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Professional Organist Compromises

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  • sandstone42
    commented on 's reply
    Ethel Smith was instrumental (can't avoid the pun) in introducing Latin American music to the United States.

  • SchnarrHorn
    replied
    Yes, Ethel Smith was pretty amazing. Next year will be the 120th anniversary of her birth. And Tico Tico was the song every kid wanted to (or had to by parental request - HA!) learn, even into the 60's, whether on piano, organ or accordion. For the benefit of our younger readers, I've included the videos below - Ethel's Hammond version from a movie clip and Carmen Miranda's vocal version (also from a movie) which is a lot of fun too.

    George



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  • tpappano
    commented on 's reply
    In those older clips of Ethel Smith, I believe she was playing a BC, and I think she stayed with that model even as newer ones came out. I think she did a lot for Hammond, publishing music and various guides, etc. for getting the most out of the instruments. She was amazing!

  • musikfan
    replied
    Originally posted by myorgan View Post
    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
    Michael, you mentioned Ethel Smith in your post. That really brings back some memories from when our kids used to watch a video called "Melody Time". It featured Ethel playing Flight of the Bumble Bee on a Hammond. If you do a search for her on Youtube, there are a number of video clips of her in some movies. She was actually a very talented keyboardist. She's playing what looks like a B-3 when she did "Tico Tico". Who would have known back then that the B3 would become the most sought after of the Hammond organs??

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  • musikfan
    replied
    Originally posted by toodles View Post
    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.
    Oh those good ole days of watching The Lawrence Welk Show!! Bog Ralston helped to endorse the Thomas organ, did he not??

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  • andijah
    commented on 's reply
    Thank you :-)

  • edkennedy
    commented on 's reply
    I have seen some of your videos, and you can make a small organ sound fabulous.

  • myorgan
    commented on 's reply
    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.

  • myorgan
    commented on 's reply
    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‚Äďand 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

  • toodles
    replied
    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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  • jbird604
    replied
    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.

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  • andyg
    replied
    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.

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  • andijah
    replied
    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.

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  • JeffW
    replied
    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

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  • myorgan
    replied
    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

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