Anonymous Letter - January 2000

Dear Chairman,

Thank you for referring me to Professor Shrink for treatment following my last organ lesson. I am feeling much better and have disposed of my cyanide tablets. You may be interested in the cause of my trouble which was an organ lesson last September. I was learning a Bach Prelude - I can't remember now which, but I do remember practising very hard and convinced myself that we would spend some ten minutes playing the piece accompanied by murmurs of approbation. I thought of how to fill in the rest of the hour. Some Franck, Peters, Brahms and Whitlock were randomly added to my music case.

My lesson started. I will refer to my tutor as the Voice for reasons of anonymity. I carefully drew the stops I thought appropriate. "Hardly Baroque" said the Voice adding all the 2 foots and mixtures. I started to play. The organ shrieked in defiance. I winced my way to Bar 3. "E flat" said the Voice and as if to dispel any disbelief added "3rd crotchet, left hand". A feeling of deep injury swept over me. I have played E natural for forty years and this was the first time I had ever had a complaint. A black flat sign was inscribed on the copy above the offending note where it seemed to stare back at me mocking my hopeless incompetence. "Shall we begin again said the Voice. Little option, I thought. By virtue of a vast output of concentration the E flat received its pound of flesh. Just a one-off I reassured myself, as we entered Bar 5.

"The A" said the Voice presuming I was aware of its problems. "It's tied" said the Voice responding to my total lack of awareness. I leaned forward, peering at the music from about two inches. This admittedly somewhat petulant demonstration was designed to evoke some sympathy to the view that only those with the eyes of a buzzard surveying its prey from a great height could possibly have spotted a tie amidst the undergrowth of bar 5. The evocation was met with stony silence. A 2B pencil emerged from behind and carefully inscribed the offending tie as though cordoning off a heinous crime from the sensitive gaze of those who regard tied notes as icons of their existence.

Bar 8 hove in sight. I had lavished much devotion to the pedalling in Bar 8 in order to impress the world with my toes only technique. I thought this went quite well apart from my right foot getting wrapped round the left. "Your pedalling has gone off " said the Voice, liberally plastering the offending section with heel marks. "Shall we just play the pedal" said the Voice. I bore the humiliation with fortitude and played it according to the new gospel. "Once more!' said the Voice. I repeated the attempt three more times in response to his 'once more'. "Slightly better. Now add the manual parts". Bar 8 crumbled to rubble. "You need to work on that said the Voice, inferring the futility of any immediate therapy being effective. Morale was beginning to slip. My recital of Franck, Peters, Brahms Whitlock was becoming a doubtful reality.

If only I could get to the calmer waters of Bar 10 where followed 4 bars of one manual only. I was sure my Grade 3 (scrape) could easily deal with this section. I luxuriated in its simplicity. Suddenly a cacophony erupted from the back of the nearest pew. "YOU MUST MAINTAIN A STEADY BEAT - TA-TA-TA-TA-TA the Voice declaimed in syllabic synchrony with the hammering on the pew. No rider hauling desperately on the reins to prevent its panic stricken mount from bolting over the nearest hedge could match my superhuman attempts to slow the accelerating march of semiquavers. I ground to a haft in Bar 15 beating the Voice by 3 beats. "Again" said the Voice "After four - ONE - TWO - THREE - FOUR he intoned. Memories of my piano lessons when I was 10 flashed through my mind with the possibility of a ruler being rapped over the offending fingers. "Your fingering is preventing clarity" said the Voice as though about to pronounce a long prison sentence. New fingering was rapidly supplied by the 2B pencil. "Try that said the Voice. I inferred from the ensuing silence that if anything the notes were even more smudged than before.

My attempts at Bar 17 were summarily terminated. "Ta-rum, ta-ta, ta-rum ta ta!' prescribed the Voice as numerous assorted staccatos, slurs, accents were liberally sprayed all over Bar 17 and also for good measure in 18 and 19 as well. "You need to articulate" said the Voice as though pronouncing a remedy for some ailment. "Right hand" commanded the Voice. I endeavoured to translate 'Ta-rum ta ta' to the Voice's satisfaction by painful repetition. "Now the left hand". The left hand took a rooted objection to the required formula. The feet fared little better. The Voice piled it on. Make sure the articulation is repeated exactly in the imitations in Bars 18 and 19. I surveyed Bars 18 and 19 as a novice fell walker would survey the faces of the Eiger. "Yes" I said with the humble deference of defeat implying that it would be better if Bars 17 to 19 were not proceeded with pending four hours daily practice for the next two months. I now felt that the emotional instability I experienced when I was 6 was beginning to resurface. "I'll have another go at it tomorrow" I said, failing, to give the impression that all would be well next time.

'We need to sort out those first 20 bars" said the Voice in tones devoid of optimism as he pressed the cancel button exactly at the end of the hour. He added a twisted attempt at encouragement with the statement: "The Bach is not totally beyond the limits of redemption". I stuffed the music in my case mentally reaching for the petrol. As I stumbled off the organ he handed me some music with the rubric "You might like to have a go at this". It was a made-easy version of Handel's Largo. I declined the offer. "I'll ring you about the next lesson", I lied and headed for the tranquillisers.

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