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Thread: The problem with white elephants

  1. #1
    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    The problem with white elephants

    It saddens me to think that most civic organs are unplayed, except very occasionally.

    We have a wonderful, modern, diverse organ in the Sydney Opera House's Concert Hall, but it might as well be boxed up and sold as it almost never gets played.

    The Sydney Symphony (as my home town band) use it obviously when playing orchestral music scorred with pipe organ. What puzzles me is why contemporary composers aren't strongly urged to score for it when new music is commissioned.

    What are your views??

  2. #2
    Rear Admiral Appassionata
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    I think that the Organ is inexorably linked to church music, and in many cases, it just isn't sexy right now unless you're involved in that field. Equally, I don't think too many composers understand the instrument either, or have a feel for the breadth and dpth of what it can actually do.

    This may change. If there are more young virtuoso players of the like of Cameron Carpenter around, and their popularity expands greatly, the medium will attract commissions, and new works will spring forth.

    Art is very fickle and often of the mooment, and the world in which we live is a fast paced all access high communication, hear/see and forget, massive turnover environment, where entertainment is spoonfed, and proletariate are (maybe deliberately) dumbed down. Who can say?

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    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    I think the general garden variety of contemporary composers is either not aware of the organ or that they lack the ability (nerve?) to score for it along with an orchestra. Our own Frederik Magle has intertwined the two quite successfully and continues to explore new possibilities.

    As to civic organs, they are indeed under-utilized in many regions ... The only two I know of where I live are at the university, and the Masonic Temple. The rest of the pipe organs are in churches, which also tend to keep "their organs" to themselves. Mine is the exception and is also the smallest ... go figure ... but it gets used for many programs, one of which is my solo recital every year.

    It is indeed a shame that the organs like at Sydney Opera House just sit there and gather dust. Hopefully, at least they are being maintained and kept in tune. Maybe it is going to take a push from communities like this one to change the way people think about composing for these great organs.
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  4. #4
    Rear Admiral Appassionata
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    Maybe indeed. But look at things the other way. There are works written for organ/orchestra already. Now those works would not get an outing if organs did not exist in concert halls, and even though the organs might get used only a few times a year, they actually consider that it is worth maintaining huge instruments just for those few occasionas. So all is not lost by any means.

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    Rear Admiral Appassionata Muza's Avatar
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    That is a good way to look at it, NEB.

    Yeah, I kind of agree with what was said earlier - i dont think playing organ is "sexy" anymore. Not even that, I just dont think there are a lot of ways of getting into playing an organ (well, at least in America I think). It should be something that has to be introduced earlier in life, and available in schools and universities. I do not know of a university that has an organ program or an organ. (Of course there may be some, but not too many).
    Why waste money on psychotherapy when you can listen to the B Minor Mass? ~Michael Torke

  6. #6
    Rear Admiral Appassionata
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    There's loads of people who learn organ, but by that I mean those awful technicas things that play sort of poppy music using sequencers and goodness knows what fancy gismo's to play acompaniments while you attempt to play a tune over the top.

    Electronic dumbing down perhaps?

    But to learn pipe organ? we're very short of opportunity here...

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    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    Interesting observations, NEB. In our profession of church organists, there aren't enough taking an interest in the field; the day I retire from the bench is the day that the organ will go silent as nobody is even remotely interested in taking the position. Granted, few will make millions or achieve stardom playing in the church, which in today's "go for the gold" attitude seems to be the norm or it isn't worth pursuing.

    Personally, I have lots of gratification playing in the church - I mean, where else can you play for hundreds of thousands of people (over time), never get "booed" for a poor performance, play virtually what you want for as long as you want, and still get paid for it? Too many people today are caught up in the get rich quick mode with our hurry up and wait society.

    I've played some of those electronic abominations over the years that require advanced degrees in electronic engineering to even figure out what everything does. People continue to buy them because they look fancy and have all sorts of blinking lights ... personally I think blinking lights are best suited for the Xmas tree.

    Our local university (University of Arizona) has an excellent Fine Arts division, including having a very fine organ department. The opportunities are available for the young people, but perhaps it is there where more encouragement is needed. Somehow this field needs to me made more appealing.
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  8. #8
    Rear Admiral Appassionata
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    WEll this goes back to what I said earlier about people like Cameron Carpenter, a young virtuoso, who wears spangly clothes, plays stars and striped forever mixed up with Bach and Liszt, and can carry the torch to younger people. Or Nina de Sol - pretty young girl, but very talented indeed.

    With these types of people getting air-time and attention, it all becomes a more acceptable thing to do rather than the boring image of something churchy!

    There must be so many young pianists who given the chance would be excited indeed by a concert by any of this young crop, and even more so at being allowed at the console to pull out a few reed stops on the foundations and playing some 'piano'/manuals on a piece they like that would work - they'd get inspired wouldn't they. Add a few pedals in occasionally (lets say one note left foot one note right foot) and the thrill they would get would be awsome and of the type I've not had since my own early years on the instrument.

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    Captain of Water Music C5Says's Avatar
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    If I was given one, I'd learn how to play it, and even teach my kids to do likewise.
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  10. #10
    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    I wholly agree with you, NEB, on the exposure that is presently being given to the organ by the likes of Cameron Carpenter and Felix Hell (from Germany). And anyone would jump at the chance of getting to play one of these behemoth's under controlled circumstances.

    The infatuation with young people seems to end when it comes time to make the long term commitment to playing every weekend, enduring multiple rehearsals with choirs and soloists, and putting great amounts of time aside for regular practice to keep up a general repertoire of music. I made that commitment at age 12 myself ... a decision that I have never regretted ... in the present day and age, I think that few to none of that age group (or slightly above, for that matter) would even give a moments thought to making that kind of decision or even want to embark on such a 'career'.

    At one church I worked for years back, I had a student whose lessons costs were subsidized (50%) by the church in exchange for the student filling in on the bench for those times when I could not play (vacations, etc). Perhaps that is something to try again in this day and age ... I'm certainly not getting mugged by throngs of young people wanting to play the organ in church lately . Heck, we can't even get additional people to ring handbells one Sunday a month ... and my arms are getting tired ringing (not at the same time) up to 7 of those large bells.
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  11. #11
    Lieutenant, Associate Concertmaster AllanP's Avatar
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    A civic organ that is played every week is the Spreckels Organ in San Diego's Balboa Park. Every Sunday at 2 pm, a concert is given which is well attended. In the summer, there is a concert series using visiting organists every Monday night. I have attended many of these. Dennis James returns every year for a silent film accompaniment session which is so well attended that there are no seats left and people must sit on the ground or bring their own chairs.

    A strong volunteer organization backs these concerts which are supported by the city of San Diego. Other cities could do the same given strong leadership to keep the momentum of a concert series.

    The URL for more information is 'http://www.sosorgan.com/'

  12. #12
    Rear Admiral Appassionata Muza's Avatar
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    Yes, that is true. My father used to go to these all the time and he did say that quite a few people would show up at the concerts.
    Why waste money on psychotherapy when you can listen to the B Minor Mass? ~Michael Torke

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