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davidh

Pedalling without shoes

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Organ tutors warn against playing without appropriate shoes, but I have seen well respected performers wearing what seem to be quite unsuitable ones, for example Michel Chapuis in his deck shoes.

 

Willem Tanke in his Bach recordings http://www.willemtanke.com/Bach_organworks.html and his Messiaen DVD seems NEVER to wear shoes, yet he plays with great precision and sensitivity.

 

Is playing in one's socks really inadvisable?

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I guess it's down to personal experimentation, but I've always found that playing in socks means I'm more likely to make mistakes, as when playing a "white" note, the ball of the foot is more likely to catch the recessed section of the neighbouring "black" note. I also miss the depth of a shoe's heel for heel playing.

 

I take your point about certain organists whose pedal technique renders the matter of footwear academic. I'm fully convinced that Thomas Trotter could probably play the pedals better in wellington boots than I could in organmasters.

 

Much more pressing than any of the above, though, is the fact that playing without shoes, in an unheated church on a winter's day is b****y chilly!

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When I recommenced playing the organ after a long lay-off I tried playing without shoes to see if it helped to improve my pedalling. It didn't. I found it uncomfortable to the point of being almost painful on the "black" notes (the mechanical-actioned organ not having a light touch in the pedal department), I couldn't "heel" at all with any prospect of making the note sound and yes, it was cold.

 

My solution was to dig out a worn pair of my old office shoes with thin soles and affix 3 stick-on rubber heels to each. Perfect! The only downside is that they squeak mightily when walked upon so, as usually the final communicant, my walk from altar to west end console is cringe-inducing.

 

Best wishes to all for a happy festive season.

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but I have seen well respected performers wearing what seem to be quite unsuitable ones, for example Michel Chapuis in his deck shoes.

 

'Unsuitable' is a debatable term. There is anecdotal evidence of Jeanne Demessieux playing effortlessly in high-heeled shoes, and I remember Jeremy Filsell not putting a foot wrong in trainers.

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Guest Hector5

Generally I play the organ using a quite serviceable pair of Grenson shoes bought at Pavers for not a lot of money. They have never been worn outside and used for walking, other than to and from the vestry. At home our organ has a straight pedalboard (out of choice), and I always play in socks. The original reason for this was a desire to keep the organ in pristine condition (somewhat odd I know!), although with time, I have discovered that my pedalling has become more accurate having eschewed my organ shoes. The only oddity is when playing a piece like the Franck Final in Bb where the lack of heel can occasionally cause a minor hiatus. There is something really quite liberating about shuffling into the music room with a large glass of a decent red, throwing off the slippers and having a play. I have not tried to play our Kimber Allen console in socks for fear of splinters, although our brand new organ arrives in March and I may well have a try then......................

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My reply is "ouch!" Everytime I've tried, its been mightily unpleasant.

Oh and I do remember watching a Gillian Weir masterclass at the old RCO when she demonstrated some immaculate pedalling in some very high-heeled sandals! I can't remember the piece or the candidate.

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I pedal without shoes, and have done for many years now. I find it far easier, but am helped by the fact that I have a very high instep, so the 'arch' of my foot creates a natural heal. It is perfectly do-able for me to play in thirds with no problem.

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I pedal without shoes, and have done for many years now. I find it far easier, but am helped by the fact that I have a very high instep, so the 'arch' of my foot creates a natural heal. It is perfectly do-able for me to play in thirds with no problem.

 

I'm with you here. For services I am completely unorthodox and wear canvas shoes which some people would describe as 'slippers'. This generally doesn't present a problem, although when pedal thirds are required (eg. Guilmant 1 Final - an ongoing project!) I just remove them and do the thirds in bare feet (with socks, of course!). Sometimes I will do my practice this way, and have found that playing without shoes is also useful when something unexpected happens and I do not have my normal shoes with me! It has never struck me as painful at all.

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Until I moved to Newfoundland, I simply didn't buy shoes which I couldn't pedal in (easy for a man!). The situation is different here - shoes capable of dealing with several feet of snow are unlikely to be nimble enough for BWV 532.

 

I've never considered buying or wearing 'organ shoes' as such, and I don't like pedalling without shoes. I'm thinking about setting a particular pair aside for the GTB Pedal Variations, if I ever get around to learning them....

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As recommended in another thread, Supadance are currently working fine for me. I never walk in them (outside the chancel).

I don't play pedals in thirds, though.

(Organmasters are available in the UK from Allegro.)

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To be honest I find it depends on the instrument I'm playing. With a console in which the pedals are (a) relatively close to the bottom manual) and (b ) have a soft action then it's a no-brainer, I play in socks. For unfamiliar organs I often play in socks, partly out of respect to other organists (in case there's anything dodgy on the soles of my shoes!) but mainly because playing consistently in socks means I always know how a pedalboard is likely to feel - every pair of shoes feels different in contrast. THe biggest problem this time of year is my feet get cold!

 

For my home organ I'm actually finding it easiest to play in slippers.

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I've just received a pair of organ shoes from a manufacturer in the USA that had not previously appeared on my radar screen - Tic Tac Toes. I have been using a pair of ball room dancing shoes that I originally bought several decades ago, but when I purchased a replacement pair from the same manufacturer a few years ago, I found they were less suitable, with thicker leather soles and cheaper construction. I have looked at the Organmaster shoes but wasn't totally convinced. What helped convince me to try Tic Tac Toes was the recommendation on their web site "Please note, that the construction of Organ shoes (lighter and more flexible for better pedal feel) is not intended for use in Dancing."

 

So far, I'm very happy with them. They cost me less than half what my previous shoes cost, and allow me to feel what is happening better.

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Being on the ludicrously tall side, I find that on many organs when my knees are banging on the underneath of the bottom manual I can just get my heels over the "white" notes with only socks on my feet. My feet are ludicrously wide and long as well (12 1/2 H) so with shoes I find it difficult to press only one pedal at a time. I have never hurt my feet on a pedalboard, but I do go barefoot quite a lot, so my feet are used to the hard life.

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At my recent recital (projected onto a big screen complete with pedalcam) a sharp-eyed member of the audience afterwards asked me why I wasn't making much use of heels. Whilst my program included a fair amount of baroque music for which one would almost never use heels, it occurred to me that perhaps a side-effect of preferring to play in socks was that it was often just as easy to slide my toes onto adjacent notes than to use toe-heel. So perhaps my preference for wearing socks does lead to less use of heels if I can play just as legato in socked toes. Any thoughts?

 

Of course there is a time for heels - I'm starting to learn the Bonnet concert variations and can't see how you can play the four note pedal chords at the end in shoes, let alone without heels and toes!

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