Monthly archives "February 2016"

TAO March 2016–Finger Food

Finger Food
Music is just a flick of a finger away for us organists. In fact, we have been living in the digital world much longer than those who depend upon electronics for their prestidigitation. Most of us take our fingers for granted. Until something happens, that is. Something like the knick I gave myself in the kitchen the other day. As a passionate foodie, I’m in the kitchen all the time chopping, peeling, and grating my way to food heaven. My work on holiday finger foods jolted to a halt while I assessed the damage. I gave thanks that my wound was no worse that it was: with a little re-fingering, I would be able to play on Sunday.
The work of re-fingering a familiar piece was more than I imagined it would be. Remembering such changes is a matter of mind over fingers—a process of picturing how my fingers would look and feel as they moved from key to key. To help me remember, I found myself writing in the fingering as though it were a new piece. In fact, during this musical triage session, I found several new insights into the music. I realized that the real reason for such detailed attention to technique is to draw oneself into the music more deeply.
Fingering is one way of entering into score study, along with phrasing, rhythmic articulation and registration. Each adds a new layer that leads to a more complete understanding of the music’s intention. The more insight we have, the better we are able to perform the music. Score study is the best practice for achieving excellence in your musical life. Marking your score is also a great way to save work for the future—no need to rediscover what you have already learned.
We usually learn how to mark our scores from our teachers. There may be some new ideas since then. See if these are helpful to you.
• Write fingering in as large and clearly as possible–pedals, too.
• Write fingering directly above or below the notes.
• Use colored pencils to make your memory more vivid.
• Erase completely.
• Finger backward from target notes in difficult passages.
• Highlight or circle significant hand or pedal position shifts.
• Keep fingering numbers visually separate from articulation markings.
• Develop your own system and use it consistently.

I hope some of these ideas are helpful to you. We’ll take a look at more ideas for developing score study skills next month.
Now it’s time to look at some music for the season ahead. Easter is early this year, so let’s get busy. The themes of Holy Week plunge us from the heights to the depths of human experience. I love the music that goes with it. Composers across the church willingly take on the challenges that Holy Week presents, and it is easy to find something for every occasion in one volume. Even simple two-stave books such as Robert Lau’s Through Darkness to Light Eternal (Lorenz 70/1864) can fulfill these demands. With such breadth of repertory in one volume, books of Holy Week music are quite a bargain. Consider Clay Christiansen’s new book, All Glory, Laud, and Honor (MorningStar 10-436), where six toccatas on Easter hymns contrast with three sensitively written Good Friday meditations. I love the heartbeat rhythms “O Sacred Head,” as much as the fire in his “Ellacombe,” or the majesty of his processional on “St. Theodulph (All Glory, Laud and Honor).”
You can update such classics as Stainer’s “God So Loved the World,” “I Know that my Redeemer Liveth”, “The Palms,” and “The Holy City,” in Holy Week Hymns and Classics by Albin C. Whitworth (Beckenhorst OC-13). Douglas Wagner’s From Death to Life Eternal (Hope 8346) accomplishes the same task of covering Holy Week with a completely different selection of hymn tunes, including “Ah, Holy Jesus,” “Wondrous Love,” “When Jesus Wept,” “This Joyful Eastertide” and “Now the Green Blade Rises.”
Palm Sunday has its own special flavor, so let me draw your attention to the fun of playing Dan Miller’s Two Festive Hymn Settings (MSM 10-419), which include a majestic “St. Theodulph” and a romping, stomping “Lasst uns Erfreuen.” Something else to consider is the moderately easy Palm Sunday Festival by Lawrence Schreiber. This one contains “St. Theodulph,” “St. Flavian,” and “Ride On, King Jesus.” Originally, it was published by HW Gray (GSTC9902), but it is easily downloaded at
Of course, downside Holy Week leads us to the glory of Easter morning, where we have the opportunity to bring fresh musical expressions of joy and majesty expressing the triumph of life over death. Most of the volumes I have already shared with you contain good material for the day. New this year, David Schelat has written the moderately-easy Five Preludes for Easter (MSM 10-431), where you will find an interesting, lilting “Easter Hymn,” easy contrapuntal treatments of “Gelobt sei Gott,” O Fili et Fileae,” “Lancashire” and “Gaudeamus Pariter,” and a remarkable largo setting of “Christ is Erstanden.” Just a little more challenging are the pieces in Christ is Alive! (MSM 10-445). Matthew Corl cleverly quotes a snippet of Paul Manz in his arrangement of “Truro,” then goes on to create a Buxtehude inspired setting of “Easter Hymn” and a traditional English trumpet tune arrangement of “Diademata.” He saved his loveliest writing for a set of variations on “O Filii et Filiae,” where he uses harmonic color and rhythmic variety to great effect.
A few more Easter pieces can only add to the pool of possibilities for the season ahead. Prolific composer, Robert J. Powell, has just published Throned in Glory (MSM 10-782). He has chosen three less well-known pieces for elaboration: vigorous settings of “Resignation,” “Komm, O Komm, Du Geist des Lebens (Judge Eternal, Throned in Splendor),” and “Judas Maccabeus.” All are well written at a moderately easy level. Jerry Westenkueler has also added to the festivities with his new Three Festive Trumpet Tunes (MSM 10-685). He has provided an optional trumpet solo part to these traditional settings of “Amsterdam” and “Westminster Abbey.” The 6/8 piece is a lot of fun to play, with or without the soloist. These are the kind of pieces you can use to keep the festive spirit of Easter going throughout the season. On the opposite end of the spectrum, let me recommend John Ferguson’s In Quiet Joy (MSM 10-442) for communion or other quiet moments if you have any. One year, I used his reflection on “Easter Hymn” to fill while we waited for the preaching pastor to arrive from the other service. What a lifesaver it was! John has also included thoughtful arrangements of “Vreuchten” and “Gelobt sei Gott” in case your pastor gets lost, too.
Before we wish each other an Easter blessing, let’s take a moment to reflect. Whether you are a foodie like me, or not, you have a seat at the heavenly table where there is more than finger food. There is, in fact, a banquet of riches set before us. The table is set; the flowers are ordered; the music is prepared. Easter is for you, too. Dig in! Enjoy!