Archive | October, 2013

About me

28 Oct
Johann Sebastian Bach in Weimar

Johann Sebastian Bach in Weimar (Photo credit: pittigliani2005)


Melbourne (Photo credit: nifwlseirff)


Bach (Photo credit: Seabamirum)

Felix Mendelssohn's Leipzig study

Felix Mendelssohn’s Leipzig study (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Johann-Sebastian-Bach (Photo credit: tölvakonu)

English: contemporary advertisement (1845) for...

English: contemporary advertisement (1845) for Mendelssohn’s six organ sonatas, op. 65. From the journal ‘Musical World’, edition of 24 July 1845 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, old monument in f...

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, old monument in front of the Gewandhaus, Leipzig (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 As a musician, I am fortunate to enjoy playing and sharing musical activity widely. I don’t need to travel far either, as there is appreciation for my skills close to home. Music has been a golden thread through  my life, and I hope that continues as long as I live.

When an infant reaches out and strikes just one piano key, instant response leads to curiosity and pleasure.  Further keys add to the experience which is wonderful to observe.At a very early age children try to find a tune which they have heard and liked.

For me, at three years of age it was ‘The Bridal March’ from Lohengrin, heard on a large pipe organ as ‘Here comes the Bride’ in the lovely setting of a friend’s wedding in a city church with a large pipe organ. I checked out this age, as parents may exaggerate at times. Fifty years later our friends celebrated their Golden Wedding, and I was 53 then . The home instrument was not an easily struck piano, but a harmonium.  With a heavy, book filled organ stool supporting my back, left foot on the floor for stability and, being much too short  to sit on the stool and play both pedals, right foot was pumping the pedal to fill the bellows with air, I played the opening measures of the tune ringing in my head The names printed on those drawstops were fascinating too, leading to various tone colours. Diapason,Stopped Diapason,Flute,Corno dolce,Vox Humana, and Tremolo were among them, all available in a box powered by foot pedals. They had figures on them too, 8′, 4′ 2′ which made sense when I started to play pipe organs. The irregular supply of air to the bellows accounted for some very odd pitch and phrasing varieties, I thought this was hilarious, and laughed a lot  about it.

Before it lost popularity,  many Brides requested this item  as a processional. It is just one bridal processional of many, and  as a pipe organist I enjoyed playing appropriate ceremonial works in interesting venues; cathedrals, churches and halls – grand and humble, indoor and outdoor. Cathedral Services settings,  Parish church music and  major organ  works of J S Bach and other organ masters from different countries were played.

The J S Bach centered method studied with Bernard D Clarke, my teacher was highly disciplined, structured and a methodical  approach which brought a deep knowledge of the style and spirit of composers and their times. Bach taught the way to understanding musical styles, from that time, to today. This method derived from Felix Mendelssohn to England, where Sir Walter Parratt taught it to Dr  A E H Nickson who brought it to Melbourne. Bernard was one of his students. European Romantic and classical  compositions were studied, and played on large, resourceful organs in Melbourne, noted for colourful instrumental registration. I am not a lover of classically voiced instruments, particularly when they sound like a “box of ‘twhistles”., and key operation sounds like a typewriter to me.   My style of playing is influenced by phrasing I employ as an upper string player, and choral director. I think orchestrally, and enjoy a firm bass foundation. I enjoy making music with my feet!

 In the young city of Melbourne concert organs in Town halls, and theatre organs  preceded the symphony andf pit orchestras which now exist. They added great sensitivity,  grandeur and power to Church Services, Ceremonies and Concerts

Felix  Mendelssohn was a master of Symphonic writing, Concerti, Choral works, String and Organ Works also. His achievement in finding and performing the B Minor Bass  manuscripts of Bach has served us well.. As an organist in the Christian tradition and from a Jewish background, his oratorio ELIJAH, among other cantatas, is well loved. Choral training,conducting and playing of  this dramatic work, as well as other oratorios and choral works in churches and schools, and Direction of Civic choirs were artistic highlights in my career.The Book of Common Prayer provided a wealth of lovely language when set to fine music.

After leaving school at  fifteen,  my career in Church music began, simultaneously with working for a living as a Secretary. We were trained in skills of language, shorthand, typewriting and Bookkeeping as at the end of 1945, the post war period meant that many returned service people would need most of the  places in Melbourne’s one University, and others would require Secretaries as they moved back to the business world.

Many older musicians were away in the armed services, so fortunately an Organist was needed at the local Church of England. Limited power supplies in these post-war years meant that ‘brownout’ dips in power during services occurred. The sweet, small, antique pipe organ lowered pitch accordingly, but there were always willing friends to man the  hand pump in the organ chamber on these occasions. Suddenly pitch would lift and volume swell -with some chortling from the pump end- before settling  to a singable level again. Frighteningly uncomfortable levels of surging dynamics with commercial advertisements on TV today are a modern example of this with less access to correction. My rigorous, highly disciplined organ study commenced at nineteen.

Later still – by too many years –  a music degree ensured a long career in music education. Raising a family,studying,practising, church organ posts, performing, and  home studio tasks meant a busy life. My Music now means enjoying  playing my Clavinova Digital piano or Yamaha Electone organ at home, Retirement villages and Entertainment centres, Orchestral playing, and Accompanying, which I have always enjoyed.  Rarely heard music and thousands of  songs from our past,  are now revisited for  appreciative audiences.”It seems to me I’ve heard that song before”has become a theme for this activity which is proving mutually beneficial, therapeutic and enjoyable.

If you played for group singing in past years, and there is that box of old standards and community singing favourites  gathering dust in your studio, I urge you to review these songs, and share them with the Radio Generation, many of whom reside in Retirement Villages and Care Centres in your locality.  These people are hungry for them, and they lift their spirits. Hopefully the houses will have playable instruments available there. If not, you may find something of interest in my website, portable, easily playable, and great sounding  keyboards are reviewed there.

Celebrate the great singers who brought us words and melody, and bands who played the songs we danced to. Encourage singing and listening sessions as musical memory is a gift. Audiate the tunes stored there and share them, along with their personal memories. They were often learnt from non vocal recordings I like to ‘play be ear’ too.

People with speech difficulty can often sing fluently, and that is a miracle which happens often. With smiles and gentle waltzing, sometimes with walking sticks and  frames as partners, their move to the Dining Room for Afternoon Tea after a session,  provides a ‘lift’ from the daily routine. At one retirement home it was jokingly suggested that I ‘Bring my bed down’ as the sessions are highoy valued by staff and residents alike.  This is great feedback for any musician, isn’t it?

 Accompanying, conducting and leading singing for all age groups, whole school, groups from K-12, or youth to very old age, is a privilege which brought heart warming artistic satisfaction for me.    It’s a great ‘surround’ sound and a marvellous way to work with your community.    Accompanying Speech nights, or choral events  on the grand organ at Melbourne or St.Kilda Town Halls  were wonderful. Working with children’s groups is a special privilege.

For young students, Keyboard study is the finest entry to instrumental performance skills. They will learn techniques for ten fingers to play,  music reading from both treble and bass staves, concentration , and physical co-ordination between vision, hearing and fingers is developed methodically.  There is enjoyment in hearing fast response to simple striking of keys. They  will  learn to listen, listen, listen as well.

 While young bodies are growing,  to be seated and using balanced limbs is a healthier manner of music practice than many other instruments demand. Harmonic memory is developed, and intervals are learnt,  not only aurally but visually from the keyboard as well. When students  audiate their music and absorb true pitch discernment,this will remain with them as a lifelong, cognitive achievement and study skill for other fields. Listening is a skilful  tool for learning.

Keyboard study, for perhaps four years,  gives a firm basis for the study of other instruments later.  With reading established at critical ages for cognitive development,  skills related to other musical  instruments can develop faster, and the semitonal arrangement of black and white keys is a visual and  remembered aid for the study of major, minor and chromatic scales and chords. This is a great help for pitch definition and intervals of  harmony, and is a gateway to all styles of music study.


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