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Why are "left-footed" organists looked down upon by so many?

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    Why are "left-footed" organists looked down upon by so many?

    I'm an organist who plays both ways...I usually play with just my left for hymns, and I use both feet for classical pieces. It seems that some organists I've come across look down on anyone who plays with only their left foot. I guess both feet is technically more correct (for classical and hymns but not Hammond/gospel/theater), but I was just wondering why left foot only is sort of generally frowned upon. My organ teacher HATES when I only use my left foot, and says she'd rather see me people using the bass coupler (if the organ has one) if they can't use both feet. I don't like to look down on anyone just because of their style at all. I understand it may not be what is generally correct, but to me it makes no difference whether both feet are being used or only one.

    #2
    Snobishness, I suspect.

    Left-foot only is about the only thing you can do if you have spinet pedals, and often popular music works fine with just the left foot.

    Much serious organ music needs use of both feet.

    Then, of course, there are probably some individuals who have lost their right foot or foot and leg. I thin whatever works and keeps someone playing is good.

    Comment


      #3
      I do not think it is snobbishness to 'look down' on inefficient technique that attempts to execute repertoire that is inappropriate. Would a 'left foot' organist succeed professionally playing J.S. Bach? Mendelssohn? Reger? Howells? Some music simply CANNOT be played with a left foot only technique. I suspect the supposed 'disdain' for left foot organists is ONLY when they attempt to tackle church/classic repertoire. It is also more likely to be the left foot organists own sense of ... inferiority, driving things than anything that would be communicated overtly from a two foot organist. In the main, organists are a polite bunch in polite company. I mean... I've been on this forum for years and I have never, ever, seen an unsolicited rant by an organist belittling left foot only players. I'm not even sure I have seen the subject come up at all until today.

      Barbara Dennerlein ... she comes by a left foot technique very honestly, what she can do with that one foot ... OMG. But ... I don't know ... isn't it significant that she plays primarily Jazz and Blues? Of course it is. Nevertheless, I believe she has made some attempt to become more comfortable with a two footed technique. Why? Because it's better. It just is. There is no shame if a Blues player adopts a left foot technique but even in Jazz and Blues a two foot player will be smoother. Period. People can hear the difference. It may actually lead to increased commercial success. There is a term for this kind of question/argument I forget what it is right now but I can recognize it when I see it.

      The analogy is very strained but ... do drivers that are able to handle manual transmissions look down on those who can only drive automatics? Probably not. I don't. Means no one ever asked to borrow my car. However if you were the owner of a fleet of delivery vans and they all had manual transmissions ... would you take seriously an argument that you should hire drivers that cannot drive stick because doing so is elitist and ... wrong?

      Comment


        #4
        I would say that certain genres lend themselves more to a one-footed organist than others.

        If a person has sustain, or good acoustics, then perhaps a two-footed person is not required. However, for many classical compositions, two feet are required, and are sometimes required at opposite extremes of the keyboard. Then there are compositions where even a classical organist needs to exhibit creative contortions to re-create the composer's requests. I think of Franck's Prelude, Fugue, and Variation when it comes to such contortions. Personally, I learned it with both feet, and getting a foot to the swell boxes in time to create the crescendo/decrescendo the composer is requesting. Three feet would be better! Saint-Saëns' Fantasia et Fugue in Eb reminds me of that as well.

        Bottom line, I don't think people are necessarily being snobbish (though some certainly are). I think there is a certain amount of curiosity regarding how one could play a particular piece without two feet. Think of it as an intellectual curiosity.

        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)
        • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 4 Pianos

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          #5
          I would like to see a "left-footed" organist play octaves in the pedal.
          Bill

          My home organ: Content M5800

          Comment


            #6
            In truth, it doesn't behoove any of us to look down on anybody else for any reason! We all have our strengths and our weaknesses. Certainly there is music that is nearly impossible to play without using both feet, and it would be folly to try. But we've all seen very good players do theater, jazz, pop, and Gospel organ with one foot, and most of us can probably manage to do that if we have to.

            I would say that using both feet, even on a spinet pedal board, and even on simple hymns IS both useful and comfortable, once you get used to it. Before I got serious about using both feet, I managed to play my hymns with one foot. But now that I have full use of both feet, I wouldn't go back to my one-footed style unless I lost a leg. Just as I would hate to have to go back to playing on a spinet or 25-note pedal board after coming to love the AGO pedals so much. Yes, I could do it, but I wouldn't be able to play as well.

            There are among my friends at least a few organists who play quite beautifully, whose pedaling sounds very good and smooth, who manage to do it with only the left foot. I honestly don't know how they manage to get such a smooth and connected a pedal line with only one foot. I couldn't do it. Playing in a good acoustic space helps, of course, as there is a good bit of sustain in a lively room that helps connect the otherwise detached pedal notes.

            For me, it has been well worth the effort to learn to use both feet on hymns. Not that I'm all that good a player even now, but it is definitely easier for me to actually play the bass line as written with both feet. So don't tell yourself that you CAN'T do it. Give it a try and see what happens.
            John
            ----------
            Church: Allen MDS-45 with Allen MIDI-DIVISION-II expander
            Home: Allen Renaissance R-230 with expanded four-channel audio and MIDI-DIVISION-II
            Shop: Bunch of organs in varying conditions, some good, some not...
            Half of an incredible two-man organ service team -- servicing all the major digitals in Arkansas churches
            https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

            Comment


              #7
              Hi all,

              I'll chime in on this. I have never felt "looked down on" as a left-footed organist. I know a few classically trained organists and have positive relationships with them. In fact, one of them took my mother and me to pick out my first organ (a spinet) when I was 12.

              A little of my background. I am not classically trained, although I took a year of music theory in college. I have played primarily spinet organs most of my life. The organ I play at my church is a spinet (Yamaha 415 aka D85). Since I play mostly spinets, I have never had much of a need to learn pedaling with both feet. However, I do it occasionally for practice/fun on my Roland AT-90. Over the years I have become very adept at moving around the 13-note spinet pedal board. In fact, I find that some bass runs come more naturally to me using on the spinet pedal board than on the 25-note pedal board on the Roland.

              The styles of music I play are hymns, praise songs, gospel songs, and older pop tunes. I play a few simplified arrangements of classical pieces like in the Bill Irwin books.

              I have played both pipe and electronic liturgical organs for weddings in other churches. I have also played a few decrepit old electronic home organs for weddings in other churches.

              Thanks for the opportunity to share with you.

              Allen
              Currently own: Roland Atelier AT-90, Yamaha 115D, Roland DP-90SE, Yamaha PSR-S910

              YouTube Channel

              Comment


                #8
                Hi all,

                I meant to include something in my previous post. So, I'll make it in a new post.

                I used to compare myself to classically trained players that I know and to other (at the time) more experienced church musicians that I knew. I would feel down about my musical abilities and talents and think "I'm not good enough to be playing for my church." However, I have come to realize that each of us is gifted/talented differently and that we should make the most of the gifts and talents that each of us possess. I may be able to do some things musically that more trained musicians cannot. I know that they can do things that I cannot.

                It is fine to listen, watch, and learn from others. However, since each of us is uniquely talented, I think it is a waste of time to compare ourselves to another person (whether in terms of music or something else) and feel inferior because we cannot do what they can do.

                I hope that makes sense.

                Later,
                Allen
                Currently own: Roland Atelier AT-90, Yamaha 115D, Roland DP-90SE, Yamaha PSR-S910

                YouTube Channel

                Comment


                  #9
                  Originally posted by afuller5 View Post
                  I think it is a waste of time to compare ourselves to another person (whether in terms of music or something else) and feel inferior because we cannot do what they can do.
                  Good point! Besides, we usually cannot know the background of the other person - for some, "success" comes at a price that not everyone would be willing to pay.

                  I don't judge others by their ability to play the organ with one or two feet. You can do an organ justice by playing manuals only, too. If you're making music, it doesn't matter how many feet you use.

                  Comment


                    #10
                    As a 57 year old Music Director at a church with a rather large pipe organ, but who has had no more than 3 months or so of actual organ lessons, I can say that I never even knew until after playing for 30 years or so, that you were even supposed to play with more than one foot. I adapted my piano skills to pipe organ pretty much by ear. I was able to take lessons through our local chapter of a church musicians' group in Dayton Ohio when I became the director in 2003 at my present position. Since I had figured out how to play a majority of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on the piano in high school, I basically only transferred my left hand to my left foot when I found my way to a real organ at my home church. So for most pianists who never learned to actually play an organ with a standard pedal board, I'd say left foot only playing is probably the norm. But once you have a few lessons, I'm thinking you probably would tend to adapt to using both feet, esp since (as has been noted) that a lot if not the majority of many works simply can't be played with only one.

                    In all the years, though, that I played with only my left foot, I don't actually recall ever being looked down on - though I'm sure if you're in the right (or wrong) circles, it can happen...

                    Comment


                      #11
                      This thread speaks to a personal peeve of mine that has (till now) remained unvoiced. I beg the readers forbearance and I insist that none of this is directed at any poster in this thread or even on this forum. There is another organ centric forum where as far as I can tell the body of posters play church organ at an extremely amateur level and are inordinately proud of it. They receive compensation for their efforts and believe that their efforts should be compensated because they are willing to do it at all. I cannot fault anyone for being where they are on their journey but ... I don't know ... there is just something about being smug about not having a well developed technique. Dismissive of such, if anything.

                      One reason I am happy the whole left foot thing rarely ever comes up is because I am not sure how anyone can argue that it is a better way to get around on a pedalboard. I have never had any organ or piano instruction but both instruments were in my home and church. Our church's organist had a modest technique which I copied. I played like her for many years and when she passed away I was 15 and after a series of interim musicians left one after the other I took over as organist and music director at 17 y.o.. I had a two foot pedal technique but I didn't know squat about registration or repertoire. The organ was a very small Odell instrument and only had one Reed that my mentor had never used, so neither did I.

                      So here is where I get to the meat of my position. Another church came to visit ours and their organist came up to the organ loft and he asked me about the lack of mixtures (what?) and why didn't the Swell have an expression pedal. And only one Reed? Nevertheless he got on that organ and just blew me out of the water. I had never in my life heard organ played this way. I didn't know you could change the harmony of a hymn on the last verse! Add in extra notes. A different organist might have completely shut down at the display of arrogance (there was tons) and superiority but I instantly recognized that this was something to aspire towards. It made me want to be a better organist.

                      I am now that teacher mentioned in the o.p. who (gently) cajoles students not to be satisfied with a left foot only technique. I mean, why not shoot for the stars when you are young. I wish I had had someone to do that for me. I think the "you're ok, I'm ok" attitude that is more and more prevalent has not helped keep our instrument alive. I am NOT saying we should emotionally (or physically) punish young people that do not naturally adapt to a 'proper' technique. I play part time at another church and one of the organists in our rotation does not use the pedals at all. Not at all. They get paid exactly what the rest of us get. The organ is a tracker so no bass coupler possible. I don't think a bass coupler fools anyone though. Most people who are most in need of a bass coupler aren't likely to know that it exists or how to employ it. Do I look down on her playing? Not exactly. If I am honest (and I try to be) her manuals only playing is far superior to mine. She takes no chances and makes no mistakes. She clearly has the discipline formed from high level study. How can I look down on that? But there is ... lets call it ... annoyance ... that she is employed as an organist. I'd have nothing to say about it otherwise.

                      More than you wanted to know about my $2.00 on this subject. Meow ...

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Originally posted by Leisesturm View Post
                        One reason I am happy the whole left foot thing rarely ever comes up is because I am not sure how anyone can argue that it is a better way to get around on a pedalboard.
                        Leisesturm,
                        I challenge you to a duel–two feet on 13 spinet pedals vs. 1 foot on 32 pedals! I think you may agree the one-foot technique is probably more useful on a spinet organ with only 13 pedals.

                        Originally posted by afuller5
                        I have never felt "looked down on" as a left-footed organist.
                        I ALWAYS look down on left-footed organists–when they're in the organ pit!

                        Please take this with the tongue-in-cheek, with which it was intended.

                        Michael

                        P.S. Leisesturm–You stated your case well. Thank you for being so tactful.
                        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)
                        • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 4 Pianos

                        Comment

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