk's mind need to be accompanimental instruments first and foremost with a nod to one tradition or another if they can. Some have gone further than others in this way - but all have musicality which can inspire in one way or another. You mention places - I was being somewhat general but we both are on the same tack I would suggest.

N

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Comment aimed primarily at David and Sean removed.

 

Oh dear, stirring up controversy wherever I go this week. What an eventful life I lead.

 

The example I gave was a true one involving a local organ scholar at a local church (sounds like the League of Gentlemen already) with no grade 8 in any instrument, but I don't want to get into any further into it here since there's no particular need to; he's now at a conservatoire studying organ as first study, having passed his grade 5 this past term, and has enough musical gift to get very far. The example sprang from an attempt to put into words something of what Nigel said in the post which followed - broadly (although I only said 'how to use the pedals'), that a sound grounding in technique and a reasonable experience of repertoire are more important than instant access to an 'authentic' French, German, Italian, Spanish, English and Flemish organ of every century since the 17th, plus a hydraulus and a Hammond for good measure. What good is that if you don't possess the finger control to play the keys and the ears to hear the difference?

 

The Kuhn in Jesus, Cambridge is an impeccably constructed instrument which gives no offence whatsoever and is, I think, a very clever and entirely suitable solution to a difficult problem. That the Sutton organ next to it remains, and is being sympathetically restored, is testament to what this thread is about.

 

As for Oxford, I was offered my college place in 1995 on the basis of a telephone call - no interview, no playing (except at 'pool' auditions), no meeting the chaplain, no nothing. They were clearly the last college, and I was clearly the last candidate (or very nearly); two 'E' offer given on the telephone by the very jovial Dean, drove up the next day to be shown around and given a glass of sherry, and that was that. It's hardly surprising that I didn't last a year, through a combination of lack of money (couldn't even pay college rent) and total lack of work ethic. I have never been particularly 'on the scene', or knowledgable beyond my own experience; it was therefore wrong of me to regurgitate what I think I have seen on several pages, both printed and online (the Friends of Cathedral Music magazine being one, I think, and this forum being another), suggesting that there were not always as many applicants as places for organ scholarships.

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Indeed - that's why I wrote:

Oxbridge Colleges need eclectic instruments which in many folk's mind need to be accompanimental instruments first and foremost with a nod to one tradition or another if they can. Some have gone further than others in this way - but all have musicality which can inspire in one way or another. You mention places - I was being somewhat general but we both are on the same tack I would suggest.

N

 

Oh yes, so you did and so we are! Will read more carefully in future...

 

Does anyone know what similarly contrasting instruments those at the RCM/RAM etc have access to. Being in London not necessarily being the same thing as having access...

Obviously the RCM has Room 90 (which I privately refer to as Room 101, having not enjoyed an FRCO experience there!) and the RAM has Marylebone (and for the moment Duke's Hall)... what else is used?

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I would like to thank Colin for his post and to Nigel for his reply. It's a shame this discussion got side-tracked by another, only partly-related, issue.

 

I am very fortunate to have experienced as a student a number of different teaching situations, where the instruments themselves were placed more or less centrally. I acknowledge Nigel's points entirely about the dangers of practising the sound and also his point about putting the wrong organs in the wrong rooms. Nevertheless, I believe that the 'instrument as teacher' philosophy goes deeper than perhaps Nigel does. The organ literature is often denegrated by musicians (even organists) who remove the music from the context of the instruments for which it was conceived. For me, the literature, the associated techniques and the instrument (not just the sound but also the FEEL and what we might term the idiosyncracies) are one and the same thing. This, for me, must be replicated (as far as possible) in the teaching instruments in our conservatories. The super-enthusiastic American students (with their first-rate copies) to whom Nigel refers and whom I have come across on many occasions show us why. It is quite impossible for a student to understand anything about a tierce en taille when the jeu de tierce in question is manipulated via a non-mechanical action and/or an ultra-steady winding system and/or an equal temperament. Sweelinck seldom, and only in exceptional circumstances comes alive in equal temperament. It's meantone music, take the temperament away and you lose the key flavour. A stop-list at the end of the day means nothing.

 

It's worth mentioning that in Amsterdam the entry level of most organists is lower than at the London colleges. But the pedagogy is so well structured that the first year exams are always extraordinary for what the student has achieved in that year. It's very easy to accept only brilliant students onto a course but equally it often masks some pretty shoddy pedagogy (throughout the world, and very frequently on other instruments, especially the violin and piano). In Amsterdam, the teachers are only interested in potential and interest-level, and the teaching, from day one, takes place on historic organs.

 

In the end though, I agree with Nigel that the most important facet of any organ, and especially one intended for teaching, is its quality.

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

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Gosh, what an instrument! Did I detect Justason among the participants?

 

Any advice on making a Grands Jeux on this sort of thing - or is it more a case of "I wouldn't start from here if I were you"?

 

I am playing some of my own stuff and Clerambault in November on an 1890s 2 manual Vowles near here and it is surprising how one get the right effects by unconventional means. As an example - my Grands Jeux will be the Sw. reeds coupled through to a decidedly clangy tierce mixture on the Great. Duos, trios etc. work nicely on the flue work and a fairly bucolic Basse de Cromorne can be achieved with the Swell Oboe and 8' Flute. Peter Hurford once wrote that one should register with one's ears - on the sorts of organs I play the conventions of registration have to go out of the window. Luckily the newly restored action is apparently lovely!

 

A

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Gosh, what an instrument! Did I detect Justason among the participants?

 

Any advice on making a Grands Jeux on this sort of thing - or is it more a case of "I wouldn't start from here if I were you"?

 

You did not detect Master Thain who was otherwise engaged, I believe. As for a G J on this instrument you link me to, it is quite out of the question as it is for quite different repertoire. But you can still play the music and imagine. Never let the organ stop you. It is just the same as playing such a sound on a Cavaillé-Coll. The organ you highlight has far more similarities with those of the French Romantic as they can be seen as being far more German in a number of ways (reeds and Harmonic flutes etc) with a nod to Italy (Voix celestes) and late Baroque Spanish horizontal reeds for éclat. Look at the Guil.lmant editions of old music which were registered for the Romantic organs and it gives you an excellent clue what to do with the movements.

The organ in Saint-Antoine has 19 stops on the Grand-orgue; 16, 8, 8, 8, 4, 4, 3 1/5, 3, 2, 2, 1 3/5, 1, IV, IV, Cornet V, Tromp I, Tromp II, 4, Voix humaine

11 on the Positive; 8, 8, 4, 3, 2, 1 3/5, 1 1/3, III, II, Tromp 8, Crom 8.

2 on the Récit (Trompette & Cornet);

5 on the Echo (Bourdon, Prestant, Cornet III Plein J III, Cromorne) and 7 on the Pedal 16, 8, 6, 4, 16, 8, 4.

Compasses: C-D-d for G-o and Positive; Middle C - d for the Récit abd Tenor C to d for the Echo. Pedal C-A-D -f

 

Best wishes,

N

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Thanks for your comments so far. Please could we try to keep this topic on track to the original subject, which is to do with the approach and philosophies of teaching, rather than how to register a particular school of organ music on the organs at our own disposal.

 

To pick up on some points:

 

"we have in the UK the relative luxury of being within an hour's journey of an immense variety of instruments"

 

Yes, this very true if we make it entirely clear we're talking about jumping on Eurostar or EasyJet from the UK. TBH, from Winchester, I find it is just as easy and quick to go to Leiden for the day as it is to go to Newcastle. This is often overlooked. The "immense variety" in England mainly comprises restorations of Early English organs, English Romantic organs and a variety of 20th century instruments, both foreign and indigenous. It's quite right to be passionate and positive about the rich heritage and diversity of English organs we have but we also need to be aware of its shortcomings. There's not much else but these schools of organ, except the very rare French or German 19th century organ, which, with one or 2 notable exceptions (Farnborough Abbey stands out), have been heavily modified.

 

" I want to teach the music - phrasing, fingering, analysis etc. I am not particularly looking for the 'authentic' sounds at that stage. "

 

Yes but in order to teach historic fingering, phrasing and understanding, it so helps to have the right organ at one's disposal as the sound is only one aspect to an historic organ (otherwise, we could all use Hauptwerk or whatever it is). There is also the console, wind supply and experience of playing on an historic organ to take into account. This is mainly the point that's inspired this topic. Early fingering in Sweelinck doesn't really make much sense on a modern keyboard and many students in the UK don't really see the point - to the extent that some will ridicule early fingering - but go and play it on a Brabant style instrument with its short, small keys and it's a revelation! Suddenly, everything - the fingering, phrasing and articulation - all come together and make sense - although it's quite an intense learning experience. The "sounds" are only 1 aspect to an organ.

 

" There seems (alas) such interest on playing the sounds before knowing the music"

 

I agree. I think this has already been borne out by the digressions on this topic about registering French classical music on our H&H/Vowles/Uncle Tom Cobbley and Sons.

 

"As well as having an opportunity of seeing the lands that bore the instruments and the rest of the culture/architecture, "

 

This is so true. I think it really helps to understand the culture and influences on the composers and organists at the time of the music. It really makes the music come alive. And it broadens a musician's outlook to appreciate the art, culture and architecture in which the music was written and the instruments built. I often think organists should have the broadest outlook as their instruments are so often tied up intrinsically with the context of their time and period: the architecture, history, politics and sociology of the place and period in which the organs were built.

 

It also helps to understand music for other instruments and the types of musical instruments used at the time. For example, I remember Nigel talking about the small baroque consorts of Bach's time and using the context of that to make a Bach Trio sonata come alive; I remember Pier Damiano Peretti talking about the brass and woodwind ensembles common in Buxtehude's time and how this affected his registrations and performances of Buxtehude's music (like Nun Freut Euch). I find these tit-bits of information fuel my imagination and inspiration for the music and performing it.

 

"It is good to have a mixing as students and their experiences seem an admirable talking point and lasting friendships can be made"

 

Very true. It's a very broadening (and sometimes humbling) experience to hear other students from different countries play and find out about their musical background and education. Often, I think our music establishments could do well to develop stronger links with foreign conservatoires- it would be beneficial to all parties.

 

I think this type of cross-pollination of ideas across countries is growing and developing, especially in organbuilding. I remember talking to german organ builders working at H&H when my organ was being built. This is not uncommon. I know a number of English builders have either trained or worked on the continent or the states and I think we all benefit.

 

"For a start, the organ needs to be correct for the room and not 'we need a so-and so'. That is courting disaster in my estimation. "

 

Yes, this is so very true. And quite often the style of the room will give a lead for the right style of instrument. Stephen Bicknell makes this point very well here:

 

Sometimes you find a brilliant organ of wonderful conception in what seems to be quite the wrong place for it. One I have in mind just now is Holy Cross, Worcester MA. The 4m Taylor & Boody is *the* American landmark instrument of the 1980s, yet it is heavily Lutheran and congregational and chorale-based in the chapel of a Catholic seminary (though sometimes this kind of culture-clash simply indicates that the Catholics in question are rather left-wing but daren't say so to your face). Just as much to the point, Holy Cross is an organ that belongs in a Gothic church but stands on the gallery of an Italianate basilica.

 

The acoustical mismatch is profound. The barrel-vault at Holy Cross gives the room a pinging echo round 2/3' g as well as a good scattered reverberation of four seconds or so empty. But the pinging is hard on the ears: the multiple ranks of upperwork really attack the listener and the whole thing is not exactly comfortable to listen to. No surprise at all, when you get inside the organ, to find that T&B resorted to some last-minute changes to get the thing acceptable. The nicking on the chorus work is not at a level that would have been typical in the 17th century, even if it is roughly in line with some later 18th century organs - my guess has always been that the organ had to be softened by quite a bit on site.

 

So Holy Cross is essentially an Italianate building, I'm saying. Follow the logic through ... what did the Italians develop to suit just such a location? A one-manual organ in a shallow wide case with an arched front, with lightly-voiced sibiliant pipework without repeating mixtures and with no 2 2/3' ranks in the bass - let alone the scary 5 1/3 or 3 1/5! And certainly NOT multiple manuals and 'vocale' voicing - if that means battered lead pipes and high cut-ups.

 

Here lies the real trouble with the customer who says 'I really must have ....', whether the object of his/her desire is the inevitable two sets of celestes, the inescapable party horn, or the indescribable 32' reed, or the very occasional bunch of trackers and a 2' brustwerk. Sure, that is the kind of organ they might really like to play from time to time, but if it isn't the right organ in the right room it isn't going to work.

 

"Oxbridge Colleges need eclectic instruments which in many folk's mind need to be accompanimental instruments first and foremost with a nod to one tradition or another if they can."

 

Yes, absolutely right that Oxbridge colleges want an instrument that performs the duties for the functioning of the chapel, which for many colleges will boil down to choral accompanimental work as the No.1 priority. We also need to take in to account the point above, that the instrument also needs to be appropriate for the room and not a "we need a so-and-so". I also think it is very important than an organ is beautiful, especially in the glorious, inspiring surroundings of many Oxbridge college chapels.

 

However, I think that flexibility is the main requirement here, not eclectism. There are a good deal of college chapels which seem perfectly happy with their 1870s Willis or Binns or whatever. The instrument, whatever its style, needs to be readily adaptable to lend itself to the main musical requirements of the chapel - whether that be choral accompaniment, solo repertoire or congregational work. Whether that be an English Romantic organ, a French Romantic organ - or something completely different. It is a question of adapting the features on organ in the chapel to the music, not lamenting that the organ doesn't have a tuba/cornet/pedal divide/swell oboe/Pedal Septieme/8 pistons per division. An organ with a cohesive musical structure, carefully designed for the chapel and so that every element contributes to a single whole in the organ is far more important than the expectation that the organ draws on multiple schools of thought, historical periods and schools of organ building.

 

"all (the organs) have musicality which can inspire in one way or another"

 

Yes, inspiration is very important, especially with teaching. An inspired student can overcome so many obstacles, like having the wrong style organ at his disposal, for example.

 

"the dangers of practising the sound"

 

Yes. I think it's important to have experienced the sound of authentic instruments for yourself so you know what you're aiming for when you're playing the organ at your disposal. That knowledge of the sounds of different schools of organ will help you in registration choices far more than any book or teacher's advice. Playing the music is the important thing - but one needs to have the contextural understanding to understand the music and make it come alive.

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The "immense variety" in England mainly comprises restorations of Early English organs, English Romantic organs and a variety of 20th century instruments, both foreign and indigenous. It's quite right to be passionate and positive about the rich heritage and diversity of English organs we have but we also need to be aware of its shortcomings. There's not much else but these schools of organ, except the very rare French or German 19th century organ, which, with one or 2 notable exceptions (Farnborough Abbey stands out), have been heavily modified.

 

"

I have not had much time to become fully engrossed with Colin's observations, but this sentence does prompt me to say that in the UK we make little teaching study of our own extraordinary literature. We have quite a number of excellent instruments to put with it and I can assure you that many old French organs (frequently in lovely acoustic) allow the player many opportunities to enjoy our earl(ier) music where such instruments have been changed out of all recognition in later centuries in the UK. I have in the past in my summer schools, had classes explicitly for our music which has been a revelation to the players - especially from abroad. I remember the times we visited Adlington Hall and the delight of Piet Kee and Ewald Kooiman to see such a gloriously sounding organ. Not infreqently they expressed the view that had they had such music, it would be far more taught and performed. The Dallams in Brittany provide us with unique examples too which for teaching purposes show us the way that in France, old organs were not so dissimilar at all to those after the Restoration and beyond. I do seriously say that we should take a greater pride and enjoyment in playing our music. I would be interested to know here how many folk trek to play the volumes from Novello, Faber and OUP on our historic legacy. 20 minutes from my Leicestershire home is a wonderful (un-named) example dating from around 1770/80 - 2 manuals, little swell, and a large specification and G compass. And it languishes in a little damp country church - never used! And what a fine mahogany case it has too. It originally was in a fine country house, lived in by a Royal surgeon and thus knowing of the best builders of the age. It has the most beautiful and delicate Dulciana I have ever come across. (St Luke, Newton Harcourt)

Best wishes,

Nigel

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I don't think we realise today how much composers and musicians collaborated and shared ideas across the borders in the 16th and early 17th century. Frescobaldi's music travelled from Italy to Germany, the Netherlands, France, England, etc and inspired composers to write their own efforts. William Byrd and John Bull shared music with Sweelinck: Sweelinck wrote variations on John Bull's themes and visa versa. There seemed to be a little community that seemed to enjoy excellent communications with their collaborators across Europe. It's extraordinary considering the difficulties of communications and travel in those days.

 

The upshot of this is that many of the very earliest organs (15th & 16th century) are more notable for their similarities than their differences. Things like the F- keyboard compass and tuning seemed to span from Italy to the Netherlands. I don't believe these things were a coincidence. I think it's entirely appropriate to play Sweelinck at Adlington Hall and John Bull at Uithuizen. It is really in the later 16th century through to the 19th century that each country's style of instrument diverged further from other countries, although ideas still continued to cross-pollinate across the borders.

 

I think there's a lot to be gained from playing, say French Classical style music on a pre-1800 English organ. Although we've mentioned the Dallam's sojourn to Brittany, I think it was Smith's Flemish influence from the Netherlands that probably had the largest effect on the English organ - which, in turn, has French roots. Even if a period English organ can't muster a 16' Plein Jeu, it is quite capable of a Grand Jeu and many other appropriate trio and duo combinations. Of course, not on the same scale as a true French Classical organ in a French church but informative to listener and player all the same. It's just as appropriate to try a Grand Jeu on an 18th Century Spanish organ - yes, you can do it and the results are quite literally hair-raising! Similarly, why not play period continental manuals-only repertoire, like a lot of Krebs, on a period English organ?

 

Yes, I agree we do not do enough to promote our own literature. It has the same roots as the continental repertoire and I think it is just as important as the music of Sweelinck, Froberger, Kerll and Muffat - maybe more so to us Brits. I certainly think we should treat our own repertoire with the same level of hallowed respect as say, the Dutch regard Sweelinck. I think much of the problem is to do with finding appropriate organs (also with the appropriate temperament) - although I know of several appropriate early instruments within 50 miles of here, access is not always so easy!

 

Best wishes

 

Colin

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How many Oxbridge organ scholar/music college students get systematic and regular tuition on the sonatas of people like Stanford, Elgar & Bairstow and the organ music of, say Howells, Darke, Parry, Jackson and Leighton? I ask this as a serious question and I honestly have no idea what the answer is likely to be; I just get the impression that students are so busy studying early and foreign music - justified and important though all that undoubtedly is.

 

Is our own organ repertoire of the last 100 -125 years - our own national heritage - given sufficient time and priority by students and their tutors? Arguably ours is not the finest organ music ever written but do we ignore it at our peril?

 

I'm not being provocative; just curious.

 

Malcolm

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