Weedon Weekly: 27th August 2017

John Cage


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?


Weedon Weekly: 14th August 2017

Hand formed into fist


Having just marvelled at the Prom performance of Rachmaninov's 3rd Piano Concerto by Alexander Gavrylyuk, the topic of 'hands' is on my mind. His digits were an absolute blur, so I logged on to find out how fast fingers can move.  I've not found an answer to that particular question, but I have stumbled upon several other amazing facts:

The Fibonacci sequence (see my post of 28th June 2017) dictates the length of our metacarpal bones. Their proportions are 2 3 5 8, which allows the formation of a fist in a spiral. I just checked and yes, the side view of my fist is like a snail shell, another wonder of creation which uses Fibonacci's sequence.

There are no muscles in our fingers. Astounding, isn't it? The muscles which control our digits are in the palms and lower arm, just connected to our fingers by tendons, like the strings on a puppet.

The palm of our hands has been designed so the skin can't roll over the surface of the bones, but stays still even if we're wringing out a cloth etc. 

Soak your hand long enough and the palm wrinkles. (I believe that's the only part of the body where this happens. Or maybe it applies to the feet too? I shall have to have a nice long soak and check). But if the nerve to the palm is cut, the wrinkling no longer happens. So it's a nerve thing. How odd...

The brain controls the whole body, of course, but the articulation of the hands accounts for a whacking great 25% of the brain power required for movement anywhere in the body. 

Bringing us back to Rachmaninov, his hands were so ginormous that he could span middle C to the A over an octave above!!


I have decided I must part with my spare organ. We live in such a tiny house now that there's no room for sentiment - hardly room for a shoe horn come to that. If you would love to own one of these delicious instruments, without the cost and bother of importing it yourself, drop me a line for further details. 


Weedon Weekly: 6th August 2017

The cover of Avril's book


A while back, I met playwright, children's author and BBC programme maker Avril Rowlands through our shared love of music. We 'clicked' at once, and last autumn we started on the enjoyable but fairly mammoth task of converting her much-loved book 'Tales from the Ark' into a stage musical, with Avril's lyrics and my music. Well, the exciting news is that it has been accepted for staging at The Swan Theatre in Worcester for a week's run next May. 

I'll keep you up to date as things progress. The next job is to finalise funding, including finding 'Ark Angels' who invest affordable sums to help us on our way. 

For starters, email me here if you'd like to listen to a taster of the music you can expect. I'm no singer (to put it mildly) so this is an instrumental version, you'll be relieved to know. 


Weedon Weekly: 29th July 2017

Music, food and love combine


My working weeks are so unpredictable that I've decided "Weedon Wednesdays" is a promise I will repeatedly fail to deliver. So I'm changing it to "Weedon Weekly". That is why this offering is being hatched on a Saturday!

Shakespeare said "If music be the food of love, play on!" I wonder if he realised that there was a strong scientific basis to what he wrote? Humankind would agree that good music, tasty food and falling in love are all very pleasant in their way. The interesting fact is that eating, listening to music and feeling love all have an identical effect in the body. They cause the release of dopamine, the so-called 'pleasure chemical'.

Taking the science a step further, it has been discovered that combining music with an outstanding meal or a passionate event means that the tune you were hearing at the time is 'burnt' into your memory. It becomes a favourite, and can be used to reproduce that rush of euphoric chemicals each time you hear it, just as if you were eating that same meal or feeling that passionate love all over again. I can only imagine that, if you fell in love while dining with an orchestra playing in the background the effect would be almost overwhelming!

Now here's another fascinating thing: the effect of that tune doesn't depend on its musical quality. It could be a really rather mediocre piece of music. So the fact that some tunes become big hits is less dependent on whether they are good than where you heard them and what you were doing. So songs played in restaurants, or romantic venues (dance halls, cinemas, holiday resorts etc) have a much greater chance of becoming popular.

This could have a bearing on concert attendance. I've noticed that clubs which offer food (especially savouries) are much better attended. Could it be that the audience are getting hooked on their double dose of dopamine? I don't think we can (or even should) try to introduce romance into the equation, though moody lighting is also another factor in successful clubs!


Weedon Wednesday: 18th July 2917

Yamaha Club magazine
OKC magazine


Once again, my Wednesday isn't a Wednesday at all! This time I've been otherwise engaged writing articles for which the deadline suddenly loomed large. I regularly write for OKC magazine (Organ & Keyboard Cavalcade) and the Yamaha Magazine. If these are publications you've not come across, you can link to OKC here, and to the Yamaha Club here.  Both contain how-to articles, product news and reviews and details of music holidays. 


If you'd like something else to look at, how about a composer re-writing the tune to Happy Birthday to You? I don't 'do' birthdays myself anymore, but this tune is very topical as its been the subject of yet another copyright court case. It looked for a while as though most of the world had been breaking the copyright laws by using it freely. However, the latest news is that those who DO celebrate their birthdays can breathe a sigh of relief to extinguish their candles. The tune is OK to use!


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