Friday, October 11, 2013

Scenes from Adolescence

In November of 1984, 29 years ago next month, I played the organ in church for the first time. The regular organist for our little white church with a steeple was out having a baby. It was supposed to be a two week stint but turned into four after there were complications. I had achieved the grand old age of 13 and had a  bit of trouble reaching the pedals, but no matter.

After that I served as a substitute organist to a lot of different churches of various denominations. In the Catholic church I had to sing and figure out which prayer the priest was using. For the Baptists it was enough to raise the roof with an enthusiastic pianistic shout. The Lutherans had their own set of doxologies and prayer responses. And of course the Methodists had more potluck dinners.

Back then there weren't a lot of musical resources available to me. I think I owned maybe two books of organ music, one of which purported to be the music of J. S. Bach, whom everybody's heard of whether they want to, or are able to, play his music or not. I wonder now where that book has gotten to.

Our local music store had things like Mel Bay's Big Note Guitar Method and possibly Mozart's Greatest Hits, but not a lot of organ music. Eventually my mother and I would go up to a large music store an hour away in the city.

But for now it was that little, very edited, book, which contained Eight Little Preludes and Fugues, topped off, I think, with the Little G Minor Fugue. I was pretty lazy, so I didn't bother learning the Fugues, which were harder, and besides, as I mentioned, I couldn't reach the pedals very well anyhow. So I played the things that were easy and required less coordination.

Boy was that a different era.

The little town where I grew up has become a sprawling endless burb and vast resources are available on that newfangled internet thing to anybody regardless of how small their community and I am now completely on the other side of college where I learned to discipline my mind and gained a pretty serious technical command of the instrument--the piano, anyhow, and later on, the organ. It was a long time ago, in a village far, far away.

And yet, here I am again. This week I made a recording of two of those little pieces that might well have been the first things I played on the organ as barely a teenager. I learned the fugues this time, too. I'm quite sure I played them significantly better than I did then, also. I certainly practiced them with more focus. The Fugues are a bit trickier than I would have thought but I still could get them licked in an hour or less.

I wasn't really planning on visiting the past like this. I assumed that past era and its repertoire was gone. I wasn't sure an organist who takes on large works of Widor and Vierne should even be playing these "little" preludes and fugues. But this week is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Johann Ludwig Krebs and I decided to go on another of my musical investigations into a composer I didn't know and it turns out that those 8 Little Preludes and Fugues by J. S. Bach might not be by J. S. Bach after all. Some scholars think, or thought, that they might have been written by Krebs. At the moment, I'm inclined to that opinion myself. I'll explain why in another post.

For now, I'll offer up a bit of the distant past as I experienced it. Pieces that are often among the first for young organists to tackle. It is kind of nice to get around to playing those fugues finally! And I do plan to play all eight of them this time. It's as though I'm finally injecting discipline and method that nobody grounded me in when I was growing up in that little village, playing on old uprights and small electronic organs. I'm finally finishing something I started a long time ago. It's been interesting visiting the past that way. Remembering the circumstances of life at the time, and rediscovering, or just discovering, the music. My entire orientation toward music and everything else has changed in the meantime.

I don't think these are masterpieces, but some of them are not too bad. There are awkward things in them, but they have some nice moments as well. I like them less now than I did then, but I've also found more to appreciate about them because I have a richer understanding of music in general. So I'll save my detailed appraisal of the pieces for another time. Besides, I don't want to be unkind toward Mr. Krebs on his birthday.

I like the fugues the best now. Is there any hope for me?

Prelude and Fugue in F

Prelude and Fugue in G Minor

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