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November 28, 2014

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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Reflections on 5 years of organ lessons (Sept 2009 – Sept 2014)

Reflections on 5 years of Organ Lessons

September 2014 marks the 5th anniversary of when I started organ lessons.  5 years of taking lessons is a huge milestone. My initial goal when starting out was to become a church organist within 5 years. I have not yet reached that goal but that is okay. I will keep practicing! I shared my thoughts on why I’m not giving up last September.

Reflections on 5 years of Organ Lessons

The Organ Lessons:

I’ve had many lessons during the past 5 years. All with Michael Gartz. Beginning with weekly lessons at Adrian college and now lessons every 4-8 weeks when our schedules align to meet at his church. As I’ve learned more about the organ world, I’ve become even more thankful that he was willing to take me on as student. Michael is a wonderful and capable organist and teacher and very patient with me. He has not yet tired of my slow progress! Also, as Michael has changed organist positions I’ve had the opportunity to play several different organs. Currently, lessons are at St. Timothy’s Episcopal church.

Before I started this blog, I kept notes about some of my lessons in an Word document. Here is what I wrote about my first lesson:

Sitting at the organ the first time was amazing. So much power to create at my fingertips and feet! I also felt intimated, this organ has 3 keyboards and many stops and other buttons, and I don’t know how to use them at all.

What a journey it has been. I now know that those buttons are called pistons and I know how to use them!

Here are my reflections on not becoming a church organist in 5 years:

 Learning to play took much longer than expected

 I haven’t always made practice time a priority

 I haven’t practiced enough yet

 It turns out that I did not have a natural knack for the organ (but I do have persistence!)

 I have perfectionism issues! I’ve caused myself some slow progress by having self inflicted tempo issues because of slowing down for harder section and freezing when I play a wrong note. I’d like to think that I’m getting better at learning form my mistakes.

More [positive] reflections:

Back in July, I wrote a post on the lessons I learned since deciding to take organ lessons so I will not repeat them again. The biggest take away I have as I reflect on the past 5 years of lessons, is that I do not have the regret of not starting. What If I had not decided to move forward? I would still be thinking about it. I’d be left wondering “what if had started organ lessons”.

Becoming an organist has been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. I’ve struggled at times. I’ve wanted to cry at lessons. I’ve struggled with confidence. All of it has been worth. The feeling that comes with a piece well played is like nothing else. Knowing that my fingers and the feet made that music possible still feels surreal sometimes.

It’s been 5 years so far. It may take another 5 years, but someday I will be a church organist!

Is there anything you’ve been working for 5 years? If you been thinking about it for 5 years, it’s time to take action and get started! No regrets!

You may also like:

It’s been 3 years – looking back and forward

June 16, 2014

June 2014 Organ Lesson with an experiment

Last Saturday, I met with Michael for another organ lesson. It had been 10 weeks since my last lesson! We did an experiment with “Crown Him with Many Crowns” which I share about at the end of this post.

Michael's view of me playing the organ at my lessons.

Michael’s view of me playing the organ at my lessons.

Prelude and Fugue in F Major

I started my lesson with Prelude and Fugue in F Major. I am close to having the prelude ready! I just need to workout the last 3 measures…. Michael felt that we should not call it close enough and move on. And I agree with it that. I am too close to having it right to move on now.

The fugue did not go so well. My tempo was not consistent and I was exaggerating the articulation. For the next lesson I am to play it legato but with even tempo. I also need to be able to play the parts (soprano, tenor, etc. separately) and be able to start anywhere!

Berceuse (French for lullaby)

Berceuse was the last piece. I shared with Michael that I need to get this one checked off my list. It is not that hard and I have been playing it for over a year and I knew it was not at an acceptable level going into the lesson. I need to work out the details (the problems) and get it right for the next lesson. I have been playing the wrong notes for too long. I now need to overcome and change my muscle memory!

The Hymns:

I played the hymns in the middle. The hymn playing did not turn out how I thought it would. I was fairly confident in the 3 hymns on my assignment list:

  • “At the Name of Jesus”
  • “Crown Him with Many Crowns”
  • “Be Thou my Vision”

The Unexpected:

Of the 3 hymns, I thought Be Thou my Vision was the least likely to get Michael’s approval. However, this was the only one that got a passing mark! This is also the first time a hymn was only on my assignment list once. I was assigned this hymn last lesson and gave an acceptable performance at this lesson (which was the next lesson after it was assigned).

For the Next Lesson:

I was assigned the hymn “Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether”. I do not know this hymn and look forward to learning it. All the other pieces will remain on the list. I would love to get approval on all my pieces at my next lesson! What an accomplishment that would be!

An Experiment:

For “Crown Him with Many Crowns” we tried an experiment for me to be able to hear the issues with my playing. Michael played the hymn and we recorded it and then we recorded my version. Incidentally, the best I played it was when we were recording it. I still managed to miss a pedal note or two in the last line (every time I played it for Michael!)

Heidi’s version:


Michael’s version:


My version may have sounded okay, but Michael’s version is the goal. The key is playing in such a way that inspires people to sing!

What did you think of the “Crown Him with Many Crowns” Experiment? Can you hear the differences between Michael’s version and mine?