Organists Training Day with David Gibbs
11th November 2000

Review by "Voyeur"

The strains of "0 Come, All Ye Faithful" played by David Gibbs on the Binns organ of St. Oswald's could not have been more apposite as some 15 or so members braved the elements on a gloomy Grasmere Saturday afternoon.

The old maxim, 'If in doubt .... read the instructions' was brought to mind as David began by reminding us of the value of reading the music before we engage the organ in the quest for musical perfection. While he probed the reticence (or reminiscence!) of the assembly on the basics of practice technique, 'the boss' (Jeremy Suter) was granted the luxury of five whole minutes to digest the intricacies of an "unseen" prelude and fugue by Samuel Wesley before a flawless performance. "So Jeremy .... which were the difficult bits you would have marked out for attention .... had you had time to practice it?".

Volunteers, being better than pressed men, were then called forth to the organ bench. Colin Rae, willing as ever to serve the cause, responded with his customary JSB, (P&F in C Major (BWV547) this time). David then proceeded to calibrate Colin's rnetronome, brought specially for this occasion, against the performance speed. It took some time .... as we all find .... for the machine to settle down to a constant speed to match Colin's impeccable performance. After rectifying the impact on the pendulum of the gravitational variability experienced at Grasmere, we got down to the nitty gritty. Clear registration to emphasise the counterpoint, shortening preceding notes to emphasise fugal entries .... 1st subject, (how many different phrasings could we adopt for the triplets'?), 2nd subject, statement, after David's wise words such niceties of performance were all grist to the mill of Colin's assured encore rendition.

Follow that! Anne McGuire did just that, riding on the confidence built at David Sanger's "Playing Day" in the summer, Anne took the opportunity to explore the challenge of the (JSB?) Short Prelude in E Minor, under preparation for the hurdle of Grade 5. The value of slow, careful playing during practice was demonstrated under David Gibbs' careful guidance, 'better (and quicker) to learn it once properly, than unscramble the errors of impatience'. Much debate ensued, learn separate hands first, or not, I fear the jury is still out.

After coffee, the only welcome liquid of the day, a novelty performance, Christopher Price performing .... from the score! Widor's "Symphonie Gothique", well one movement, impressively performed. This precipitated a discussion on 'rubato', or as David translated 'borrowing of time' (clearly a practice of Colin's metronome!). Not an easy concept to explain, David tackled this manfully, with rising crescendos and falling diminuendos, more singing of the melody lines was advocated, and even a little breathing (but only occasionally!). Never mind, Said David at last as exhaustion set in, don't try to introduce it into your practice too early, it will introduce itself when you are ready. Sighs of relief all round.

Finally, the finale, Hollins' "Spring Song" played by Chris Bell, 'staple fare for weddings' said Chris. Alluding to the proclivity of all organists to fall back to our favoured stand-by's, familiarity breeds ... the need to take special care, said David, as he recounted the tale of an eminent recitalist who had built an impressive reputation as the world's best exponent of .... a wrong note. (Yes, the composer had really meant a D flat to be played). Try reading the music to a recording of yourself, or even another reputable performer was David's advice, presumably on the basis there are at least less wrong notes in professional renditions.

After a most enjoyable and informative afternoon, with well deserved thanks to David and the volunteers (pressed and other wise) we set off into the usual November downpours, at least no one had played "By the Waters of Babylon" ........


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