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Thread: Keeping it interesting

  1. #1
    Commodore con Forza Soubasse's Avatar
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    Keeping it interesting

    Hi all,

    I know I'm new round these parts but I'm experienced enough when it comes to performances.

    Having said that, I'd be very interested to know from other performers in the world, about the sorts of things you do to keep organ recitals alive. I'm sure this is a topic that's most likely come up before and I strive every time I play in public, to do something that's hopefully a little different. Later this year, I have another concert coming up on our lovely Town Hall organ and I'm thinking of what to inject into it this time (I'm also turning 40 this year so it's also a little bit of a present to myself and no, before anyone tries suggesting it, I will not be doing an improvisation on 'Happy Birthday' thank you very much ).

    I usually try to do themed recitals. My previous one was 'A Collection Of Antiques, Curios And Eccentricities' (with due apologies to The Strawbs!) and I was thinking of making this one 'Theme And Variations' and including the Passacaglias of Bach and Buxtehude, Sweelinck's Est ce Mars or Mein Junges Lieben, a work of my own (Variations on a Theme of Adam de la Halle), Alain's Jannequin variations, etc.

    However, I'm starting to have second thoughts and I'm trying to think about just how different I could go. I'm uncomfortable with arrangements of popular pieces (even though I have done an arrangement of Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis but I wouldn't call that popular even though it damn well ought to be). I've even been toying with the idea of a medley of Yes/Wakeman tracks which use organ (Close To The Edge, Awaken, Jane Seymour, Judas Iscariot ... for those of you who know!).

    Anyone here used any ... err, (ahem) 'gimmicks' for want of a better word to draw in a crowd? I'd be very interested to hear.

    Cheers,
    Matt

  2. #2
    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    For an annual recital that I perform in my church, I usually throw in a piece 'just for fun'. I've done pieces like:
    • The Entertainer - Joplin
    • The Great Crush Collision - Joplin
    • Four Dubious Conceits - Richard Purvis
    • Liberty Bell March - Sousa
    We are, afterall, playing the King of Instruments - even kings are allowed to have fun now and then, too.
    Kh ~~.
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  3. #3
    Midshipman, Forte
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    I believe it was Edwin H. Lehmare that said that more people would attend organ concerts if they weren't so boring. I heartily agree with Krummhorn on a more lively program. Many times organists, when they perform, drone out unknown pieces for hours on end while their listeners sleep or wish for the end. I have to think back about famous organists-such as Virgil Fox--did it. For one he knew the instrument. He would practice 7-8 hours every day for several days getting acquainted with it. I'm not exactly sure what an average organ performance is averaging for attendance these days--maybe two or three hundred?
    Here's a few suggestions:
    #1: Advertise. I would suggest doing so a half a year in advance. Make the concert sound like a VERY big event and make the announcments exciting and enough to draw attention
    #2: Do a lot of popular pieces. They don't have to be transcribed, if you do not like it that way, but transcribed ones will draw more people if they are well known. People generally like to come to performances where there is familier music and not a boring "Invention" they they've never heard of or never will again.
    #3: Interact with the audience. That sounds a bit differant than what most organists do. Talk about the pieces your are performing. Tell the audience why you picked it and what to listen for. Tell them a bit about the composer and the circumstances behind the piece.
    #4: If possibe, draw in a few other musicians. Try combining piano and organ or have organ duets, or perhaps a simple string orchestra. That will always attract more.
    #5 Have patience. It will take some time for the word to spread and the crowds to go, but meantime, try to intrest people in the performance and make it a fun, lively event. Perhaps a question and answer time about the organ. Many people don't know thing one about the organ. Have a program that will "send chills up and down the spines" (as one listener said of the organsist of a recital I attended) of your listeners.
    I wish you the best in it! Bill

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    Ensign, Principal Jeffrey Hall's Avatar
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    I heartily second #3 in the previous post. Talk to the audience about the pieces and the composers. And practice your bits beforehand, be concise. It's very easy to let those intros drone on too long, and if they do, they're counterproductive.

    If at all possible, position the console so that you're visible (and I'm well aware that's impossible for many organs). To the non-organist, if they can see the multiple keyboards, stops, couplers, pistons, and especially the pedals, you may as well be plopping yourself down at the controls of a Boeing 757. It never fails when people can see the pedals....hey...those look like a keyboard! So then I show them the score still on the music rack. "Right! See this extra staff here...?"

    Invite interested members of the audience up for a look at the console after the concert or, if it's accessible enough, a very quick peek in the pipe chamber. Most folks have absolutely no idea how an organ works and are fascinated by the chance to see it. And letting the kids try seeing how a stop works is always a hit with them and the parents.

    Get some volunteers to do a small reception afterward. Feed them and they will come.

    We used all these ingredients for a concert dedicating our new organ console and great Mixture IV here at the Episcopal church in Flagstaff in late 2005. We had about 100 folks attend, proving it actually is possible to get people to come to an organ concert!

  5. #5
    Commodore con Forza Soubasse's Avatar
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    Hmm, some good suggestions so far. I like the idea of plenty of advance advertising. Even thought the Town Hall do their own, I have in previous years, always done some posters myself. If there's one thing that I think tends to turn off an audience member, it's reading copius and overly-academic programme notes. I have, for as long as I can remember, always given a commentary on each piece (or a bracket of pieces). I once received what I still regard as one of the best compliments I've had a couple of years back, from a pianist colleague when he said that I made it an 'initmate experience' which is obviously something one would not always expect from an instrument the size of an average house. I'm usually quick to make a joke or two or some sort of stupid comment in the course of introductions in order to prove that organists are human, while still keeping it serious enough for those who need it.

    I may look into the 'popular piece' idea - I guess if I transcribe something, then I'm in charge of it

    Thanks for the input so far folks - I appreciate it.

    Matt

  6. #6
    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    Getting people to organ recitals is tricky. St. Andrew's Cathedral has a regular Friday afternoon recital which I and a colleague from work attend. It is not very well attended ... maybe 40 to 60 people?, which is a shame because this organ is truly wonderful (if you've not heard it). I must do some calculations and statistics. I've also noticed that the content for this particular series doesn't seem to make too much of a difference to the attendence numbers.

    The Sydney Town Hall, on the other hand (which is next door) draws a full house to its recitals and I'm not sure if this is due to Robert Ampt's adventurous programming or because of the instrument itself.

    As to the comment that organ music is boring ... well, that's entirely dependant on the listener. The soft, gently undulations of the voix celeste playing a slow movement of a Widor Symphony is, to me, boring. But the trompette's en chamde blasting you out of your seat in the Toccata is not. Purely personal taste.

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    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Soubasse View Post
    ..... usually quick to make ... a joke or two or some sort of stupid comment in the course of introductions in order to prove that organists are human, while still keeping it serious enough for those who need it.
    I have done this too - with great success - I believe the everyday concert patron, who in most instances is not a professional musician, enjoys learning some trivia about the pieces they are about to hear. Haydn's Musical Clocks (arr by Biggs) is a good example for historical trivia, and in the case of Four Dubious Conceits by Richard Purvis, Purvis comments that these were intentionally composed to poke a little fun at the king of instruments, and rightfully so. In that respect, the atttendees apprciate the music better.

    From a personal viewpoint as a listener at a concert, I equally enjoy the softer offerings as much as the bombastic ones - a good balance of the two makes for great concert content, at least imho.

    Kh
    Last edited by Krummhorn; Mar-05-2007 at 23:58.

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