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October 19, 2014

Learning Helmut Walcha’s chorale prelude of Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen

Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen choral prelude

Helmet Walcha's Chorale PreludesAt my last lesson, I was assigned Helmut Walcha’s chorale prelude of (or is it on?) “Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen”. One English translation is “Ah Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended.”

When Michael played it for me, my first impression was, that pedal line sure is repetitive! I didn’t think I’d like it. One note in the treble clef is held throughout the entire piece. Now that I am practicing this piece, I am enjoying it. There is a trance-like quality about it. And I fall asleep hearing the pedal line in my head.

If you’d like to hear it, I found this video on YouTube. The pedal line is a little hard to hear, but this is the only video I’ve found of it so far.


Since being assigned this piece, I decided it was about time I found out what a chorale prelude is! I will also share how I’m learning this piece to avoid the tempo issues I had at my last lesson and many lessons before that!

What is a chorale prelude?

This is the first chorale prelude that I’ve been assigned. I’m sure Michael has mention chorale preludes and it’s very likely I’ve heard one or more at an organ concerts. When I Google’d “what is a chorale prelude” the definition that come up is “an organ piece based on a chorale.”

What is a chorale? According to this Wikepedia article, it is a melody to which a hymn is sung. The prelude is a tune is played to introduce the hymn.

I’ve learned that “Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen” was written by Johann Heerman in 1630. The English text of all 15 stanzas can be read here. 10 years later the tune “Herzliebster Jesu”, was written ten years later by Johann Crüger. The chorale prelude was composed by Walcha in the 20th century.  To learn more about this chorale read this article which is where I obtained the history.

The Walcha’s chorale prelude that I’m learning may be played before “Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen”. I think the chorale prelude can also be performed as a stand alone piece (but I’d need Michael or other organists to confirm).

How I’m am learning this piece

Tempo and feeling the beat has become one of my biggest challenges to face. I tend to worry too much about playing the correct notes when learning a piece. This causes problems later. I also received some tips for other organists after I shared the post about my last lesson. I am practicing counting when I walk as suggested by John Craven.

Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen choral preludeWith this piece, I decided to take it very slow. Slow enough that I can play the right notes in the correct tempo. I am also relying on the metronome has my own sense of beat is not trustworthy yet. Also, the metronome will help me avoid problems with short changing rests.

The first rest in the pedal line in the photo would be one that I we not observe the full length of when learning a new piece. I would tend to rush over it, getting to the next too soon. I’m hoping with use of the metronome I can learn to feel the beat correctly on this piece.

I plan to have this pieced learned and at tempo for my next lesson.

The blessing of Finger Substitution

One of the first skills I learned when starting organ lessons was finger substitution. If you are not an organist, you may not know what finger substitution is. When I took piano lessons in my childhood, I do not recall ever hearing about finger substitution. And finger substitution was also not a technique needed when I played the clarinet through high school.

What is Finger Substitution?

Finger substitution occurs when depressing a key with one finger, you move another finger onto that key. Then the original finger moves off of the key. This enables the organist to have their hand in position for the next note. This is required sometimes so notes can be played legato (no break between notes).

I learned how to do this by practicing the exercises in the Method of Organ Playing by Harold Gleason. The exercises clearly marked which fingers to use. For example, begin with fingers 1 and 3 and substitute with 2 and 4. Each finger has a number assigned to it. 1 is for the thumb and the pinky finger is number 5.

Finger substitution exercises

Finger substitution exercises

The blessing of Finger Substitution

What? How can finger substitution be blessing? As I have only been playing the organ for about 5 years, I have come to value my ability to substitute my fingers. This my sound silly to accomplished organists or those that learned the organ at an early age. For me, learning to do this and being able to appreciate it is a blessing.

Here’s how:

♦ It’s helped me appreciate that we all have different skills and abilities. While I can play the organ (and substitute my fingers) others can dunk basketballs, cut off their arm to save their life, run marathons, compose music, or help others find a new job. You name it, there is likely someone that can do it! (Herding cats may be an exception.)

♦ I am capable of more than I ever realized (you are too!!). I didn’t run away from the challenge after learning that organ technique is much different than playing the piano. Going into it, I assumed it would be like playing the piano only adding foot pedals.

♦ Something that once felt difficult to accomplish can became easy with persistent practice. At first substituting my fingers (and eventually my feet too!) took a great deal of concentration. Now, I can usually substitute my fingers without thinking about it. If you were to ask me which fingers, I used I may not be able to tell you unless I play it again and look at my fingers. Of course, sometimes I still make it more complicated than it needs to be!

♦ When I’m at my job – I currently work full time as data manager – I may be having a tough time working on that day’s tasks. Sometimes I pause, smile, and remember that I can substitute my fingers. Everyone at work can type on a keyboard but I can substitute my fingers [on a different type of keyboard]!

What have you learned that you consider to be blessing (even if it may sound weird to others)?

March 12, 2014

What is a cabinet pipe organ?

1785 Johannes Strumphler Cabinet Pipe Organ

1785 Johannes Strumphler Cabinet Pipe Organ

Recently, Ted and I attended the Paul Jacobs pipe organ concert at the Toledo Museum of Art. The concert was in the evening so we decided to spend the afternoon walking through the museum.

We were very surprised to find a cabinet pipe organ on display. A cabinet pipe organ is a small organ that is built inside of a cabinet. This particular cabinet organ was made around 1785 and is credited to organ builder Johannes Strumphler. The cabinet doors can be closed to hide the pipes when not in use. There is a foot pedal to pump air into the bellows. There is not a bench for this organ. The organist stands while playing presumably with one foot pumping the foot pedal. I am assuming the drawers are fake, but we didn’t try to open them!

Details on Cabinet Organ

Detailed work on the Cabinet Organ

The cabinet was beautiful with detailed scroll work and claw feet. In the description next to the display, it says that Johannes Strumphler worked with a fine cabinetmaker. The materials used for the cabinet include mahogany, oak, glided maple, glided bronze, ivory, ebony, and mother-of-pearl.

The cabinet itself is art, yet no recognition for the cabinetmaker. Very similar to the many paintings in the museum that had elaborate hand carved wooded frames. We didn’t read every plague but we didn’t notice any that mentioned the the frame maker. The names of the cabinetmakers and frame makers forever lost to history.

Can you imagine of this cabinet organ in your living room? What a surprise it would be for someone who opened it thinking it is a regular cabinet!