Thursday, August 8, 2013

Organ Lessons? Really?

Throughout my life, I have told anyone that asked that I was a pianist. Occasionally I will play a keyboard if needed (even though I find myself kicking and screaming the entire time). I was never interested in learning to play harpsichord or organ. I'm not terribly fond of the sounds. In a way, I think I felt that I would be "cheating" in my love affair with the piano if I studied another instrument.  I've always been faithful to the piano....except for that one summer in college.....

Let's start with the truth. I absolutely hated my music theory professor. I thought he was arrogant and irritatingly condescending. (Nearly 20 years have passed and I still hold the same opinion.) My classmates and I always laughed at him as he played piano in class because it was horrible and terribly LOUD! His explanation was always that he was an organist.

In a moment of insanity, I decided to enroll in organ lessons during a summer session with this "wonderful" guy. I knew that the technique would be different and that it was a skill I might need in the future. I also wanted to see if the man's organ lessons were more entertaining or enlightening than his theory classes. Since there would be no jury exam at the end of the session, I thought I had nothing to lose.

The first lesson included a quick tutorial of the instrument, how to set stops (which I still don't fully understand), and the assignment of a couple of pieces. I have blocked the works from my mind; I do recall that one was a short fugue in the style of Bach while the other was by Emma Lou Diemer. Before he left me to practice, I was told to notice that both pieces were marked legato.

Left alone in the organ room, I realized I was in for a long summer. Lyrical fingering is not something that comes naturally. As I began to experiment with finger substitutions and unusual fingering patterns, I came face to face with some of the technical weaknesses I had ignored as a pianist. Things began to get better with a little bit of work.....but it would quickly fall apart. Now I had to figure out how to play the pedal line while maintaining what was going on in my hands! I was on board the Titanic, anxiously waiting for the proverbial glacier to put me out of my misery.

I don't know if it was grace, mercy, or humor that caused the professor to give me an A in organ for the summer. While I didn't learn much about organ performance, I did learn a lot about humility. What's brought these scenes back to my mind? In the past week, I have had three gigs come across my desk that all require playing the organ to some degree. There's a certain amount of trepidation even thinking about taking on the challenge. On the other hand, part of me feels as though there's part of my musical development that hasn't been completed. I find myself considering resuming organ lessons...and hoping for better results this time.

For every teacher, I think it's important to experience the unsettled feelings associated with attempting to obtain a new skill. It makes us more sympathetic as our students face similar challenges and it reminds us that patience, encouragement, and fun are some of the most powerful teaching tools in the teacher's arsenal.