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Professional Organist Compromises

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  • Professional Organist Compromises

    I've recently done some searching on eBay for older organ music, and have noticed a proliferation of music for what some would consider "lesser organs" by notable musicians. Musicians like Ethel Smith, Mark Laub, George Wright, Eddie Baxter, Lenni Dee, Bob Ralston, and several others have either played for recordings, arranged music, or endorsed spinet organs, and other organs which many professional musicians would consider "inferior." Organ makes include Hammond, Lowrey, Conn, Wurlitzer, Thomas, and many others.

    What compromises would any of us be willing to make in that field? Is your endorsement or talent available at any cost, or do you insist on certain standards? Is it true that a truly professional organist could perform music satisfactorily on any organ, including a spinet organ? Is it truly the lesser-talented musicians who insist on having a "concert" organ at their disposal?

    What do you all think? Please keep the worms in the can (even though I probably just opened a can of them!).

    Michael
    Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
    • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
    • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
    • 11 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 7 Pianos

  • #2
    I have a small folio of Bob Ralston arrangements for which he limited the playing to one note in each hand and pedal--the arrangements are quite nice, more difficult that you might imagine, and quite professional. I don't think it is any way an inferior set of arrangements. The sound, of course, is very clean, since keeping it to 3 notes, the sound never gets thick and that's nice for variety.

    Mark Laub was a prodigious arranger of popular and light classical music, and I've got many arrangements by him that are very good. His longer arrangements are more useful to me than the shorter ones.

    Personally, I don't see any compromise to arranging and performing music for the masses. As to performing on smaller instruments, a professional can make them sound much bigger than the average amateur can. Skillful use of the available resources is required. Having a full-sized instrument with a bigger spec just makes it easier.

    And, to be honest, having a smaller spec instrument helps keep registrations clean. Some players just can't stop themselves from using every stop.

    I don't recall any organists specifically endorsing spinet models in particular, but more likely specific brands. Some of them may have appeared in ads that featured spinets without it being a specific endorsement of a model.

    Comment


    • #3
      I know that Noel Rawsthorne has many, many "simplified" arrangments of famous pieces, specifically for smaller organs. Aubrey Tucker of YouTube does the same (not for smaller instruments in particular, though).
      “I play the notes as they are written (well, I try), but it is God who makes the music.” - Johann Sebastian Bach
      Organs I Play:
      - Home: VPO Compiled from Allen 2110 parts
      - Church: M.P. Moller 1951 (Relocated 2015) 3 manual, 56 stop, 38 ranks (Opus 8152)

      Comment


      • #4
        If any organ maker were to offer to pay me to demonstrate their organ... I'd sell their stock short. On the other hand, when a professional demonstrates an organ for a reputable company I'm glad to hear their work. I'm glad they earn some money from it, and I'm glad to learn to potential of that instrument. For example, take Hector Olivera. When he plays his signature Allen I appreciate organ and his artistry. When I first heard him on the Roland AT 900 I was amazed that the instrument seemed limitless. When I saw and heard his demonstration of the Roland C200 I appreciated how useful such a small instrument could be. I never felt that I could sound anywhere remotely like Hector Olivera on any of these instruments. Still I'm glad he demonstrated them. In an interview he said he wanted his performances to be real in the sense that nothing the audience hears is prerecorded. I think he's correct on that point. And so I say "Good for him and all the others".
        Floyd

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        • #5
          I look at it this way. Home organs were very popular and there was a huge need for simplified material for beginners (both children and adults) and for (mainly) adults who just wanted to play popular tunes without requiring a lot of practice nor expecting to advance much. Plus, with the numerous TV variety shows and music shows (e.g. Lawrence Welk), pro organists got exposure and developed a fan base. It was natural for organ manufacturers to recruit professionals for endorsements and for music publishers to produce music books arranged by popular organists. Also, given what organs cost in the 50's through the 70's (and even today!), families could not afford a full-size electronic theater organ and there was no large used market as there is today. Spinets were an affordable alternative. I think those organists just met the general demand and the needs of their fans (and made some money!).

          Originally posted by toodles View Post
          As to performing on smaller instruments, a professional can make them sound much bigger than the average amateur can. Skillful use of the available resources is required.
          That made me chuckle. Over the years, I've been at many church organ dedications by concert organists and have heard the following comment on several occasions from someone in the audience after the program was over and we were filing out: "That organ will never sound like that again!" 😃

          My instrument: Allen MDS-65 with a New Century Zimbelstern
          Former instruments (RIP): Allen ADC 420; Conn Minuet

          Comment


          • #6
            To hear Olivera live is one of the most extraordinary experiences one could ever ask for. What a sense of color, such technique and control of tempo. One of the greatest ever.
            .

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            • #7
              Originally posted by myorgan View Post
              Is it true that a truly professional organist could perform music satisfactorily on any organ, including a spinet organ?
              One of the most important tools for a professional organist are those bits on the side of the head that not only help to hold your glasses in place ;-) What I mean is the ears, and listening skills. If you don't listen to the room and the instrument, you won't make "good" music, and I've known some professionals who have been astonishingly "hard of hearing" and non-professionals who were very sensitive in this respect.
              Another important tool is your inner attitude. If you feel that you "need" a biiiiiig organ to do your skills justice, then you might indeed not perform as well as you could with a smaller organ.


              Originally posted by myorgan View Post
              Is it truly the lesser-talented musicians who insist on having a "concert" organ at their disposal?
              I wouldn't go that far and connect this insistance to talent, but to many other factors including one's personal ability to "use what's there". Some people are better at this than others.
              And you need to have quite decent musical skills if you want to play pieces that were clearly written for large organs on a smaller instrument. If you are a purist, you might not even want to do this. For me, it's all part of the job and the fun.


              Originally posted by SchnarrHorn View Post
              "That organ will never sound like that again!" 😃
              This reminds me of a comment after a funeral service. In the chapel in our village's cemetary, there's an old Viscount (?) spinet organ. I was asked to play and because I didn't know what kind of organ to expect, I put the accordion in the boot of the car and came early to get a chance to look at the instrument. The undertaker (mortician) said, well, it's rubbish, that thing, you won't be able to do anything nice with it.
              Afterwards, he came to me and said: "I never thought this instrument could sound so good. You really made music here!".
              Apparently I was the first one who tried to understand the instrument and then make the best out of it instead of trying to do things that were just not "in it". That's part of professionalism for me.
              Preparing a recital on such an instrument would be a challenge, I guess, but then again, why not?

              I prefer pipe organs to fully electrical instruments with speakers, though. But I will always try to do my best with any given instrument.

              Comment


              • edkennedy
                edkennedy commented
                Editing a comment
                I have seen some of your videos, and you can make a small organ sound fabulous.

              • andijah
                andijah commented
                Editing a comment
                Thank you :-)

            • #8
              My inference from the topic starter is that the term "lesser organs" is somewhat elitist and that organists who associated with Hammonds, Conns, and what-have-you were selling out.

              To begin with, I don't consider these instruments lesser organs. They are different organs for different players and audiences. I don't regard providing or making music on them any less inferior than doing the same on the most majestic of pipe organs, but I won't argue the fact that it might be less satisfying. I think the recordings and arrangements made by these organists served as inspiration for many of us to appreciate what could be accomplished on instruments that could be found in the home. I'm not concerned with the financial motives behind such endeavors. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven all composed and performed to put food on the table. I've never bought into the Romantic depiction of the artist starving in order to serve Art.

              I think it takes more musical talent to produce and perform a simple arrangement on a smaller organ than a larger one with more resources. I heard Lew Williams, who normally holds forth on the 80 rank theatre pipe organ at Organ Stop Pizza, play a concert on a little 4 rank church organ, that he hand registered. His talent as a musician was even on greater display because of the music he was able to produce with those very limited resources.
              Last edited by Admin; 03-07-2021, 09:55 AM. Reason: corrected typos
              -Admin

              Allen 965
              Zuma Group Midi Keyboard Encoder
              Zuma Group DM Midi Stop Controller
              Hauptwerk 4.2

              Comment


              • #9
                Bob Ralston played a Thomas organ with the Lawrence Welk band. So he just didn't endorse the Thomas organ - he actually performed on one regularly. Bob was also a superb concert pianist. I knew the old program director for the Detroit Theater Organ Society. He said that when Bob came in to rehearse he took some time to go over to the concert grand piano (which was also controlled from the organ) and blew everyone away with the "Warsaw Concerto."

                Comment


                • #10
                  Thank you for the "lively discussion." It is interesting to note how many organists have written for, performed on spinet organs, or even on organs not especially suited for the music chosen.

                  What made me think of this is a Wurlitzer spinet with Leslie I played for a couple of years ago. It was with a church "orchestra," but I was pleasantly surprised by the sound and the choices offered. Recalling that concert was the seed for this thread.

                  Thank you for weighing in, and please keep the comments coming!

                  Michael
                  Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
                  • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
                  • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
                  • 11 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 7 Pianos

                  Comment


                  • #11
                    Throwing myself into preparation to shortly become a high school math teacher, my understanding of learning and teaching has been vastly updated and amended.

                    Relative to amateur or hobby organists with a minimum amount of keyboard skills, it is valuable to have "well-known" music available to play at all levels of difficulty and have instruments that, although not fully AGO-compliant, include pedals and a keyboard or two.

                    Switching to mathematics education, all students are expected to learn the same core curriculum including the broad middle group of students, the "gifted" students, the special-needs students (wide variety of needs), and the English language learners (who are usually in the middle group but may be in the other groups.) It isn't the student's "ability" that dictates the subjects of the math curriculum; it's the student's ability that frames how deeply they can go in each subject.

                    Similarly for both written music to play and organs on which to play, there should be music and instruments for all skill levels of organist. The depth to which a player can take their performance should not keep them from playing well-known music of any genre (in arrangement) on an instrument that is some form of organ.

                    Just some thoughts!
                    JeffW

                    Comment


                    • #12
                      Originally posted by JeffW View Post
                      The depth to which a player can take their performance should not keep them from playing well-known music of any genre (in arrangement) on an instrument that is some form of organ.
                      Yes. And no.
                      I'm not a big fan of over-simplified arrangements of organ works, considering that there are so many enjoyable pieces on all levels. Of course if you don't have a full pedal board available, an arrangement of a piece not originally written for your type of organ can be a good thing, but it has to be done properly.
                      There are some pieces that simply don't "work" on smaller organs and that's totally fine. There are others that will work and personally I'd rather concentrate on those.

                      When it comes to teaching, I tend to suggest original pieces on a level the student can master, but at the moment I teach only singers who seldom want to sing a coloratura aria for which they still lack the basics (whereas quite many piano students want to play For Elise which is all but a beginner's piece. But that's another story).

                      But maybe this leads us away from the starting point of this thread.

                      Comment


                      • #13
                        I also find the 'lesser organ' label a bit elitist. I don't think for a second that Michael thinks that!

                        A few random thoughts while I have a few minutes between lessons.

                        There were, and are, plenty of top flight artists who play non-classical, non-pipe instruments. Hector being already mentioned, of course. But those electronic instruments were played by musicians of the highest calibre - Brian Sharp, Harold Smart, Harry Stoneham to mention just three in the UK. Brian played and endorsed several makes over the years, most notably Eminent, RiHa and Kawai. Harold Smart worked for Thomas and Harry was almost inseparable from Lowrey until the 'old school' models disappeared.

                        And of course, there are things that the digital orchestra, which is what the high end electronic organ has become, can do things that pipes can't, requiring a similar, but different skill set to that of the classical organist. Transcribing and arranging for the likes of my Roland AT900P is as challenging as I want it to be. For example, on the music desk at the moment is, on the classical side, Grieg's 'Death of Aase', taken from the orchestral score and sounding as close to an orchestra as I can make it. 'Old Man River' in theatre organ style, 'The Ladies who Lunch' (that's challenging!) are among quite a few others that I'm working on.

                        I'd agree that it's never totally satisfying to take a classical organ piece and have to arrange it for spinet, but again, there's a challenge there - to make it as musically honest as it can be. I've done it and done the best job that I, and the organ, could do. There are no classical organ works on the music desk at the moment - to be honest, whilst I still love listening to them, I've almost lost interest in sitting down and playing them. I have 'other fish to fry' right now!

                        And did those organists who endorsed the various makes do it just for the money? I have to include myself in this, and yes there was a mortgage and bills to be paid, but I never thought that I was selling out! I did it because I loved doing it - and still do! I'm sure I speak for a lot of my friends and colleagues.
                        It's not what you play. It's not how you play. It's the fact that you're playing that counts.

                        New website now live - www.andrew-gilbert.com

                        Current instruments: Roland Atelier AT900 Platinum Edition, Yamaha PSR-S970, Kawai K1m
                        Retired Organs: Lots! Kawai SR6 x 2, Hammond L122, T402, T500 x 2, X5. Conn Martinique and 652. Gulbransen 2102 Pacemaker. Kimball Temptation.
                        Retired Leslies, 147, 145 x 2, 760 x 2, 710, 415 x 2.
                        Retired synths: Korg 700, Roland SH1000, Jen Superstringer, Kawai S100F, Kawai S100P, Kawai K1

                        Comment


                        • myorgan
                          myorgan commented
                          Editing a comment
                          Originally posted by andyg
                          I also find the 'lesser organ' label a bit elitist. I don't think for a second that Michael thinks that!
                          Andy, thank you for the defense–and yes, that is an accurate statement. Otherwise, I wouldn't have my Lowrey DSO-1! That's why I used the phrase "some consider."

                          The intent of my post was to get at an organist's skill at adapting to any organ they are asked to play vs. demanding certain criteria before ever agreeing to touch an organ.

                          Michael

                      • #14
                        I got a lesson on what you can do with an unlikely organ way back in the 70's. The dealer I worked for took me to Houston TX to some kind of trade show put on by the home organ industry. Might have been called the "Home Organ Encounter" (but then that would make it the H.O.E.) ...

                        Anyway, our brand was Conn, and one of the brilliant guys from the marketing department put on a show using nothing but a couple of those little home models with the multi-colored tilt tabs. Seems like the model numbers were something like 307 or 309. Somebody may remember those.

                        When I saw these, I sort of turned up my nose, little brat that I was at 25 or 26 years old. Not a real organ, I thought, just a toy. But man, did that guy ever get some music out of them! I remember that he had a big show-piece medley of "Star Wars" themes. He hand-registered everything of course, flipping tabs wildly, but he made it sound almost like there was an orchestra playing that music.

                        I wish I knew who that was. He was probably somebody whose name other people would recognize here, but at the time I wasn't really into remembering names. I do remember that Larry Ferrari was there though and I bought one of his LPs that I still have.
                        John
                        ----------
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                        • myorgan
                          myorgan commented
                          Editing a comment
                          Originally posted by jbird604
                          Might have been called the "Home Organ Encounter" (but then that would make it the H.O.E.) ...
                          John!!! You have been inside too long! ;-)

                          Michael
                          Last edited by myorgan; 03-11-2021, 05:29 PM.

                      • #15
                        I worked for Thomas Organ from the fall of 1975 till late 1978--then got laid off ("made redundant" in Brit Speak) during the start of the big downturn in the home organ market.

                        Byron Melcher was the "tonal director" for Thomas though his actual title was probably marketing manager or sales manager--anyhow, Byron was a fantastic theatre organist and could get an amazing sound out of the Thomas spinets. All of the regional sales managers were also fabulous organist, some of them got sounds out of the most basic of models that would amaze me. Jack Malmsten could make an organ with just 8 ft stops do chimes without a percussion nor a chimes stop--just keying the chime notes by hand and using the expression shoe to act like percussion.

                        Never considered them "sell-outs". They were some talented individuals!

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