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The Virgil Fox Phenomenon

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Yes. I am quite certain that if we had more Virgil Curleys it would not make a ha'porth of difference to the church organist crisis, which exists for entirely different reasons - as we have rehearsed many times before.

 

Indeed, Vox.

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I worked tirelessly for twenty years building up music in parish churches in London and here in Brighton in a variety of situations from very poor inner-city parishes to rural churches and even a church in a military base.  I have done my best not to make church music elitist but involve the community by going out into the community.  I have described some of my activities in this messageboard.

 

 

Then good for you - but the impression you give is rather more pessimistic. Surely you must have seen some fruit for your labours?

 

Insofar as your activities are concerned, you mention the wider community and the desire not to make church music 'elitist'. However, you do not specifically mention what you have done to encourage people (of all ages) to play the organ - and to get involved, if at all possible, in their local churches.

 

What steps did you take to achieve this goal, Lee? Perhaps we can use some of your methods here, in order to encourage more people to commence organ lessons.

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Much as I may have disagreed with virtually everything you have ever said, I would agree that finding younger organists is a problem.  But there are thousands at Oundle and these other courses - why aren't they in posts?  No money, and naff organs.  The solution?  Ask the RCO/RCSM etc.  It's a head-against-brick-wall exercise.

 

Poor quality music may also have something to do with it - I happen to know this is the reason in the case of the young organist/composer of whom I wrote earlier.

 

But encouraging wholesale abandonment of right notes isn't going to win ANY friends for the organ, just as much as entering long debates about correct trills and wind pressures isn't either.

 

You wouldn't catch me dead in a conservative club, no matter how cheap the beer!

 

 

Hmmm.... OK, then how about the Soroptimists (Provisional Wing of the Mothers' Union)?

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Guest Lee Blick
But encouraging wholesale abandonment of right notes isn't going to win ANY friends for the organ

 

I have never advocated the 'abandonment' of right notes.

 

am quite certain that if we had more Virgil Curleys it would not make a ha'porth of difference to the church organist crisis

 

No, you are right, but they have done much to bring organ music to the general public. As a thirteen year old, I saw Dudley Moore on Wogan play a digital organ accompanying a choir singing Christmas Carols. I thought, "Wow a famous actor and comic genius can play the organ." Then I saw Carlo Curley on the same show some months later playing Widor's Toccata and the 'Liberty Bell March', yes, with people clapping along and I thought, "Playing the organ can be fun. I want to learn to play it."

 

As Tony Price says, these people have been great ambassadors and I just find it sad that there are people here, who are supposedly professional musicians just sweeping these people under the carpet because they chose a different way to express their talents.

 

Then good for you - but the impression you give is rather more pessimistic. Surely you must have seen some fruit for your labours?

 

Yes, I am pessimistic about the future of organ playing in parish churches, the reasons I have described.

 

Yes, I have seen plenty of fruit from my labours. Just one small examples:

 

In one parish I came across a couple in their 20's who had learning disabilities. Before I was appointed they had asked the previous organist if they could join several times but they were turned down point blank. They wouldn't be able to cope was the reasoning. When they came to me, I allowed them to join with howls of protest from some members adult choir and I thought this was wrong. It was hard work, with lots of extra tuition and patience but by the time I left the parish these two people were able to read music and sing in tune.

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I have never advocated the 'abandonment' of right notes.  

No, you are right, but they have done much to bring organ music to the general public.  As a thirteen year old, I saw Dudley Moore on Wogan play a digital organ accompanying a choir singing Christmas Carols.  I thought, "Wow a famous actor and comic genius can play the organ."  Then I saw Carlo Curley on the same show some months later playing Widor's Toccata and the 'Liberty Bell March', yes, with people clapping along and I thought, "Playing the organ can be fun.  I want to learn to play it."

 

 

But you are still ignoring the fact that there appear to be many genuine music-lovers here who are simply put-off by the style and performances of these two 'entertainers'.

 

Certainly, Virgil Fox had a prodigious technique and musicality - when he chose to exercise taste. However, what a number of us are objecting to, are the many times when he decided to 'improve' on the music and also the times when he chose to resort to unnecessary tricks and showmanship, instead of simply presenting the music in centre-stage.

 

I have attended many organ recitals which were not boring and where the music was played virtuosically and with great musicianship. Yet there were no tricks, no whipping-up of the audience.

 

Interestingly, some years ago, Carlo Curley gave a recital at my own church. Apart from the fact that some pieces were simply given inaccurate readings, many people came out saying things such as "Well, it was OK - but what was that bird-cage about? And why did he have to keep bouncing around the place?" On the other hand, I was privileged to act as page-turner for David Briggs' recital in January 2000, to mark the opening of the organ of Gloucester Cathedral, after the rebuild by Nicholsons. His playing was superb - and totally accurate. I was watching quite literally every note of music, I knew most of the printed works and he played superbly. He also included a stunning improvisation on themes from The Planets suite by Holst. At the conclusion of the concert he received an ovation - many of the comments which I heard afterwards were entirely praiseworthy. What David had done was to play faultlessly, brilliantly - and to leave the music in centre-stage. Oh, and by the way, it was a full house.

 

Lee, if fun and entertainment are primarily what you like in an organ recital, then clearly, the performances and recordings of Virgil Fox and Carlo Curley are tailor-made for you. However, to suggest (by implication) that anyone who disagrees is 'elitist', 'snobbish' or simply dull is unlikely to win friends and influence people.

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But you are still ignoring the fact that there appear to be many genuine music-lovers here who are simply put-off by the style and performances of these two 'entertainers'.

 

You, perhaps sadly, underestimate "genuine music-lovers": such people broadly have the intellect to make a very personal judgement, as with any other music interpretation they hear, according to their individual tastes - they are unlikely to be put off as you suggest. They are broad-minded enough to understand that music comes in many forms, in many styles, and with many interpretations, and attracts, or otherwise, an equally broad range of emotions.

 

They do such things quietly and intellegently.

 

Tony

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You, perhaps sadly, underestimate "genuine music-lovers": such people broadly have the intellect to make a very personal judgement, as with any other music interpretation they hear, according to their individual tastes - they are unlikely to be put off as you suggest. They are broad-minded enough to understand that music comes in many forms, in many styles, and with many interpretations, and attracts, or otherwise, an equally broad range of emotions.

 

They do such things quietly and intellegently.

 

Tony

 

No Tony, I am afraid that you have mis-read my post. I was referring to those of us on this board who have stated either a concern relating to (or an active dislike of) the performance styles of the two organists in question. As such - these contributors (and I) have already made an intelligent and informed decision about some of the interpretations in question. As for 'quietly', it is difficult to remain 'quiet' when one or two posters resort to extreme rudeness on a public board.

 

For the record, there are a number of 'genuine music-lovers' in my own church who are not remotely interested in showmanship, bird-cages, large black capes, or any number of other tricks and gimmicks. They simply like good music played well. They were among those who were less than impressed by the 'showmanship' of Carlo Curley.

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Guest Lee Blick
Lee, if fun and entertainment are primarily what you like in an organ recital, then clearly, the performances and recordings of Virgil Fox and Carlo Curley are tailor-made for you. However, to suggest (by implication) that anyone who disagrees is 'elitist', 'snobbish' or simply dull is unlikely to win friends and influence people.

 

No, you are misrepresenting me. I am saying that those who think that their way to perform music is the only way are being elitist.

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No, you are misrepresenting me.  I am saying that those who think that their way to perform music is the only way are being elitist.

 

Which was, unfortunately, not clear from your previous posts*. I had gained the impression that you were of the opinion that anyone who disagreed with you was 'elitist' and 'snobbish'. I am pleased to learn that this is, in fact, not the case.

 

I also note the additional paragraphs in one of your earlier posts.

 

Whilst I am pleased that you were able to achieve a satisfactory conclusion with regard to the young couple who had learning difficulties, I can also appreciate the situation from the viewpoint of existing members of the choir. The outcome could have been quite different - it could have prompted a number of members to leave, consequently causing great sorrow - and disruption to the musical life of the church.

 

No doubt, in this situation, is was necessary to exercise great wisdom, patience and understanding - not least in the re-assurance of those already in your choir.

 

 

 

* Here is an example of what I have obviously mis-understood:

 

"I am quite glad he didn't. He has been spared with the snobbish attitudes of those in their high organ lofts, as displayed here. Call yourselves professional organists when you denegrate your fellow practioners in this way? It is appalling, really. "

 

One further example:

 

I would rather listen to and be entertained by that rather some sterile and faceless recitalist in some backwater provincial cathedral in my personal opinion.

 

Oh, I nearly forgot this one:

 

For God's sake the guy is at death's door and all you can do, sjf, is criticize his playing. Call yourself a bloody Christian?

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* Here is an example of what I have obviously mis-understood:

 

"I am quite glad he didn't. He has been spared with the snobbish attitudes of those in their high organ lofts, as displayed here. Call yourselves professional organists when you denegrate your fellow practioners in this way? It is appalling, really. "

 

One further example:

 

I would rather listen to and be entertained by that rather some sterile and faceless recitalist in some backwater provincial cathedral in my personal opinion.

 

Oh, I nearly forgot this one:

 

For God's sake the guy is at death's door and all you can do, sjf, is criticize his playing. Call yourself a bloody Christian?

 

The biggest problem we have here is not the subject of the debate, which is interesting, but the way in which it is being conducted. Tasteless, personal and unpleasant comments cannot be the way to go, and one hopes they will be withdrawn. It also seems unfair to our hosts at Manders.

 

One of the great things about this board is that we have a good deal of informed and intelligent comment - from all sorts of people, including cathedral organists, recitalists, village organists, non-players, professionals and amateurs alike. For the most part the debate is friendly even where there are fundamental disagreements. However, it now seems that due to the unpleasant and intemperate nature of some posts, we have lost a contributor whose comments I have greatly appreciated - for the quality of his postings, and not because he is well-known as a cathedral organist and recitalist, and not because I agree with all he says.

 

JJK

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The biggest problem we have here is not the subject of the debate, which is interesting, but the way in which it is being conducted. Tasteless, personal and unpleasant comments cannot be the way to go, and one hopes they will be withdrawn. It also seems unfair to our hosts at Manders.

 

One of the great things about this board is that we have a good deal of informed and intelligent comment - from all sorts of people, including cathedral organists, recitalists, village organists, non-players, professionals and amateurs alike. For the most part the debate is friendly even where there are fundamental disagreements. However, it now seems that due to the unpleasant and intemperate nature of some posts, we have lost a contributor whose comments I have greatly appreciated - for the quality of his postings, and not because he is well-known as a cathedral organist and recitalist, and not because I agree with all he says.

 

JJK

 

Well said. I for one will be sad if sjf stops reading and posting on this board. I value ALL opinions even if I don't agree with them.

 

:)

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The biggest problem we have here is not the subject of the debate, which is interesting, but the way in which it is being conducted. Tasteless, personal and unpleasant comments cannot be the way to go, and one hopes they will be withdrawn. It also seems unfair to our hosts at Manders.

 

One of the great things about this board is that we have a good deal of informed and intelligent comment - from all sorts of people, including cathedral organists, recitalists, village organists, non-players, professionals and amateurs alike. For the most part the debate is friendly even where there are fundamental disagreements. However, it now seems that due to the unpleasant and intemperate nature of some posts, we have lost a contributor whose comments I have greatly appreciated - for the quality of his postings, and not because he is well-known as a cathedral organist and recitalist, and not because I agree with all he says.

 

JJK

 

I would heartily concur with your sentiments. However, it is worth bearing in mind, as I wrote earlier, that with a subject as emotive as this, opinions are highly likely to become polarised, with consequent strong views on the subject.

 

I, too, hope that Stephen returns to this board soon.

 

However, I felt disinclined to let some contributions from certain posters pass unchallenged.

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I would heartily concur with your sentiments. However, it is worth bearing in mind, as I wrote earlier, that with a subject as emotive as this, opinions are highly likely to become polarised, with consequent strong views on the subject.

 

I, too, hope that Stephen returns to this board soon.

 

However, I felt disinclined to let some contributions from certain posters pass unchallenged.

 

Yes of course - nothing wrong with strong views. Although my reply was to your post, please don't think it was directed at you!

 

JJK

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Yes of course - nothing wrong with strong views. Although my reply was to your post, please don't think it was directed at you!

 

JJK

 

 

Absolutely - no problem there!

 

:)

 

To return to the subject - I am still stunned at the virtuosity and sheer musicianship of the playing of Virgil Fox in the Jongen 'Symphonie Concertante' - I would be pleased to watch (and listen to) any similar videos - those in which he lets the music speak for itself through the medium of his prodigious technique.

 

Does anyone have any such links which they could pass on, please?

 

Odd - I keep managing to render most of the post in italics, despite carefully selecting only the title of the work. I cannot see any extra brackets - what am I doing incorrectly?

 

:)

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What David (Briggs) had done was to play faultlessly, brilliantly - and to leave the music in centre-stage. Oh, and by the way, it was a full house.

 

That's the sort of all-too-rare thing that shouldn't pass without comment - music making that elevates the spirit, rather than the heart rate.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
The biggest problem we have here is not the subject of the debate, which is interesting, but the way in which it is being conducted. Tasteless, personal and unpleasant comments cannot be the way to go, and one hopes they will be withdrawn. It also seems unfair to our hosts at Manders.

 

One of the great things about this board is that we have a good deal of informed and intelligent comment - from all sorts of people, including cathedral organists, recitalists, village organists, non-players, professionals and amateurs alike. For the most part the debate is friendly even where there are fundamental disagreements. However, it now seems that due to the unpleasant and intemperate nature of some posts, we have lost a contributor whose comments I have greatly appreciated - for the quality of his postings, and not because he is well-known as a cathedral organist and recitalist, and not because I agree with all he says.

 

JJK

 

 

Yes. I agree 100%

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Absolutely - no problem there!

 

:P

 

To return to the subject - I am still stunned at the virtuosity and sheer musicianship of the playing of Virgil Fox in the Jongen 'Symphonie Concertante' - I would be pleased to watch (and listen to) any similar videos - those in which he lets the music speak for itself through the medium of his prodigious technique.

 

Does anyone have any such links which they could pass on, please?

 

Odd - I keep managing to render most of the post in italics, despite carefully selecting only the title of the work. I cannot see any extra brackets - what am I doing incorrectly?

 

:P

 

 

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

 

 

Now, everyone prepare to eat humble pie!

 

This link will absolutely blow you away.

 

FOX PLAYING IT STRAIGHT! (and how!)

 

 

http://www.virgilfoxlegacy.com/discography.html

 

Click on discography

 

1958 RECORDING - RIVERSIDE

Prelude & Fugue in G minor - Dupre

 

1968 RECORDING BOSTON SYMPHONY HALL - Reger: Fantasie On The Chorale "How Brightly Shines The Morning Star"

 

1977 RUFFATI ORGAN, GARDEN GROVE - Toccata from the Symphonie Concertante (J. Jongen) -- SOLO ARRANGEMENT BY FOX

 

To play the last item with orchestra must be hard enough, but to transcribe it to solo organ, as Fox did, and then play it like this, must surely be one of the greatest moments in the history of organ-music.

 

:P

 

MM

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The biggest problem we have here is not the subject of the debate, which is interesting, but the way in which it is being conducted.

When passions run high there's always a danger of going off at the deep and and I'm just as capable of falling prey to that as anyone else. But it's counter-productive. Over the years I've had to get involved in a fair degree of negotiation and debate and the one thing I learnt early on is that if you want to influence people you have to be businesslike, measured, polite, accurate and efficient. The minute someone starts to rant or make wild accusations they immediately cease to be taken seriously and their views are simply ignored.

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Certainly, Virgil Fox had a prodigious technique and musicality - when he chose to exercise taste.

Surely the prodigious technique and musicality existed irrespective of whether he was exercising taste.

 

Taste is really what it all boils down to. Organists like Fox and Curley are primarily entertainers. Entertainers don't need to give a fig about taste since their own persona is the all-important factor. Cathedral organists are in a different market, as it were. Church music is not about entertaining - at least not in anything like the same way. There are bound to be different views on what its purpose is, but mine is that it is about employing music as a medium through which the hearer can attain spirituality and communion with God. A rather more reverential attitude to it is, I think both inevitable and desirable.

 

Again, in my view cathedral organists have as much right to dislike the approach of the entertainers as theatre organists have of disliking the approach of "serious" musicians. They are different animals really.

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I was going to say I thought the Franck Piece Heroique was rather eccentric and full of things that from a musical point of view don't seem to make any sense, and then I came across:

 

http://www.virgilfoxlegacy.com/mp3/audio03...ata_4_in_G.html

 

 

And I thought Hurford's Schubler chorales were fast!!!!!

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Surely the prodigious technique and musicality existed irrespective of whether he was exercising taste.

 

Taste is really what it all boils down to. Organists like Fox and Curley are primarily entertainers. Entertainers don't need to give a fig about taste since their own persona is the all-important factor. Cathedral organists are in a different market, as it were. Church music is not about entertaining - at least not in anything like the same way. There are bound to be different views on what its purpose is, but mine is that it is about employing music as a medium through which the hearer can attain spirituality and communion with God. A rather more reverential attitude to it is, I think both inevitable and desirable.

 

Again, in my view cathedral organists have as much right to dislike the approach of the entertainers as theatre organists have of disliking the approach of "serious" musicians. They are different animals really.

 

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

 

We're getting closer to the truth, I think.

 

:P

 

MM

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

 

We're getting closer to the truth, I think.

 

:P

 

MM

 

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

 

I have often wondered what makes the Virgil Fox legacy so powerful, so controversial and so frustrating.

 

Clearly, he came from a background which developed the Expressive German Romantic style, into the virtual symphonic transcriptions of Bach we still cough and splutter at when we hear them to-day.

 

They seem so utterly wild, and yet, they are not, in essence, that much different from what Straube did; other than in the up tempo performances.

 

Listen carefully, with an open-mind, to a Virgil Fox performance of Bach, and there is a clarity and energy which is quite startling, usually played on instruments which were often rather cloudy in audible texture.

 

It goes without saying that Virgil Fox had a peerless technical facility, a prodigious memory and an extraordinary musical gift, and if one draws a veil over the "heavy organ" period, when Fox took to tramping around America and wowing low-brow audiences with his peculiar brand of showmanship, there is much to admire.

 

He was, of course, a product of the period......an age which embraced Howard Hughes, the larger than life entrepreneur, the mass production revolution of Henry Ford and the boundless energy of a nation hell-bent on the "American Dream."

 

Like "Art" Arfons and Craig Breedlove, Virgil Fox rejoiced in speed, perhaps for its' own sake......maybe because he could, and maybe because he wanted the world to witness it.

 

However, if there is a fault-line, it is in the showy cult of his own personality, which really knew few boundaries. Privately, Virgil Fox tempted fate by constantly exploring dizzy new heights of virtuosity, and it was not without its trials and tribulations. Carlo Curley tells the story of Virgil Fox, raging at the mistakes he was making; unaware that Carlo Curley was there in the Riverside Church. Virgil Fox was shouting to the almighty, and asking for the strength to achieve the impossible. Of course, having shouted and dropped to his knees, he found the strength and the means, as was usually the case.

 

However, perhaps it is vital to ask what motivated him, what drove him on right to the end (almost at the point of death for his final recital, yet pulling it off brilliantly).

 

I can think of just one comparison, and no other; though doubtless they exist.

 

Forget music, and turn to the world of literature. There was a man who courted popularity, who bathed in the limelight, who drew attention to himself, who had literary virtuosity, a unique genius, a devastating wit and perhaps even the seeds of his own destruction. That man was Oscar Wylde.

 

No matter how we may admire the work of Oscar Wylde, there can be no escape from the fact that he was totally overpowering, completely self-indulgent, utterly ruthless and quite incapable of understanding why anyone should choose not to adore him. He rode roughshod over his wife and family, lived entirely for his own pleasure and had scant respect for convention.

 

The similarities to Virgil Fox are powerful, and if there is one word which can best encapsulate the Fox phenomenon, that word is homosexual "narcissim."

 

Destructive and reconstructive though the art may be, it IS art, without a doubt, but it is the art of entertainment which looks inwards rather than outwards.

 

That is what I find unsettling about Virgil Fox, and yet, like so many, I am fatally drawn back to it time and time again, for he was without a shadow of a doubt, a complete phenomenon; a genius of the highest order and perhaps a man whom one could never properly understand; even at close range.

 

MM

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Guest Lee Blick
Taste is really what it all boils down to. Organists like Fox and Curley are primarily entertainers. Entertainers don't need to give a fig about taste since their own persona is the all-important factor

 

I think that comment is rather misjudged. I am pretty sure these 'entertainers' do care about taste. I think they are good technical musicians in their own right. You only have to listen to some of their recordings to see they are capable of serious things. But whether they choose to express their talent in a particular way to an audience does not deserve some of the rather distateful put downs by musicians who seem to think they are superior.

 

And there are organists who do cross this 'supposed divide'. Hector Oliviera and Wayne Marshall are two I admire and respect. For me a real musician is one who is able to look at performing music in a wide range of ways and appreciate different styles and genres of music. Unfortunately there are not that many of them around but when you do come across these sort of people you realise that being a musician is more than just playing notes and achieving 'high standards'. It is about an unspoken language that can be communicated from one human to another with few barriers with the ability to express a huge range of emotions that affect almost all our senses.

 

So instead being negative towards people who express themselves in a different way to you, why not just stop and think, is there a different way of performing or approaching a piece of music or a different musical genre?

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I'm going to work on the basis that ignoring you is the quickest way of making you go away.

 

Can you not read the many comments above about the manner this debate is being conducted, and take the hint? Your offensive and deliberately provocative remarks are doing nothing other than fan flames that nobody is particularly interested in being warmed by. You seem to have a chip on your shoulder about elitism and ivory towers that I think you are probably alone in being troubled by.

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