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I love hymns and the pipe organ! Yesterday, my mom and and I enjoyed A Festival of Hymns at Pease Auditorium at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
The festival was the first event for the 2015-2016 season for the Ann Arbor chapter of the American Guild of Organists. The theme of the concert was “Singing the Psalms of the Life”. There was also a choir assembled from volunteer participants that rehearsed a couple of hours before the concert began. Michael Burkhardt was the organist.
This was the first time I was able to go to the Hymn Festival as in past years its conflicted with a vacation. Also, for the first time for my mom traveled to an organ presentation with. We had fun getting there as well. The drive took longer than expected as we were forced to take a scenic route around a parade. Thankfully, we left early and arrived in time to use the bathroom before taking our seats.
The program included hymns and a few readings. Each Hymn was a Psalm or based on Psalm. In total the program was about a hour. The organ sounded magnificent from the first note.
The combination of a well played organ with the choir gave me goosebumps several times during the performance. Mom and I were familiar with some of the hymns and we enjoyed those that were new to us. Mr. Burkhardt is an excellent organist. There was also a young man playing the trumpet for a few of the hymns and a young lady played the oboe with the organ for 1 hymn.
One of the hymns was “From All That Dwell Below the Skies” played to the tune LASST UNS ERFREUEN. I felt proud to be able to lean over and tell my mom that I could play this one! I have learned to play “All Creatures of Our God and King” which is played to the same tune (and in a difference key in my hymnal). Mr. Burkhardt played a more complicated version than what is in my hymnal, but I still felt accomplished knowing I had played this hymn successfully in the past.
I was inspired to practice because of the concert, knowing that some day I will be playing the organ and leading the signing of the choir and congregation. However, my run through of “All Creatures of Our God and King” at home last night did not go well. In the past I was able to play it from memory. Too much time has elapsed and my muscle memory forgotten. I struggled to play it through. I will spend some time remembering it and relearning as I love this tune!
A few weeks ago, Katherine Crosier featured me in her article about Adult Beginners. Read it here.
Last Saturday I met with Michael for an organ lesson. I would like to be able to say it was an epic lesson – a lesson where all pieces receive Michael’s approval. It had been about 3 months had past since my previous lesson. I wanted that to be enough time to perfect everything. I could make excuses or list why I was too busy to not practice more. However, my problem seems to be with how I’m practicing, not that I practice too little.
I had asked in the Facebook Organist Association Group if I should practice before my lesson. The answers I received varied. I didn’t have time to practice before my lesson, but even if I had, I’ve been practicing some of the pieces incorrectly for so long, one more run through would not have had much of an impact.
While thinking about my lesson on the drive home, I realized that I have a problem. My practice is wrong for weeks or months. The wrong way becomes such a habit that I have heard time recognizing the issues on my own (which is another problem). This makes it that much harder to correct. I need to find a way to change my mind so that I can make the corrections on my own.
My other issue which I’ve had consistently over the years is not feeling the tempo. I am going to try working more with the metronome in hopes that I can learn to feel it!
My lesson started with the prelude from “Prelude and Fugue in F Major” (BWV 556). To overcome the page turning issues I had previously, I printed both the prelude and fugue again and attached them in sections to a heavier weight paper stock. Issue solved! No more page turning! I was feeling confident going into my lesson. I felt nervous though at the start but I calmed down by the second time through. It was not perfect and still had problems. Some of the problems I’ve had for more than one lesson!
Flashback: This happened when I was learning “All Creatures of Our God and King” too. Michael told me I was not playing the pedal legato (connected) in a couple of measures. I had practiced it wrong so many times that it sounded okay to me. In my mind it sounded right! I was only able to make the correction after I came home and made a video and saw exactly where the issue was with my own eyes. (NOTE: I was not instructed to play the entire pedal line legato. There was phrasing and articulation. I just struggled with a few measures where the pedal part would sound better of played legato, in my opinion)
The fugue of “Prelude and Fugue in F Major” could have went better! With this and also “Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether” I could play the correct notes for weeks. But then from some reason, I started to struggle again. Like I had lost the muscle memory. I will be writing in more fingerings to see if that will help going forward.
Bercuese was so close to being passable. I continue to not hold some of the notes long enough and had a few legato issues. Michael says “We don’t want to wake the baby!” as Bercuese means lullaby and it was not smooth and sounded a bit jerky. We discussed if it was “good enough”. I’m a little tired of playing it, but decided I should do it one more time to smooth out the kinks. I don’t want to leave it unfinished!
“By Gracious Powers” and “Crown Him with Many Crowns” went very well. I had to play them through a few times to demonstrate that I could play the pedal line legato and then Michael checked them off my list! That felt like a huge success as “By Gracious Powers” had been assigned at my previous lesson. This also shows that I CAN practice correctly. I just need to figure out how to make new habits and have better focus on the pieces I’ve been learning for many months.
I was assigned two new Hymns: “Christ, Might Savior” and “Ah Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended”. Michael said he doesn’t know when of these hymns but he didn’t say which one. He picked that one for me for a reason! Also, assigned was “Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen” which in English is Ah Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended.
I am slowly but surely making progress!
Do you have any tips on how I can overcome my issues with practice something wrong without realizing it?