November 2014 Organ Lesson – What would the cat say?

Last Saturday, I met Michael at his church in Toledo for another organ lesson.

The first piece I played was the prelude from the Prelude and Fugue in F Major (BWV 556). This was my best performance of it so far! However there were two measures that I played with uneven tempo. We spent about 15 minutes trying to break the muscle memory that comes with playing something wrong over and over again without realizing it. And we had a discussion about this and what I could do differently when practicing at home.

These lessons could be applied to life off of the organ bench!

I need to be better at recognizing my own problems.

I could do this by recording myself more often. We’ve talked about this at many lessons but I’ve not been in the habit of doing it recently. I have some fear of hearing myself play when I know it is not perfect. But I NEED to hear myself play to identify problems.

After I played “Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen” for Michael, he said “that was some of the best playing I’ve heard from you the first time playing a piece for me”. That was awesome! But I short changed the rests (did not rest long enough) in the pedal line. I don’t recall recording it more than once or twice (if it all) since it was assigned at my previous lesson. If I had taken the time to do this, I could have heard the problem and fixed it before my lesson!

A rare time with 2 cats at the organ while practicing. Violet on the speaker and Kilala near the lamp.
Two of my 2 cats at the organ while practicing. Violet on the speaker and Kilala near the lamp.

What an outside observer would say if they were listening?

Michael challenged me to think what a person would say if they were in the room listening. Since I have 6 cats now (that’s a story for another post), I could ask “What would the cat say?”

Violet, one of the new cats, sometimes sits on an organ speaker while I’m practicing. Sometimes it seems like her ear twitches when I play a wrong note! If she could talk what would she say about my playing? Was it uneven? did I shortchange any notes? Did I speed up in the easier section and slow down for the harder section?

This is a similar exercise (Or maybe the same!) as when people have a business problem or issue and they think through how would an industry expert respond. What a well accomplished expert say? If you are familiar enough with the expert you can usually determine what their advice would be.

The bottom line

I need to make some changes in my practice habits to increase my success at the organ. I will reread the appendix of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Businessto help me build new habits!

I’ve updated my assignment list as I’ve been assigned Walcha’s chorale prelude on “Wer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten” and Bercuese finally received Michael’s stamp of approval! Overall, it was good lesson!

What techniques have you used to help you solve your own problems?

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Heidi Bender writes about her experiences of learning to play the organ. She started on the adventure in 2009.

She also writes on her website Tons of Thanks, which helps people write thank-you notes. Heidi is also a cat lady who writes at The Joy of Cats.

6 thoughts on “November 2014 Organ Lesson – What would the cat say?”

  1. Sometimes it is tough to ask yourself what should I be doing that I am not doing because you often know the answer. The issue is will I discipline myself to do that which I know I should do. Our toughest enemy to defeat is so often us.

    It is good to ask for another opinion but we should be prepared to accept critical comments because we asked for them. Then we must take them and make decisions on what to do in response to them.

  2. These problems are things I’m still working on (maybe they’re long-term musician problems). Something I know I’m still having some problems with (which connects to both of the problems you mentioned) is hearing what I want internally and thinking I’m conveying what I want, when the listener is hearing something that misses the mark. For example, I’m often told during lessons that the articulation isn’t clear enough, the phrasing/expression isn’t quite smooth/understandable, etc. even though I think I’m being articulate, expressive, or whatever else applies to the situation. Recording and listening to yourself certainly helps with this, but like you I know I don’t do this as much as I should (although much better than when my former organ teacher suggested doing this over two years ago–he believed I would be able to catch more of my mistakes and other problems if I listened to a recording of myself, which is definitely true).

    • “Those chords are a bit mushy” – Michael has told me at lesson when I thought I had been doing okay at home. If only I had recorded! I’m making it a habit now to record at least once during a practice session.

      • Don’t forget about the other factors that affect your playing. Many things such as articulation and expression could be just fine in your “practice space,” but come off less than stellar on a different organ with different stops/tonality or, more importantly, a different room/space. I could easily do one thing while practicing at one church and then do the same thing at my lesson and it doesn’t sound right there because I’m playing in a different space. This is one of the reasons why I try to have some time at the organ right before my lesson (to experiment with registration and re-adjust to the space) as well as practicing on a few other organs every once in awhile (instead of only one all the time). I know this may not be possible in your case, but I’ve found part of the solution is also learning to adapt how you play depending on the space the organ’s in and the tonality/touch of the instrument.

        • I had more issues adjusting for my lesson when Michael was at a church with a pipe organ. I find I have issues now with even the height of the music being higher at this church. Sometimes I prop my music up on books to help me adjust to differing heights!


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