So yesterday I had my first official lesson on our church organ. It is a tracker organ — all mechanical connections from the keys to the various pipes. Two manuals, I think 16 stops? and oh, two and a half octaves of pedals?
Our former organist retired last November, and starting in the new year we have Cindy Boener playing once a month. On the off weeks, I have been leading hymns on hammered dulcimer or guitar (with Michael Wraight) when I’ve been able. Cindy agreed to teach me organ, got me started with some beginning tips and a book and shoes to borrow — one needs a flexible thin sole and a substantial heel. I have exercises, a hymn, and a prelude to be working on. It is very challenging — it has been a long time since I have played any kind of keyboard, and the church organ literature is pretty different from anything else I have played, and there are new techniques, and so on.
When I was in college, I took modern dance every semester I could. I had done a very very short session of ballet once when I was little, but when my feet cramped I was confused and quit. Dance counted for the physical education requirement at my college, which is why I got started in it, and I loved it so much I continued. Embodied music and art, creative expression, grace and beauty and truth and stretching, opening the heart, the parallelism of bodily systems and mental / emotional ones. Amazing stuff.
We had a piano in the studio, and a thin young man named Blanton would accompany our classes. The teacher would explain and demonstrate the combination or the exercise we were to do, and he would immediately have the most fitting music for it. Tribal sounds for moving across the floor with wide legs and arched arms. “Ashokan Farewell” for a seated stretching sequence. Always just perfectly matched to the kind of movement we were doing. And, of course, his timing matched ours — an intro to prepare us, and an ending as we finished. At the end of every class we all applauded our thanks to him.
Now my daughter takes dance, and there is no piano in her studio. Her ballet teacher uses recorded piano and orchestral music, which means she has to pause her instruction to go start it and stop it, and the piece rarely takes the same amount of time as the movement, and often enough doesn’t quite match the mood very well. Her modern teacher uses some recorded music but occasionally also uses a hand drum, which I like a lot.
We went to her grade’s spring music program, and the whole thing was done to recorded music. There’s no flexibility for adjusting the tempo to the students’ abilities or for recovering from mistakes. The recorded music just goes — it runs the show — the students simply have to keep up and go along with it.
In high school I sometimes did “special music” in church — in the beginning it was wonderful because our worship band was able and willing to take the time to learn the pieces and practice with me. After a while though they required soloists to use recorded tracks.
I don’t think it’s simply an ego thing — wanting to be supported by or in control of the music instead of feeling like one has to follow or keep up with the recording. I think it’s more about synergy — collaboration — mutuality. It’s being part of something larger, something communal, relational, human, instead of standing alone in front of a recorded background.
I wish I could play the piano, well enough to improvise and select wisely like Blanton, so that I could offer to accompany my daughter’s dance class and school programs.
The other day I got to perform Malcolm Dalglish’s arrangement of Quil O’Quay with the Eisenhower Choir (October 2013). Take a listen:
I had such a good time at my concert last weekend.
This year we held it at our church, which we have been attending for just over a year, and in which we will be confirmed early in November.
It’s a beautiful old building with white walls and dark wood pews and arched ceiling, stained glass windows mostly in deep blue and red, a beautiful beautiful old wooden altar against the front wall, and a fairly wide raised place (the choir) between the rows of pews (the nave) and the altar area (the sanctuary). On one side of the choir is the upright piano, the beautiful pipe organ, and the pulpit. On the other side are rows of pews for the choir singers. At the front of the choir, all the way across the church, is a wooden rood screen — narrow columns supporting a beam on which stands a crucifix.
I set the dulcimer at an angle at the center front of the choir, so that most folks in the audience would be able to see the strings and hammers as I played. At the bottom of the steps I set the two chairs and guitars. My recorder balanced between the top rail of the dulcimer and the music stand that attaches to that rail.
Music included many originals; other pieces dedicated to friends, colleagues, places, and events, beginning with my first introduction to the dulcimer; three original songs with guitar; and one song in Spanish. For a few months now I have been helping Armando lead worship in our Latino mass. I am slowly learning Spanish with the help of the online program Mango through the library at Mark’s school. I can understand all of the liturgy, most of the songs and the Scripture readings, and some words and phrases in the sermons. My pronunciation is pretty good, but there’s not much I can say with any confidence. Anyway, I chose one of the many beautiful songs we do in that service and asked Armando to play and sing with me in the concert. He is from Honduras, and his voice is amazingly deep and intense, and I love how we sound together in the soaring first line of the chorus.
My in-laws came up for the performance, several good friends attended, the choir director from Crown Point who hired me for a Malcolm Dalglish piece (that concert this week!), and also some folks who saw flyers. There were twenty-five or so, which is a good crowd for one of these concerts; last year I think I might have had five! And nearly everyone stayed for a long time at the reception and seemed to have a good time. Several folks had very nice things to say about the whole show and / or about particular pieces.
Speaking of the reception, what a blessing it was for Barb to take charge of things, with the help of Roscinda and Anne. We had wine, cookies, fruit salad, cheese and crackers, chips and salsa, and my sad soupy attempt at a stirred custard with coconut and strawberries.
This Saturday, October 5, I look forward to celebrating thirteen years of hammered dulcimer playing. The concert will take place at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Plymouth, at 7pm, with refreshments following. Music will include original, traditional, and classical tunes as well as a few songs with guitar.
And here is the choir of St. Thomas Episcopal Church practicing the Sanctus and Agnus Dei I composed for Father John in honor of his retirement.
Sanctus again, the same take made faster without changing the pitch:
I borrowed a friend’s condenser mic to record our church choir’s practice tomorrow. This evening I experimented with it to figure out how to connect it to my mixer and thence to the computer.
Here’s “My shepherd will supply my need” — tried two different reverb effects on the same take.
And here is an original, “This is the day.”