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November 27, 2004
Vol. IV, No. 31

"I'm Only Human"
It was with great amusement and immense satisfaction that I recently listened to a group of digital organ owners complaining about the high cost of digital organs as well as their instruments' limitations at replicating some of the features that players of pipe organs take for granted. Because they're in the business of making money rather than building works of art, digital organ manufacturers may not enjoy the rosy future that some digital cheerleaders envision for them.

Some people have asked me why I pick on digitals. Truth be told, maybe I'm just jealous. I often wish that I, too, could be a machine. I can't seem to practice regularly, stay on a project as well as I would like or focus consistently while I'm playing. I make mistakes and being a machine could fix that.

Recently during a service I was playing some fill-in music and about two-thirds of the way through the piece I needed to end it. I chose for my ending place the nearest phrase ending in the tonic, which was E Minor. That choice didn't really give me enough notes for a proper ritard so the ending came up rather abruptly, as a boat does when it approaches the dock too rapidly.

That minor collision would have been OK but it was compounded by the fact that I guess I hadn't truly resolved in my mind whether or not to sharp the third in the final chord, thereby ending in E Major. The resulting sonority was E Minor in the left hand and E Major in the right, with a very befuddled organist thrown into the mix. I, of course, could hear at once that I had a problem but I didn't immediately understand what it was, having been caught off guard by a half-formed, half-inspired thought. Consequently, my floundering attempts at resolving the problem were unsuccessful and many.

Mercifully, I eventually got the situation under control. To my ear, the resulting effect of the ending was similar to an old car that, after the ignition is turned off, continues to shudder and shake and sputter until someone has the good sense to kick it.

Fortunately, audiences don't hear every little wrong thing we do as a mistake the way we do. A bungled finale such as mine would be heard simply as "interesting," as in if you were to trip and fall down the stairs and all anyone ever said was, "Gee, what an interesting way of getting to the bottom."

I guess musicians have always thought in terms of right and wrong notes and audiences have always thought in terms of music. Years ago, an organist I was working with on a project told me, "Forget about the notes, just play the music!" At the time, I thought he was crazy because it sounded to me like cheating not to play all the notes. But I understand now that he knew the secret. He was saying, Don't sacrifice the overall effect of the music in order to get every last note. And believe me, I was.

So musicians worry about notes and audiences worry about music but maybe musicians should worry a bit more about the music and a bit less about the notes. Poor machines, they don't worry at all. I guess there is something worse than being human after all.

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Updated Pages
Featured Links:
Added are two links to the website of Carl Giesecke & Sohn of Germany, a supplier for organ builders. There are two step-by-step photo essays that are very informative: The Way of Building Big Facade Pipes and The Way of Building Reeds

Organ Links:
Added are the Appleton organ in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, and the Klais organ in the Overture Center for the Arts, Madison, Wisconsin.

Independent Artists:
Added is the website of Johan Hermans of Belgium.

WHAT I'M READING..."Lies of Silence" by Brian Moore. I wasn't sure I was going to like this but it came highly recommended and it sucked me right in. Has to do with the political-religious conflict in Ireland. Click the link below for more information on this book:
Click this link to see all selections in Dan's Book Club:

WHAT I'M LISTENING TO..."Appetite for Destruction" by Guns N' Roses. Harsh is an understatement but I really like this album. These guys are one of only a few bands since the 1970s that actually rock. The chemistry in this band is unbelievable. I have a hard time understanding how a debut album can be so good. Click the link below for more information on this CD:
Click this link to see all selections in Dan's CD Club:

WHAT I'M WATCHING..."The Deer Hunter (1978)" Starring: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken. I decided to watch this because John Kerry said that, of the films of Viet Nam, it was the one that he felt most represented the experience. I was young at the time but I remember the body counts on the evening news and men coming home. As I watched this film I kept thinking, Oh, God, I can't believe we're going through this madness all over again. Click the link below for more information on this DVD:
Click this link to see all selections in Dan's DVD Club:


Have a great week!

Dan Long

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