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November 22, 2002
Vol. II, No. 43

"Final Countdown Commencing..."
Well, my recital is less than two days away now (so forgive me if this isn't my usual polished Rampage). Last week, a community member asked me how I was going to spend my final week preparing. Was I going to play through my program once a day? Or play it backward one day and forward the next? Or run through the program with only a spot here and there? The subject brought to mind my choir director from high school, Mrs. Diehl. While I was preparing for a piano recital back then, she scared me (unintentionally, I'm sure) with stories of preparing for her college senior piano recital. She was required to be able to play the whole recital from memory at half tempo (Gulp!). I can tell you that's not going to happen.

The subject about final preparations also made me chuckle because, unfortunately, it's been a long time since I've been able to practice every day, or every other day for that matter. Working full-time, my practice routine is limited to Wednesdays before the service and Sundays between services. Not ideal but it works for me. So Sunday was my last intensive practice and I had time enough to run through the program once this past Wednesday. In keeping with the spirit of the subject at hand, on Sunday I played through a couple of the pieces extra slowly and even ran through the program once in reverse order. I wasn't so crazy about that but maybe it helped in some way.

I still have practice time coming up at St. Thomas, however. The way it works is you rehearse on the Friday and Saturday nights prior to your Sunday recital. You have the church to yourself from 6pm to midnight both nights. The last time I played at St. Thomas, I went a few weeks ahead of time to acclimate myself to the organ.
I like to do that because the first set of registrations I come up with usually stink. They result in a "What was I thinking?" and then I redo them all. This time I didn't visit ahead of time so tonight will be my first time at that organ in seven years. With everything compressed in time, I guess I'll end up redoing tonight's registrations tomorrow night. Sounds like I'll spend much of my twelve hours on registration. Then again, how many times can I run through my program? Eight, nine times? As long as there's enough time for coffee breaks, I'll be OK.

Another final preparation issue is going back and forth between different instruments. Before my Columbia recital last year I was playing on three different, very different, organs. It can be a little confusing for the hands and the brain. It will help that my focus now is strictly on St. Thomas. Two intensive nights there and I'm taking Sunday off from my church so my regular organ won't affect me.

Since I played there last, St. Thomas has acquired a new gallery organ by Taylor and Boody. It's probably more appropriate for Bach but I've never played it and I'm not sure I want to mess with my head like that. If I have time, I'd at least like to try it but c'mon, the main organ is the Main organ. So we'll see. I'll be warming up immediately prior to the recital on the organ that St. Thomas has in the choir room.
At that point I'll be so relieved to be at a keyboard, that I won't mind that it's different. One of my piano teachers in high school said that the only time she was nervous about her upcoming recital was when she was away from the piano and I'm always reminded of that when I have one bearing down on me.

One thing I try to do to calm my nerves is to focus on the people who will be there who know the least about the organ and music, and how much they will enjoy the recital. It doesn't excuse the mistakes, of which there are always plenty, but it does take the pressure off. You can compound mistakes if you're worried about what an organist in the audience might be thinking. As a "yute," I frequently played the piano for visiting relatives. In the beginning, I thought they must be deaf because they couldn't hear that I was making mistakes. With experience comes a little perspective and understanding. These days, my favorite compliment to receive is "You sounded like you were enjoying yourself" or "...having fun with it." I usually am.

The biggest challenge, as always, is the mental one. I sometimes try to distract myself (more like let my mind wander) or allow myself to get nervous while I'm playing (by thinking about what the actual performance will be like) in order to simulate recital conditions. This way I can see what kinds of things can go wrong unexpectedly (unavoidable) and practice making recoveries (a little de-sensitization never hurts). It would be a mistake to throw myself into that kind of mental arena without some kind of preparation. Performances are so completely different than practice sessions.

There are a couple of phenomena that occur as the recital approaches that I always find interesting. One is the way tempos slow down as the pieces become more comfortable. That's one reason it's important not to program too much music; your recital can grow to unmanageable proportions at the last minute. The other weird thing is suddenly being unable to play well-known parts. And I'm talking about parts that I've been playing for years that I know like the back of my hand. It's some kind of mental block and it usually doesn't last more than a practice session or two and then returns to normal, usually only to be replaced by another such spot. Goes with the territory, I guess.

I've been walking home from work for the past few months. I find that looking at the broad expanse of the city, the skyline, helps me put things into perspective. It's all too easy to get wrapped up in the minutiae of your job. Likewise, it's easy to get wrapped up in the notes of a piece and I think it's important to get some perspective on that, too. Coincidentally, the walk home is the perfect place to accomplish that, as well.

Speaking of freak accidents, after my final run-through last Sunday, my Kalmus, Vol. IV, started sliding down off the side of the console. What's that side thingy called, an elbow? Anyway, my left hand flew up to grab the music and the bottom corner edge of a key on the choir manual took a big chunk out of my middle finger. Wait, before you hit the Reply button, no, it wasn't A Sharp key (ha-ha). Anyway, the wound is right near the crease at the base of the "V." I haven't had a gash like that since the potato peeler incident when I was 12 during a Boy Scout weekend camping trip. I'm fine, though, really.

Finally, I'd like to thank you all for your support. No organist has ever gone into a recital situation with such support on a global scale. All I can say is, I'll do my best, have a good time, and try not to embarrass the home team. Bach on!
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Have a great week!

Dan Long

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