November 29, 2002
Vol. II, No. 45
It's hard to believe but at this time one week ago, I was just arriving home from my first rehearsal at St. Thomas. This next installment of my recital saga includes my notes from last Friday and Saturday nights plus a special treat for those who make it to the end of the Rampage.
I was on time but then the evening got off to a rocky start. To begin with, I couldn't get the key to work that gets me out of the church when I'm done practicing. Imagine me, at midnight, locked inside the church. (Actually, it wouldn't be the first time.) I finally found a maintenance man who was able to show me how to jiggle the key just right to get the door open.
Then to really complicate matters, I was informed that there was a high-profile dinner party scheduled in the parish house. It wouldn't seem to matter except that one of the organ chambers abuts a wall of the dining room. The church hadn't canceled my rehearsal because they assumed, with my all-Bach program, that I would be playing the gallery organ. Well, I kicked the tires on it but not for very long: flat pedalboard, short keys, for the size of the instrument I would have preferred the swell to have been closer (lower). I didn't instantly fall in love with the action or the stops but even if I had I think it would have been unwise to try to perform on that organ. You have to court some trackers before they'll let you get to second base. Besides the main organ probably has the best touch of any non-tracker I've ever played.
So I passed on the Taylor & Boody and moved down to the Great Organ. I was allowed to practice softly (8' and 4' flutes) but after a while they asked me to stop completely so as not to disturb the speeches upstairs. Fortunately the inside of St. Thomas is eye candy and I spent much of the time soaking in the atmosphere. Finally around 9:30pm I was able to get down to it.
I started working out my registrations with the ending of the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, the loudest point of the recital and worked backward through the piece. Once that was settled, I moved on to the Prelude and Fugue in B Minor. Since it is also a big piece but occurs earlier in the program than the Toccata, I started with the opening registration of the Toccata, reduced it somewhat, and used that for the base registration of the B Minor.
I knew I wanted the opening piece, the Fugue in G Minor, to be soft as a contrast to the larger pieces but finding the right combination of stops took a bit of work. I finally settled on the 8' Flute Harmonique and 4' Rohrflote on the Great, and coupled down the 2' Octavin from the Swell. All three stops were coupled to the pedal, joining the Bourdon 16' derived from the Great. Since stops are different on every organ, this will mean next to nothing unless you know the organ but I just know there's someone reading this who wants to know.
Last but not least was the Fantasia in G Major. I registered the first of its three sections so I could echo the Great with the Choir on alternating measures. On the second section, I created a fairly straight-forward build (I have a workshop coming up on the Fantasia where I'll go into more detail on this.) On the last section, I tried really hard to find a soft stop to use a la Marchal. I liked the 8' Gedeckt on the Great but in the middle of the section it just couldn't hold its own in the lower register. I'm sure there's something else on the organ I could have used but in the time I had, I couldn't find it and I didn't want to wait until the next night to register anything. In the end I went with a continuation of the build from the second section. Session one completed.
Overall I was satisfied with what I had done the previous night and only fine-tuned a few things along the way. Part of me wished I could have set up fancier changes and fine-tuned things a bit more but I didn't feel like I knew the organ well enough to do those things in the time I had. The other part of me sometimes feels like manual changes and terraced dynamics can unnecessarily interrupt the momentum of a piece. That's as a perfomer, not a listener.
My registration decisions were also influenced by the audience I was expecting. With a large majority of non-organists attending, I wanted them to have the opportunity to hear the B Minor and especially the D Minor at a significant volume. They like to hear the organ played that way although my program registrations also ran the dynamic gamut.
I took a break after a couple run-throughs to write down my registrations because you just never know. The possibilities are too terrible to think about. Fortunately, with over 140 stops, there are numbers on the drawknob caps to make the job easier. Plus, I did the whole show on 13 pistons.
At the last minute I decided to change the registration of the G Minor Fugue because I didn't feel there was enough pedal. But no matter what I added to the pedal, it threw the sound out of balance. After a while I just stayed with what I had originally because it was getting late and it would mean performing the piece after only running through the piece once with the new registration.
The hardest thing was to walk away from the organ with time left on the clock. I was dying to play through it one last time but my fingertips were sore and my arms were tired. It was 10:15 and I decided it was better to go home and get a good night's sleep, come what may. I was beat.
At some point during my rehearsal, as I sat at the console thinking about my recital the next day, I was inspired to jot down this take-off on a familiar poem:
'Twas the night before my recital, when all through the church-house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a church mouse;
My music was stacked by the console with care,
In hopes that correct notes soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While I was up practicing, filling with dread;
Each piston changed the stops with a snap,
I'd have rather been draining a giant nightcap!
When out of the Swell there arose such a clatter,
I jumped off the bench to see what was the matter.
Away to the chamber I flew like a flash,
Pried open the shutters and threw out my back.
I pulled out the cipher to go on with the show
And staggered back down to the console below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a security guard with his hands on his ears,
With a little old flashlight, so lively and quick,
He shined and he questioned until I was sick.
He looked at my program like a man insane,
Then he smiled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"A FANTASY, FUGUE, TOCCATA and PRELUDE!
That's a whole recital and not just a postlude!"
To the top of the church for his friends he did call
And I had to play the whole thing for them all.
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So over the keys my fingers they flew,
Amazing my feet on the pedalboard, too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard to my right
A roaring of laughter filling the night.
As I got off the bench, and was turning around,
Down the facade slid Old Bach, all the way to the ground.
He looked much like the pictures you see in the books,
After all of these years, he still had his looks;
He put on the shoes that were slung on his back,
And pulled some old music from out of his pack.
His eyes -- how they twinkled! his fingers how merry!
His toes were like birds, a quick tune they could carry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the hair on his head was as white as the snow;
He played a great cantus with four voices beneath,
Til the music encircled our heads like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he played like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight through each werk,
Then completing a cadence he turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the facade he rose;
He sprang to the Choir and silenced a whistle,
Then faded away without an epistle.
But I heard him exclaim, my Germanic idol,
"HAPPY PRELUDES TO ALL, AND ENJOY YOUR RECITAL!"
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