Friday, June 8, 2018

Dissatisfaction theory

I play a pipe organ with four manuals and a hundred stop knobs. Lately, I've started to become unhappy with it.

Oh, boo hoo, you in normalville are pouting at your computer. So sad; here's the world's smallest pipe organ to play a sad song for you. This is partly because if you ask for sympathy for anything whatsoever on the internet it is a big mistake, and in the case of my present instrument, there is more organ than most people get to play with. Confessing unhappiness under those circumstances is like a rich person complaining to a poor person that they don't have enough money.

And then I have to go and make it worse by telling you that I'm excited to be this unhappy.

There are two reasons for this perverse interpretation. One is that, despite the multitude of resources that are already present on the current instrument, there are over 5000 pipes in the rear gallery which are waiting to be restored. So when I realized rather uncomfortably the other day that there are way too many stops of the string variety on an organ that already has its own large floating string division, and generally only one 8 foot flute stop per manual, which seems kind of obscene for the Cathedralesque size of the organ, and is making getting the kind of rich but quiet sound I'm after for a piece I'm working on difficult, even after all possible coupling combinations have been exhausted--then, I look longingly at some of the other 75 stops that will be available some day, and realize that some of my problems will be solved.

Nobody can help me with my other problem, which is a constitution that most people will think is certifiably crazy, but I find to be the prelude to a period of discovery and growth. What I mean is this:

If I were tootling along, happy and comfortable with what I was able to get out of the organ already, I would continue doing what I'm doing. Since I'm not, I am asking questions, trying to find new and creative ways to use what I have available to get what I want. It does not surprise me in the least that I want more than I can get; my standards have gone up. Artist's standards always do. The last time I began really trying to maximize the potential of a pipe organ, I had custody of a much smaller organ. Over time, that organ began to sound better and better. At first I didn't think a lot of it, but as I began to probe the mysteries of organ registration, I managed, I think, to get a great deal out of 30 stop knobs. Eventually I could play virtually anything in the literature, and there are, I think, in the catalog on pianonoise, some really interesting examples of what you can get an organ to sound like--hundreds of sounds which are not your stereotypical full blast, and range from tender to comical. When I moved to Pittsburgh, some of the congregants at churches where I played told me that the organ had never sounded like that before. I think they meant that in a good sense.

Such a thorough knowledge of organ registration takes a lot of study, and careful attention. One fellow who is said to have achieved a superior knowledge of organ registration, and employed combinations of sounds that nobody else thought would work until they heard it is a guy named Bach. Maybe you've heard of him. I think, therefore, I'm in good company.

The path will be hazardous, of course, There are hundred of tutorials on basic organ registration (including my own), but when you start dealing, as I have recently, with different organs on which you are playing concerts, with very different personalities, and you are trying to make sense of the tonal philosophies of the people who designed those organs, you are in very different territory. One method is to simply spend time trying different combinations based on what I already know about how organ stops behave, and keep my ears open. The other is to read as much as I can about the art of organ registration from the library, and online, and to talk to knowledgeable organists and builders about the subject.

The point is, I am unhappy. Which means that something is brewing. Good things should result. Satisfactory things. Then....sigh...I'll just have to start all over. Happiness can be overrated.

Anyway, you can have some of mine if you were in search of some. I'm going off on an adventure.

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