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Weedon Weekly: 9th October 2017

Dream image

CHOOSE YOUR FANTASY PROGRAMME
I recently swapped emails with regular Weedon Weekly reader Terry. He feels that a lot of performers would do well to reflect on the music they are playing. As Terry says, when one looks round a concert hall these days, most of us in the audience are sporting more than the odd grey hair. But Terry believes a lot of performers (organists in particular) believe their listeners were teenagers during the 1930s and 40s, if their programmes are anything to go by. I certainly hear many renditions of Glenn Miller and a fair smattering of wartime songs. 
Terry set the members of his local organ society audience the challenge of putting together their 'dream' concert programmes. Once they were handed in, he analysed the answers. It turned out that the majority of their favourites dated from the 1960s and 70s, with a few from the 1950s. Certainly Glenn Miller and wartime songs barely featured at all - it was much more Beatles and rock 'n roll!
So I'd like to take a leaf out of Terry's book and ask you to email me your 10 or so favourite songs or pieces. if you feel it wouldn't be an intrusion, you can also indicate which decade spanned your teens and 20s as well - I promise I won't publish your personal details! I would be particularly interested in any very modern favourites you have. There must still be the odd 'good tune' being composed?
To set the ball rolling, my dream programme would feature some Stylistics, Tavares, Barry White, Bee Gees, Carpenters, Streisand and a few meaty classical numbers by Rachmaninov, Sibelius and Tchaikowsky. Now over to you...

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Weedon Weekly: 21st September 2017

Bargemusic

STORMY WEATHER
I've selected the title of Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler's atmospheric song for this week's ponderings. We've certainly witnessed extraordinary events in recent times, be they storms or earth movements. Whilst Googling the effects of weather on concerts, I came upon mention of Bargemusic. The short headline reported that the American venue, Bargemusic, thought to be the place most at risk from storms and hurricanes, turned out to be the one that emerged unscathed. It floated serenely on the rising waters which, at halls nearby, drowned various priceless concert grand pianos and a mighty pipe organ.   I just had to know more!
Bargemusic is just that - an old steel barge built 118 years ago to transport sacks of coffee for the Erie Lackawanna railroad. When it's useful life was over in 1976, rather than becoming a rusting green hulk it was transformed into a sparkling white chamber concert hall by retiring violinist, Olga Bloom.  Now it hosts over 200 concerts a year, many of them with free entry for local families. What a beautiful idea! 
I'd love to hear from you about lovely venues you have encountered. They don't have to be weird or wonderful, just so pleasant that they give the music a 'lift'.

 

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Weedon Weekly: 11th September 2017

A COUNTRY PRACTICE

I have been a bit quiet lately, haven't I? Some would say that makes a pleasant change :-)  I have, in fact, been beavering away on a new concert programme.

I try to choose my repertoire with some sort of theme. In the past, I've put together programmes featuring Spring, Autumn, Winter, Film Themes, European Countries, Viennese Music and the Music of England.

When I took delivery of my latest instruments, I needed to put a selection together in a hurry. As both Diddy the D Deck and Elsie read old Tyros and EL registrations with ease, this was far easier than I had feared. I simply cherry-picked favourite pieces from past repertoire, using one piece for each letter of the alphabet. And now I'm completely hooked on my A to Z programmes, so I am currently working on 'A to Z, Autumn 2017'.

Depending on the venue where I am playing, the actual playing-time of my concerts varies from 70 minutes long (performances held in churches seem to fall into this category, maybe because of the hard seating?) to 120 minutes long in the standard organ club. With most pieces lasting about 3 minutes, that means working up 40 new numbers for a full evening of entertainment.

A 'normal' 3 minute piece takes me about a day to arrange, practice and register (that is, set up my choice of sounds). I will typically use 16 different sounds in a piece of that length. A 'showstopper', on the other hand, can take many days of work - perhaps 50+ hours - and may have sound changes numbering in the hundreds.

Apart from getting the notes right, which is largely a matter of choosing the best fingering, I have to type-set mini scores that fit on my music rest, and then carefully mark them with where each sound change occurs. I make those sound changes not  by pressing the thumb pistons (too fiddly) but by kicking a foot switch. So I need to programme the kick switch to bring the sounds up in the correct order. Then I just play, play, play and play some more until each piece wears a groove in my aural and physical memory. Poor Tone! He thought he'd retired to a peaceful life in the heart of the country...

Apart from when I prepared the Vienna concert, which was all Strauss and the like, I aim to make my shows a real mixed bag of ballads, swing, classical orchestral, synth tracks, jazz, novelty numbers, classical and theatre organ, and to play pieces which range from the venerable to the bang up to date.

So that's why I've been quiet lately. And why the house looks a tip. And why we're eating TV dinners. Let's hope it all proves worth it in the end, eh?

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Weedon Weekly: 27th August 2017

John Cage

AN UNUSUAL ORGAN PIECE

Concert promoters generally, and organ concert promoters especially, are looking for ways to boost audience numbers. One such boost has come from an unlikely source - the world's slowest organ piece, which plays to healthy audiences, in particular when a note changes every few years!

Composed by the famously avant-grade composer John Cage in 1985, "As SLow aS Possible" (affectionately known also as ASLSP) was intended for v-e-r-y   s-l-o-w performance by a pianist.  But the notes die away on a piano, so when you're holding each key down for several minutes at a time the continuity is rather lost. Accordingly, John Cage rewrote it for organ, where the notes go on sounding just as long as you care to press them. Most organists steam through the work in about 20 minutes, as you'll see here. But not all....

ASLSP was quite a departure from John Cage's most famous work, 4'33", which is the length of time that the performer does, well, nothing at all. The audience sit and listen just to the sounds going on in the world around them. In a city, this would probably be quite a noisy rendering, but in a country church after dark the silence is probably pretty intense. 

Anyway, back to ASLSP. To honour what would have been JC's 89th birthday, a church in Halberstadt, Germany, installed a specially built organ and arranged for it to play ASLSP very 'largo ' indeed! The piece kicked off at midnight on the 4th/5th Sepember 2001. As it starts with a rest, the first thing to happen was one and a half year's silence. Since then, the notes have been changing on average every 7 years. A healthy crowd gathered for one such milestone in 2013 (as you'll see here). A conductor indicated the exact moment for the transformation with a baton and a score, and a lady carefully removed one organ pipe to stop it sounding. Other pipes carried on playing by having a bag of weights hung on their keys. This painstaking operation was greeted by hearty applause. 

Now the organ is set to hum like a Hoover until 2020, when the next note is altered, so you have plenty of time to organise your ticket and hotel. The piece will play for 639 years, finishing in 2640.

Most organ clubs would be pleased to pull in the crowds that visit Halberstadt for the note changes. But I suspect it won't be the key to invigorating audience numbers any time soon. Would you agree?

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