Members Playing Day at Embleton
24th June 2000

Review by "Claribel"

The Society was once again privileged to visit David Sanger at his home in Embleton and to enjoy the benefits of his advice, ideas and encouragement. This annual event, where members are invited to play their carefully rehearsed pieces to David, is one that is always eagerly anticipated, but is, however, not something for the faint-hearted. Playing the organ under scrutiny and changing one's playing on demand is difficult enough in a private lesson, doing so in public is a real test. There is, moreover, in this case always the risk of being exposed to the choice analogy and friendly comments (one hardly likes to call them insults!) that David is wont to supply. But I am sure that each of the players, and also the members of the audience, would say they went away with renewed inspiration and much food for thought.

The evening was begun with a beautiful Stanley voluntary played by Anne Maguire, aged 14 - a very welcome new face. The opening slow movement was played on an 8 foot Flute which (although the piece is marked for Full Organ) sounded very attractive. David suggested that an 8 foot Flute (Stopped Diapason) with an Open Diapason could be used to give a more typical 'Diapasons' sound. And we were told that 'Full Organ' in Stanley's time could mean various things, for example, up to Furniture (Mixture), up to Sesquialtera, up to Trumpet etc.

David urged us, as ever, to 'go to the sources', in this case the facsimile of the first edition. Hand shape was also commented upon, it being better for one's playing (and no doubt also for one's hand) to have it in a curved position rather than flat. In the 'Fuge', opportunities for echo effects were pointed out - where in the facsimile piano and forte were written - and improvements in articulation successfully made: 'letting in little chinks of light'.

Samuel Carradice played the Minuetto from Gigout's Ten Pieces for Organ, and certainly made me want to learn to play this charming piece. We were reminded that this was written with legato style in mind, and that much work is needed to produce smooth lines (very different to the touch required for the Stanley). The solo 'Hautbois' played on the Swell Cornopean gave rise to the question of whether to have the Swell box open or closed, and it was thought that it was better to have the melody a little too loud than a little too soft against the accompaniment. And lingering on the high notes to heighten the expressiveness of the melody is something that Gigout would have done.

A jolly Trumpet Tune by Christopher Tambling followed. This was played by Sam Hicks, one of the stalwarts of the Society, and someone who certainly made me feel especially welcome when I first joined. David impressed upon us the advantages of slow practice, and that if you are in a hurry, practise slowly. Also, cleaner rhythm was urged for some of the unusual dotted patterns.

Our chairman Colin Rae played the magnificent Bach Prelude in b minor BWV544. He earned a 'very good' from David rather than the more usual, slightly disconcerting 'Well...' or 'Okay...' that most of us are used to. We heard that this was a very galant piece, full of gestures and rhetoric, and that Gravitas was a very important concept in the Late Baroque. The registration Colin used, however, was described as a bit light, and this together with the fast tempo he played could make it sound almost frivolous. To attain the necessary Gravitas, it should be played on Full Organ and at a steadier tempo. Coupling Swell to Great on a tracker instrument would also aid the performer in this. And, most importantly, we were told that the one thing we really needed when playing this piece was passion. 'Think of all the love affairs you have ever had in your life ... Be passionate about those feminine endings...'

Joan Acheson then played the Old Pastoral Hymn from Dalarna by Oskar Lindberg - a haunting and lovely piece. The incredibly slow tempo at which this was begun was stunning, though she later speeded up when things got more difficult - something we all tend to do, by some strange quirk of human nature.

The music of the evening was brought to a close by Chris Price playing an exciting Toccata by Georgi Mushel. I am sure Chris appreciated David's assistance with the hitch-down Swell pedal while he was playing but, speaking from experience, there is always the danger of being kicked! Useful tips were: changing fingers when there is a prolonged repeated pattern to distribute the load over the whole hand (important as hand problems are so rife among musicians), and 'shadow practising' for the quick successive manual changes. By this latter is meant landing on but not pressing down the notes one is to play, pausing to adjust finger position if faulty, and then playing the notes, and so on.

Several times during the evening there were comments from members about how this or that performer played the music a certain way, as a reason for why they themselves played that way. However, David enjoined us not to blindly copy what others do because we do not know why they play that way, and even professionals can misread the score. For me, this was the most important lesson of the evening. I think that when we begin to learn something we must do so from example and by imitation, like children; but sooner or later we have to grow up as performers and stand on our own two feet, to see things for ourselves, and at the end of the day to take nothing on trust.

David's flair for teaching, his keen humour and the great warmth he shows to all, combined with the knowledge, experience and skill that has made him one of the leading organists of today, serve to make this day the real highlight of our calendar. The unfailing popularity of this event and the eagerness with which it is awaited is a measure of the great admiration and affection in which David is held by all of us at the Cumbrian Society of Organists.


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