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Mander Organs
Peter Allison

Wot, no organ music?

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But the 'standard' type of organ recital can often verge on the ridiculous.  Later this month I'm planning to attend one which is free, given by a former cathedral organist on an instrument in an elevated west end gallery.  The console is attached, though it need not have been because the organ has electric action.  The upshot is that we (the audience) will be sitting with our backs to the instrument and the player, who also has his back towards us.  How absurd!  What other instrument is played like that?  Other than the sound, it removes any vestige of bonding between the performer and listener.  Would that a bit more money could have been raised to provide a detached console in view of the congregation, either instead of or in addition to the en fenetre one.  And why does this extremely skilled player value his services and ability so low that we are allowed to get in free of charge?  Looked at rationally, the whole thing is just plain ludicrous and I fully understand why any 'normal' music lover, wandering into the church and not previously exposed to an organ recital, would be turned off by the whole affair.  So sad.

Yet unless something extremely untoward happens, I know that I'll enjoy it nonetheless because, like everybody else here, I'm just used to it.  I'll let you know how it went idc ...

CEP

Re the above, I promised to let you know how this recital went.

Everything I said was true - the chairs in the church had not been turned round, so we did indeed sit with our backs to the organ, and in addition the performer had his back to us.  However, it was not the gloomy and badly-attended affair I had feared from past experience.  Most importantly though, it was also true that I enjoyed it.  There was an informality and freshness which could only have worked in favour of the organ as an instrument worthy of being heard.  Prior to the recital, given by a player who entertained us with his anecdotes between the pieces as well as with his playing,  the church was full of people milling about as part of a previous unconnected event, and lunch was still being served.  Many of those taking it remained as the recital started, including a table occupied by an elderly grandmother, her daughter and a little toddler.  His expression when the organ struck up was a sight to behold.  His jaw dropped open and his little eyes ranged back and forth across the pipe display at the back of the gallery, before he got off his chair and started to dance down the aisle while Bach was being played.  I always knew about the importance of dance in organ music but had never quite seen its impact like that before!  The small-ish church was about half full, and it was not true to say that the audience was "exclusively white, elderly and middle class",  a phrase used in an article in the recent Organists' Review .  On the contrary, there were a good few younger people there, some of whom were quite liberally inked as well!  (I hope these remarks will not cause offence as that is not my intention.  If they do, please tell me and I will edit this post).  The performance was, I think, relayed into the street outside via loudspeakers, resulting in a number of curious people coming in to find out what was going on.  Some of them stayed to listen.

So at least some organ recitals do seem to 'work'.  This one definitely did, perhaps because the ('high') church seemed to have a vibrancy about it which I would judge was well matched to the demographic of its neighbourhood.  All credit to those involved with it, who seemed to have hit on the right recipe.

CEP

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Another approach to getting more people to listen to organ music is to include just one or two pieces in a concert devoted to choral music or music played on other instruments where these are held in a church.  There are people who would not consider going to a recital only of organ music, but are quite happy to listen to one or two pieces as part of a wider programme. It is a great shame that the BBC don’t take this approach when planning the Proms at the Albert Hall. They also miss a great opportunity by not including organ music during the intervals, rather as organists used to play during the intermissions at the cinema. I’m sure there are many talented organ students who would jump at the chance of playing to a couple of thousand people, even if they weren’t always paying full attention. And,of course, there was an organ in Vauxhall Gardens. Judging by many accounts of 18th century audiences, I somehow doubt whether the organ was heard in total silence. Organs and organ music need a new approach to listening if they are to attract a wider audience used not used to 20th century concert etiquette. What’s wrong with wandering around, eating and drinking and having a chat whilst listening to organ music? I see Bath Abbey is throwing out its pews. Perhaps they could use the vast open space for a new kind of organ music experience. 

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11 minutes ago, Zimbelstern said:

Another approach to getting more people to listen to organ music is to include just one or two pieces in a concert devoted to choral music or music played on other instruments where these are held in a church.  There are people who would not consider going to a recital only of organ music, but are quite happy to listen to one or two pieces as part of a wider programme. It is a great shame that the BBC don’t take this approach when planning the Proms at the Albert Hall. They also miss a great opportunity by not including organ music during the intervals, rather as organists used to play during the intermissions at the cinema. I’m sure there are many talented organ students who would jump at the chance of playing to a couple of thousand people, even if they weren’t always paying full attention. And,of course, there was an organ in Vauxhall Gardens. Judging by many accounts of 18th century audiences, I somehow doubt whether the organ was heard in total silence. Organs and organ music need a new approach to listening if they are to attract a wider audience used not used to 20th century concert etiquette. What’s wrong with wandering around, eating and drinking and having a chat whilst listening to organ music? I see Bath Abbey is throwing out its pews. Perhaps they could use the vast open space for a new kind of organ music experience. 

this is a very interesting approach. I know my girl friend does not care much or organ music, and has only accompanied me on one, thus far, maybe if it also included a piece or 2 of "something else", then that would be a good thing, right? ? or something that she recognises, not  Messiaen tho (sorry, but that does my brain in at times, so there is no chance for her, ha ha ha)

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2 hours ago, Zimbelstern said:

Another approach to getting more people to listen to organ music is to include just one or two pieces in a concert devoted to choral music or music played on other instruments where these are held in a church.

Yes, a very good idea.  This is what they do in my wife's choir's (Byrd Singers, Manchester) concerts, and it works very well.

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