Friday, December 20, 2013

Fragments from an Organist's Notebook

I recently unearthed a notebook I used to keep by me at the console of the pipe organ I played for several years at a certain LCMS church in Saint Louis. I needed the notebook for another purpose, so I tore these pages out. Before I throw them away forever, here are some of the tidbits I had scribbled on them...

General Preset 1: "Hymn Intro," etc.
Pedal: 16' Bourdon, 16' Flute, 8' Bour., Fl., 4' Bour., 8' Sw.-Ped.
Swell: 4' Principal, 2' Fl.
Great: 8' Pr., 4' Fl., 8' Sw.-Gt.

General Preset 2: "Stanza 1," etc.
Ped.: 16' Bour., Fl., 8' and 4' Pr., 8' and 4' Sw.-Ped.
Sw.: 8' Fl., 4' Pr.
Gt.: 8', 4', and 2' Pr., 8' Sw.-Gt.

General Preset 3
Ped.: 16' Viol., Bour. 8' Pr., Bour. 4' Pr., Bour. 8' Gt.-Ped.
Sw.: 8' Fl., V Cornet (4' Pr., Fl., 2-2/3' Nazard, 2' Fl., 1-3/5' Tierce)
Gt.: 8' Pr., Fl., 4' Pr., 2' Pr., 8' Sw.-Gt.

Comment: I am pretty sure this list dates from an early stage in my tenure on that instrument. Later I had as many as five general presets that I kept pretty much all the time, and Presets 4 and 5 were much more massive registrations. However, these "bare-bones" registrations left plenty of room to add stops between stanzas (such as 4' couplers, combinations, 2' stops, and mutations), and to create custom presets for specific preludes and postludes.

And now, some poetical fragments that I may someday flesh out and repost as completed works.

Lord, on the night You were betrayed,
You proved our faithful Friend;
Did not desert Your own, but stayed
And loved them to the end;
Then, holding all things in Your hand,
In your most holy feast
Obeyed the Father's stern command
And, stooping, served the least.

You bathed your children's wandering feet,
(fragment breaks off)

I do not say, when I have died,
That I shall stand with you aside;
Rather, whate'er I see or do,
Where'er I go, the love of you
I take with me; when in my ears
Resounds the music of the spheres,
Should I be called to join the same,
Into my song I'll pour your name.

When to my eyes the vision blest
Breaks open stores of perfect rest,
Before that throne of fear and grace
I'll bear your love. And when I face
The long road of eternity,
Your last kiss shall go on with me.
With my last breath this vow I give:
I who now die, commence to live.

You still, a little while, must stay
And watch the dying of this day;
So soon as, where I go, makes naught,
You shall be likewise upward caught:
No more to die, henceforth to live.
This final word of peace I give.
(bottom of page)

O Christ, you know: to live
Is good; to die is best.
For while we here yet strive,
Those yonder taste your rest.

They run ahead to joys
Whereof our hope is keen.
We grope behind in shade;
They blessed light have seen.

Amen! Come quickly, Lord!
Come, wipe away all tears
(fragment breaks off)

At the bottom of another page, I found a two-column table that evidently served as a guide for writing this hymn. The columns were headed "Deceased" and "Us." Beneath these headings were the following notes:
Healed / Still in Pain
Happy / Sad
Perfect / Still sinners (but forgiven)
Living / Dying
In Arms of Christ / Selfishly wanting them back
Still the one we loved / Loved by Christ
Arrived / In Transit
Victorious / Still in Battle

I think I jotted this down while listening to a seminary student trying to preach.
  • Explain the text
  • Use analogy when you need to, to explain the text!
  • Interpret the text via proper distinction of Law & Gospel
  • Proclaim the cross, forgiveness
  • Locate Christ and His gifts in the Means of Grace
  • Be audible
If I correctly remember which seminarian was preaching that day, the underlining of that last item represented profound frustration.

I listed the titles (only) of several "parables," to use as talking points for a series of piano lessons I was giving to a child in the congregation. I have added comments below each one, attempting to flesh out what I was thinking at the time.

Wild Horses & Paths (really two parables)
The only way to tame a wild horse is to catch it, climb on its back, and fight it until it submits to your control. Beginning to learn how to play the piano is like that: you have to force your hands to do things that (at first) they don't want. The more you wrestle with them (through persistent practice), the more obedient they become. Also, it can be hard work to walk across ground that has no path on it. But if people walk over the same ground often enough, their footsteps compress the earth into a path where they can walk faster and more easily. Learning the piano is like that: For a while it seems like a lot of tedious hard work; but over time you will feel less resistance, and your progress will come more easily.

Tennis/Badminton/Volleyball/Ping Pong
The successful player of any of these sports will always return to a central position at his end of the court or table after hitting the projectile over the net. This saves energy running, jumping, and reaching, wherever his opponent may send the object flying back. Likewise, a pianist who does not want to wear his hands out must always bring them back to a relaxed position after extending the fingers.

Dizzy Dean
This legendary baseball pitcher burned out early because he played while nursing a broken toe. Since he favored his injured foot, Dean's pitching motion changed in a way that resulted in permanent shoulder damage, effectively ending his career. Likewise, a pianist who practices with an incorrect technique runs the risk of disabling injury to the muscles and joints of the hand.

Muscle Memory
When you practice something the same way, over and over, you are building a habit that makes it ever easier to do. This applies equally to shooting free throws, playing a video game, and performing a piece of music. One of my music teachers liked to put it this way: Each time you learn something new, it puts a wrinkle on your brain. The wrinkles on your brain represent processes that your brain, nerves, and muscles have worked out among themselves—but adding these wrinkles takes serious work.

Right Paths
It is important to practice in the right way, so that you do not learn bad habits or etch mistakes on your muscle memory. This means (at the very least) slowing down enough to play every note perfectly, counting every beat out loud, using a metronome to keep time, and gradually speeding up until you can play the piece with equal accuracy at the target tempo. It also means using the correct expressions and articulations every time you practice a piece, rather than attempting to "add the dynamics later."

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