I’m still paying heavily for pretending to be a normal human being on Tuesday* and doing stuff like getting on a train and going somewhere and doing something.** By yesterday afternoon as I fell over the keyboard it had become obvious that far from getting on with the third page of the Sonata Duet Whose Stupid Second Person Part Isn’t Stupid Enough, I was playing the second page worse. So I emailed Oisin and said you really don’t want to listen to me play tomorrow, how about that Introduction to the Organ?
I’ve told you about this before.*** Oisin is an organist first and a pianist second. I’ve historically tended to find the organ rather resistible, but that’s mostly because I don’t like it on CD or the radio; all those amazing echoes and resonances flatten out and become a stick to thump you with. I told Oisin once that I found it a very bullying noise which seems to have made sense to him, fortunately, since you don’t actually want your piano teacher nursing a secret grudge against you, and I needed a fast response to why I know nothing of the organ repertoire when I know quite a lot, in small, eccentric chunks of that for the piano. But I am such a sucker for other people’s enthusiasms†, and there is no way I was going to resist getting interested in the organ with Oisin around. Also, live . . . live organ is something else again. Back in the early days in England when I seemed to have time for things occasionally, I used to go to evensong at churches and abbeys big enough to have good choirs and big organs and revel. I tend to be a voice person, so I’d be going ostensibly for the choir; but sometimes it was the organ solos that made the earth move and the heavens open. Also organs are such interesting objects–wild and complex and enigmatic, at least to someone sitting in the audience and wondering why the pipes are over there and the fellow doing the Lon Chaney†† bit is over here.
And I’ve also told you that Oisin decided a few years ago that he wanted to get some fancy twirly-whirly endorsement for the organ ††† and he keeps talking about it‡ so I started nagging him to let me come hang out some time he was practising–he usually uses the organ at the church I ring Sunday service at, so if I leaned out the bathroom window at the cottage on a warm day when the church doors are open I could probably hear him–although he’s official organist at the medium-sized cathedral a couple of towns over. I probably blogged about this: that he finally let me come sit in. And it was pretty thrilling. And I remember saying something ill-judged like that if I were thirteen and musical, I’d be signing up for organ lessons.‡‡
Then I got into this composing deal and a few months ago Oisin said brightly, You should compose something for the organ. I’m sure you’d enjoy composing something for the organ.
Anggggh. Blah. Eeep. Why . . . sure. I know approximately as much about the organ as I know about the mating habits of the Eurasian Griffon Vulture, but why should I let a little thing like that stop me? A bird is a bird. A keyboard instrument is a keyboard instrument. Right. Yes. Have I mentioned recently that Oisin is insane? Well, all right, most of my favourite people are.‡‡‡ And–am I flattered? Of course I am. Terrified. Appalled. Befuddled. But flattered.
I have however had sufficient presence of mind (?) to suggest that I might have at least one more personal exposure to the organ in terms of what it does and what it likes to play. This has put off the awful moment of my attempting to set little black squiggly spots to manuscript paper for a little while because churches are brutal in the winter–as many of you know–and the person playing the organ may stay reasonably warm due to the remarkable contortions that are necessary to play the pedalboard–that’s the keyboard you play with your feet–but the pathetic shivering audience may develop not merely chilblains but Frozen Eardrum.
But it’s been warm lately.§ And Oisin emailed back that an organ experience sounded like a fine idea to him. So this afternoon he blew into his music room–he’d warned me he’d be a bit late, and I was more or less serenely tormenting his piano while I waited–unloaded and reloaded his music satchel, and we charged off to St Willibald . . . providentially§§ as the funeral party was leaving. So we slid in the back way and Oisin threw back the lid of the console and started pulling handfuls of sheet music out of his satchel again . . . golly. Bach, of course. Lovely, astonishing, frelling Bach. And a lot of people I’ve never heard of.§§§ And Elgar. Poulenc, whom I love anyway. And someone named, I think, Jehan Alain¤, who died in WWII when he was twenty-nine and left the most amazing music behind, evidently: at least Schubert had till he was thirty-one, for pity’s sake, and those last two years were pretty full, and you could furthermore argue that syphilis is at least somewhat your own damn fault while being blown up on the battlefield is not. Anyway.
And all the things you can do with an organ: half a dozen keyboards and four thousand and six variable stops per. Or so. It varies, Oisin says, from organ to organ.¤¤ I’m aware, of course, that the organ can be made to sound like an entire orchestra of different instruments, and I know, as all Lon Chaney devotees know, that there are little handles that you pull out and push in that have to do with how many and what sort of instruments it sounds like are involved, but seeing and hearing it all up close and personal–even on a modest modern console rather than the five keyboards and 101 stops of St Sulpice–is revelatory.¤¤¤ Hmmmmmm. And yes, I did leave with one or two embryonic thoughts about composition: I wonder how ghastly Finale’s organ audio is? I guess I’m going to find out. As we were leaving Oisin fixed me with a glittering eye and said, Just a little piece for the organ, please.
* * *
* If normal human beings go to the opera, which is perhaps debatable.
** Drinking champagne counts, I think, not just the highly skilled and demanding sitting upright in a chair which it takes newborn babies months to master. Sigh.
*** Sorry. I see no way around regular reiterations of this applied to different topics. Different people remember different things. I, of course, remember nothing^, but that’s a different issue.
^ Hellhounds? What are hellhounds?
† Why I Don’t Read Yarn Harlot Regularly. Or, for that matter, Jodi Meadows.
†† Andrew Lloyd who?^
^ And I’ve never seen Cats. This is very nearly indecent in someone who has spent serious life time in New York City. Not to mention London. I’ve seen Jesus Christ Superstar, back when he was still just some guy, and Evita. That’s enough. Stephen Sondheim wipes the floor with Andrew.
††† I don’t do post grad degrees, okay? I haven’t the foggiest what this is. Only that it has some truly terrifying exams, including transposing and composing on the hop and being instantly brilliant on an organ you’ve never seen in your life before–and organs are horribly individual. Much worse than pianos or rosebushes^ or hellhounds.
^ My latest Mutabilis is growing away like anything. We’re having frost again at night, arrrrrrgh, or at least the threat of frost, so suddenly my having bought tidy, reusable plant protective ‘fleece’ at end-of-season sales is not as totally loopy as it looked. Mutabilis took one look at her drawstring bag however and said Yaaaah! Try and put it on me! Go on, try! –and promptly shot out a few seven-foot stems. Comtesse du Cayla is putting up with it politely and Tipsy . . . is still coming indoors.
‡ Me? Encourage him?
‡‡ How to make buying a nice piano look cheap: think about a pipe organ.
‡‡‡ So am I of course. I consider it an honourable state.
§ Sort of. The jungle’s in the kitchen again tonight, and the garden is dotted with plant-fleece bags.
§§§ Blush. Sigh.
¤ I love Google. I’d remembered him as Jean Allain. http://www.naxos.com/composerinfo/Jehan_Alain/23996.htm
¤¤ I find myself feeling rather relieved I’m not thirteen and desperately musical.
¤¤¤ We were there something like an hour and a half. My cough cough piano lesson cough cough is supposed to last half an hour.
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