Monday, December 31, 2012

30 Days of Music Theory - final update

There is much more to music theory than I was aware of 30 days ago. There were a few days when I didn't study music theory. I could blame this on the holidays but in retrospect, I should have had a better study plan in place before starting. A minimum amount of time to study each day would have helped me stay on track. Also, looking at random websites was probably not the best method as the information was not as detailed as I was looking for. I finished reading Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory which I consider an accomplishment given that I've had the book for over a year. 

I discovered that American and British English sometimes use different terminology for the same concept. For example, in American English, scales are made of of specific patterns or whole and half step. In British English, these are whole tones and semitones.  I also found a Society for Music Theory which did not seem to offer resources for those new to music theory. 

Even though the 30 days is now up, I will continue to learn music theory as it will be beneficial to my development as an organist. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Deciding to not give up on a piece - December 2012

A couple of weeks ago I had another lesson with Michael at his church. 

For over a year, I have been learning the Adagio movement from Widor's Symphony No. 5. I am still having technical issues with this piece as was evident when I played it at my lesson. I usually play the correct notes at home, but I was not as successful at my lesson. My usage of the expression pedal was not accurate enough - the expression pedal is used to create crescendos and decrescendos (increase or decrease the volume). As I was playing, Michael interrupted several times to point out issues and then I would attempt to correct and move on. I kept making mistakes. 

Michael proposed that I may be making more mistakes than usual because of all the interruptions which tend to increase my nervousness. So he had me play it all the way through from start to finish without stopping even if I made an error. I didn't play it perfectly but it did feel good to play the entire piece. My rendition is not performance ready. Then Michael asked a question: did I want to continue perfecting the piece or move on to another piece leaving this one unfinished? I heard this as: Do you want to give up?

Giving up would be easier but I would likely regret it later. I didn't want to give up! I decided to continue with it for at least one more lesson. It feels close to being complete and the finish line is in sight! 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

30 Days of Music Theory - Half way update

On December 1, 2012 I announced my goal to study music theory every day for 30 days. I started off strong spending 30 minutes reading through lessons at On other days I read lessons in Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory. On days where I have been very busy, which has happened quite often in the past week, I squeezed in a few minutes here and there to use the Music Theory Pro app on my iPhone. I have missed a couple of days but given that I have my iPhone with me just about all the time, I feel like I have no excuse. 

I am beginning to understand more of the concepts. Also, different websites and books seem to present things just a little bit differently. I am finding myself pondering what I am learning and thinking about it how it all fits together when I am at work or doing other things. Sometimes, I want more information then what is given at the beginner level. For example, why are some intervals called perfect intervals! I finally found some information at but this is leading to even more questions!

I will continue learning for the next 15 days and then I will report my progress. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An Organist's Christmas - Concert 12/7/12

Ted and I attended the concert entitled An Organist's Christmas on 12/07/2012 at the First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor., MI It was presented by the Ann Arbor Chapter of the American Guild of Organists and the First Music and Art Series.  The church is large and beautiful with stone and woodwork and stained glass windows. The organ was initially installed by W. W. Kimball Co. in 1940. Additional stops and pipes were added in 1958 by the Reuter Organ Co. Reuter also provided a new console in 1988. This organ has 3 manuals and pedals and 44 ranks of pipes. The organ specifications in the program listed each stops and the number of pipes associated with them and indicated which pipes were Kimball pipes. The organ was recently renovated by the Renaissance Pipe Organ Company.  

Pipe Organ at First United Methodist Church - Ann Arbor, MI

The church had a big screen at the front of the church. This is likely used to display words to songs and sermon notes during services. During this concert it would serve a different purpose, showing close ups of the organist playing the organ! There were 3 or 4 different views. One zoomed in on the organists hands on the keyboards. Another view was at a wider angle where we could see the organist and their feet and hands. Then another view of just the pedals allowing the audience to see the fascinating footwork. The technical crew seemed to know just when to switch views!

There were 3 organists: David Hufford, Marcia Van Oyen, and Thomas Strode. The first piece played by David was played by memory! Marcia played an interesting piece called - "Variations sur un Noël" by Marcel Dupré . It consisted of about 10 variations each sounding unique. The finale was spectacular! Thomas played a chorale prelude along with violinist Kathryn Votapek and the Boy Choir of Ann Arbor.

Each organist played 3 or 4 pieces with the last being a hymn with singing by congregation and with the boy choir. Prior to playing the hymn, Thomas and David both played variations on the hymn they were about to play. David played "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and Thomas played "O Come, All Ye Faithful". It was very interesting hear the variations followed immediately by the traditional version one would expect to hear. Marcia's hymn was "Once in Royal David's City."  Hearing the voices of the congregation and the boy choir along with the organ was wonderful.

Overall the concert was very enjoyable and I encourage you to attend Christmas concerts that feature the pipe organ.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

30 day challenge - Music Theory

I recently discovered the TED talk of Matt Cutts encouraging people to try something new for 30 days. This video has over 3 million views and is only a few minutes long so watch it!

For my first 30 day challenge I will be tackling music theory. I have avoided learning music theory for most of the last 3 years even while knowing that understanding music theory will help me be a better musician. This is the kick in the pants that I needed!

What have you or will you try for 30 days?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A coincidence, I think not

Sunday evening I decided to listen to an episode of The Joy Of Music while doing some cleaning. I almost could not believe my ears! Diane Bish played her arrangement of "All Creatures of Our God and King." I instantly felt amazed and overcome as I am currently learning this hymn. This is not the first time where I have unexpectedly heard a piece performed that I am currently learning. I am awestruck each time it happens. I feel like it is a sign from God to continue pursuing the organ. At my last lesson Michael reminded me to listen to recordings of the pieces that I am learning. Perhaps, God brought this recording to me!

Romans 8:28 "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (NIV). 

You may be thinking, oh that was just a coincidence. How many things have to align for it to not be a coincidence?  
  • Diane Bish has recorded over 500 episodes of The Joy of Music
    • This particular episode was saved on my DVR. 
    • The DVR is set to record The Joy of Music every time that it is on (it airs on the The Church Channel on Dish Network). 
    • The DVR will only keep the 20 most recent recordings. 
    • I randomly picked this episode of the 20 saved on the DVR.
  • My motive for listening to the show was not purely to hear organ music. Just recently my husband asked me if I still watched them. I decided to put on an episode in the background while cleaning as I had been neglecting the show.  My initial goal was to be able to tell my husband that I listened to an episode. 
  • I had attempted to invite myself over to my niece's for the evening but she had other plans. If she has been around, I would not have been home cleaning.
  • I was only cleaning because my washer had broke on Saturday and my brother-in-law was coming the next day to fix it.
I could list more but I am not trying to convince you, although perhaps I am attempting to be a bit persuasive

Regardless of what you believe - hand of God or just coincidence - it felt awesome to me! 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A corrected mistake is evidence of progress!

As described in my last post, my November lesson was a bit tough. However, I did show some improvement. While playing "Like a River Glorious", I played a wrong note in the pedal line. I immediately corrected and Michael noticed. This was a big deal. In the past, when playing a wrong note (especially at a lesson), I would freeze, or stop playing, or continue playing with each subsequent note being wrong. Organists will make mistakes. It is likely no one will remember a wrong note (unless it is the first or the last!). This mistake and the correction the followed was a sign of progress!

We all make mistakes. How we handle them can often be more important than the actual mistake. When I play a wrong note [make a mistake] the best option is to quickly correct it and move on. Dwelling on it (freezing until corrected), stopping (giving up completely), and continuing but not fixing it (one mistake leads to another) emphasize the mistake instead of the solution.

What are the best ways you have find to handle mistakes?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Why to practice as recommended - November 2012 Lesson

Lessons go better when the advice of the teacher is followed!

Last Saturday, I had an organ lesson with Michael. I was very optimistic going into the lesson. I was confident that Michael would be impressed with my improvement since my last lesson. But that is not how most of my lesson turned out. You see, I had become over confident during my practice time. And I made excuses. I was often tired when practicing so I didn't turn on the metronome. I wanted to avoid it's persistent and never ending clicks. I didn't want to take the time to record myself and play it back. It's much easier to deny my errors when I didn't hear them. I didn't sing along with the hymns to given the words the attention they deserve. 

I felt a little crushed after the lesson. I wanted to be better but I wasn't. It was my fault. I hadn't put in the proper effort. I didn't follow the advice that I'm paying for. I sulked a bit, but that wasn't going to help me improve. I made a  list to remind myself of some of Michael's suggestions (paraphrased) has given me multiple times. These should lead to me showing improvement at my lessons:
  • Pay attention to details when practicing - READ THE WORDS in hymns
  • Listen to recordings of other organists playing the pieces I am learning. 
  • Make friends with the metronome. Don't just turn it on, listen to it while playing!
  • Record myself and playback the recordings 
This lesson was tough as it's hard to hear "its not good enough". But this may turn out to be a very pivotal lesson as I confronted my issues. Now I will be more diligent when practicing and more likely to think about all the instructions and guidance Michael has provided. I will be sharing more about this lesson soon.

You are probably not taking organ lessons (if you are let me know!). But all of us can learn from this situation. if you are any type of student working with a teacher, take your teacher's advice! (assuming it is sound advice, of course). 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Michael Gartz Organ Recital 10-28-2012

Last Sunday afternoon Michael Gartz, my teacher, played a delightful recital at Trinity Episcopal Church. I attended along with my husband and many other listeners eager to hear the organ. The pipe organ is located in the balcony which is in the back of the church. Instead of typical pews found in many churches this church uses chairs. One advantage of this is that the chairs can be arranged into many configurations.  For this concert, the chairs were positioned so that they faced the back of the church and we could see Michael at the console.

Michael performed 4 pieces in the first half of the program including Chorale Prelude - "Bangor"  by Margaret A. Weber. Margaret was born in 1917 and was in the audience! At the end of the intermission Michael addressed the audience from the balcony (I had a picture of this but it was too fuzzy to share). The second half was filled with 3 pieces, but the last was a Suite which contained 5 movements. After a standing ovation, Michael played an encore piece.  All pieces were very well played. Michael takes great care in the registration (the stops used which determine how the organ will sound when played). And as always, it was a joy to hear Michael at the console! He continues to inspire me.

Pictured below is the view of Michael at the console.  The detail and coloring of the windows cannot be seen due to the sun shinning brightly through them. And I find the pipes to be quite impressive! 
Michael Gartz at the organ console at Trinity Episcopal Church, Toledo, OH.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dear Blog

Dear Blog,

It's been over two weeks since we have spent time together.You are probably thinking this means I've spent more time at the organ bench practicing. In reality, I've been busy having good intentions and  and reading and making excuses. I planned to make plans for us but didn't follow through with the plan.

Blog, you read the couple of paragraphs I shared about my trip to Nashville. I was inspired by my trip and the church I visited. I bet you expected the my excuses to stop!  I received blogging advice that I have yet to implement. I joined Twitter and now follow writers and organists and inspiring folks. Now, I see ongoing advice/inspiration/motivation daily on my Twitter feed. But the excuses to avoid writing continue.

I am BUSY! I work full time and need to actually practice the organ too. I love to read!  I have games on my smart phone to play! Do you understand!?

I've been reading books and blogs and tweets that while help us along in our journey together. I am learning more about myself, writing, and the blog platform. And I am consistently reading that the best way to become a better write it to write! There are no shortcuts.

Thank you, Blog, for waiting patiently for me to return. Together we will succeed (although eventually I will be ditching you for a self-hosted site).


P.S. Do you have good intentions? What plans do you want to follow through on?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

October 2012 Lesson

Last Friday, I met with Michael Gratz for an organ lesson at Trinity Episcopal Church. For the first time that I can recall I was late to the lesson. I stopped at the bank on the way and the ATM decided to keep my debit card! Fortunately, the bank was opened and they retrieved my card. Between this incident, traffic, and construction I was about 10 minutes late.

When I finally arrived Michael was waiting for me at the organ. We started the lesson with the Bach Prelude and Fugue in C Major (BWV 553). As with most lesson, my first challenge was to adjust to the pipe organ hearing the decay of previous notes while playing the current note. I primarily practice on my electronic organ at home and on electronic organs (at least older models from the 70's) there is not a decay. I am still having tempo issues with the second half of the prelude and the entire fugue which is evidence that I did not practice enough with the metronome.

Michael approved my rendition of Come, All Christians, Be Committed. This hymn took many months (possible over a year) for me to learn correctly. It felt great to have Michael check this one off my practice list!

The highlight of the lesson was playing Holy, Holy, Holy. After some instruction from Michael, I was able to play this hymn in a manner that would be acceptable to a congregation. I felt such joy hearing the music coming from the pipes while I played.

Overall it was a great and enjoyable lesson!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Visiting Brentwood United Methodist Church

During my recent trip to the Nashville, TN area I attended a Sunday morning service at Brentwood United Methodist Church

This church was big! It was a little intimidating at first. I arrived early and their contemporary service was underway. The lobby was nearly empty other than a few having a conversation at the welcome desk. I slide by them in search of a restroom. By the time I returned the lobby was filling up and with the size of this church this size I was not easily recognized as a visitor.

During the service, the hymns were well played on the organ by Dr. Gregg Bunn. The music inspired and encouraged the congregation to sing.  This was one of the best sounding pipe organs I have heard. After the service I talked with Dr. Bunn for a few minutes. He confirmed that the church takes very good care of its instruments and keeps the environment at the proper temperature. The history behind the BUMC organs (they also have an organ in their chapel) is extensive.

This Möller organ has four manuals with many stops as you can see in the picture below. When I explained that I was visiting from out of town, Dr. Bunn suggested that I play the organ while I waited for my flight! How exciting would that have been! I politely declined as I wanted to get to the airport with plenty to spare. But really I didn't have the confidence to play such an instrument in front of others.

You may be wondering, just how I decided which church in the Nashville area to attend. I found this particular church by looking for churches within reasonable distance of my hotel, in the direction of the airport, and also listed has having a pipe organ on the website for the Nashville Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.  Then I confirmed on the church site which services used the organ.

Console of the Möller Pipe organ at BUMC.

The visible pipes in the BUMC sanctuary.

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's been 3 years - looking back and forward

This month marks three years of organ lessons. Three years! Looking back, I have made significant progress. I can now play the pedals and the manuals (keyboards) at the same time, substitute fingers (and feet), play a few pieces from beginning to end, and  have a basic understanding of how a pipe organ works.

Before I began, taking lessons, I thought in 2 or 3 years I would be proficient enough to be an organist at a church. I have been asked "How much longer will you need lessons?" and "When will you be ready to perform?" Learning the organ has been much more difficult than I ever anticipated.

Last weekend, I attended Jon Acuff's Quitter conference which was about following dreams. My dreams are to be an organist and a writer. I learned that its okay to go slow. It's better to make mistakes now while fewer people are watching. As Jon said, we can be awesome later. I need to be patient and make better use of my time to accomplish goals. There are things I can work at my current day job which will help with my dreams. The conference provided me with the inspiration to keep working on my dreams.

Looking forward, I will be better at planning. I will figure out what this blog should really be about. I will continue to learn. I will make use of the information provided at the conference. I will face my fears!

At the conference Jon Acuff said "Action always beats Intention". What actions do you need to start taking? Are there dreams you have been intending to work on?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Summer Recital Series - August 20, 27, 2012

Recently, I attended the last two of four recitals presented by the Ann Arbor Chapter of the American Guild of Organists as part of their Summer Recital Series at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, MI. I also attended the first recital but skipped the second recital as I was not in Ann Arbor that day.

August 20, 2012 - Shin-Ae Chun

Shin-Ae Chun performed four pieces. Her recital is not as fresh in my mind as it has been almost two weeks, but I do recall enjoying the performance and that the four pieces flowed well together. Shin-Ae also turned all of her own pages. Turning pages sounds simple but to do it while playing is harder than it looks! It is a skill I have not yet mastered.

Shin-Ae has an impressive resume holding several degrees and she is represented by Concert Artist Cooperative.

August 27, 2012 - Ted Emch

Ted Emch's recital included a variety of pieces. He played a couple of Bach pieces, a Buxtehude piece, Great is Thy Faithfulness, and his own complied improvisation of several melodies from movies in the first half. Following intermission, he played pieces from French composers and ended the program with Jon Phillip Sousa's Liberty Bell March, accompanied by a drummer. After a standing ovation, he performed another piece from memory.

Ted is an assistant organist at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church and also a high school teacher. I found Ted inspiring as, like me, he makes time for the organ outside of his full time (non-organist) job.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

August 2012 Lesson

Yesterday morning I met Michael for a lesson at Trinity Episcopal Church. My previous lesson was over 2 months ago, so it felt great to be seated at the console of a well cared for pipe organ again. The sound from this instrument makes me feel alive and joyful.

Overall, this lesson went very well. I still have tempo issues to resolve but my practice time while using the metronome has paid off as I showed some improvement. Also, after many months of practice, Michael approved my performance of the Andante movement of Mendelssohn's Sonata No. 6. I am not able to play it perfectly each time just yet, but well enough that I no longer need to focus on it during my practice time. If you would like to hear what this piece sounds like check out Hans-André Stamm video on YouTube. I do not feel confident enough to play it for an audience yet.

At the end of my lesson I take a picture of the nave from the balcony. This is the first church I have been in that uses chairs instead of pews.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Summer Recital Series - August 6, 2012

Last night I attended the first organ recital presented by the Ann Arbor Chapter of the American Guild of Organists as part of their Summer Recital Series. Each Monday in August at 7:00 PM the organ recital is at the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Ann Arbor. The history of the pipe organ and the stop list can be viewed here on their website.

The organist was Naki Sung Kripfgans and it was delightful to hear Naki play again. I first heard her play during the Lenten Recital Series earlier this year.

Naki performed six pieces for an audience of over 200. In addition to the program, there was a handout that described the pieces. In between pieces, Naki addressed the audience providing information on the piece or a personal story, relating well to the crowd. After a standing ovation, Naki performed a seventh piece.

The most surprising piece on the program was Variations on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star by Takeshi Kondo as this is my first recital to hear a children's song. According to the program notes, the piece was commissioned by the Yokohma Minaot-Mirai Hall in Japan in 2003. The piece was designed so that each variation uses a different family of organ pipes. When the piece was performed the listeners could easily hear when registration was changed.

I am looking forward to next week's recital which will feature organist for the studio of James Kibbie.

Pipe Organ at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church

Sunday, July 29, 2012

My cats and the organ

July has been a very busy month. I still have my goals in mind to update the blog weekly and practice the organ at least 10 hours week. I plan to get back on track soon for I need more practice to become a successful organist and writer!

Since I have not done all that much with the organ in July, today I will introduce my 3 cats: Lina, Kilala, and Buster. All three cats occasionally visit me while I am practicing the organ. Sometimes Lina will insist that I hold her while I practice! Other times I find them sitting on the organ or the speakers.

 Lina and Kilala are sisters from the same litter and were born in February 2003. Buster is our rescue cat who we took in January or February 2011 . He is a younger cat and probably about 2 or 3 years of age.

Please enjoy the pictures below!

Kilala on organ watching as I practice.

Kilala next to me on organ bench

Buster stepping on pedals to get into the window.

Lina looking out the window.


Kilala and Buster

Buster and Kilala

Buster on speaker
Lina on organ speaker. A few days after this was taken she knocked yellow picture frame in this photo off the speaker which broke the frame and the glass!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pre-Candidate Recital at U of M

On Friday, June 15, 2012 I attended Nancy J. Deacon's pre-candidate recital at the University of Michigan. U of M has several pipe organs on campus. This performance was on the Marilyn Mason Organ at Blanche Anderson Moore Hall which is located in the basement of the E.V. Moore Building. Andrew Langlands was the cantor.

I do not know what degree Nancy J. Deacon is a candidate for. The program did not provide any background information on Nancy and I did not stick around for the refreshments afterward to ask questions.

For the recital Nancy played three different versions of "Gloria":

Gloria from Messe pour les convents (1690) by Francois Couperin (1668-1733)
Gloria from Messe pour les paroisses (1689) by Francois Couperin (1668-1733)
Gloria from Livre D'Orgue (1699) by Nicolas de Grigny (1672-1703)

Nancy talked about each piece before she played and I learned that Gloria was (and perhaps still is) used during Roman Catholic Mass. The latin text of the Gloria was provided in the program as for each piece, the cantor would sing a few words (broken into couplets) of the Gloria and Nancy followed on the organ. This alternating pattern repeated for each of the 9 couplets.

The singing by Andrew and Nancy on the organ was well executed. However, by the end of the program, all three pieces seemed similar in style and I felt like I could not easily distinguish the differences between them. I could see in the program that the couplet names varied. And perhaps the breaking point for each couplet varied from piece to piece.

I also admit that I was a little distracted by my surroundings. Much to my surprise the organ hall was in the basement! The walls were made of cement (or similar material) and the floor was covered in square green tiles. I felt like I was sitting on a pew in a drained swimming pool! It is likely that the materials were chosen for their acoustic properties. Their appeared to be seating for about 100 and I estimate that there were about 45-50 people in attendance. Below is a picture of the hall and pipe organ.

The Marilyn Mason Organ

Saturday, June 23, 2012

June 2012 Lesson

Last Saturday, I met with Michael Gartz for another organ lesson. Before my lesson started Michael played through a few of the pieces that he would play during service the following day. This would have been the perfect opportunity for me to take a few pictures of the church and pipe organ. I didn't think of this until after I was home. But as always, I enjoyed listening to him play!

This lesson was like many others. I played pieces and Michael provided instruction and pointed out issues. The most profound problem was my continued inability to keep a consistent tempo. This is depressing, but I will not give up!

I need to change the way I think about sixteenth notes. When I encounter them in a slower piece I play them much faster than they should be. I don't really have an explanation for why I think this, but it is evident when I play. I don't always hear the issue myself though and sometimes I think I have corrected the issue between lessons but really have not.

In the Bach piece, which I have been working on for over a year, I do not play the sixteenths consistently, especially in the difficult sections. This means that some are played at the correct rate of speed but others are too short or held too long. The result is the piece sounds jerky when I play it. Nobody wants to listen to jerky organ music! The world doesn't need another bad organist.

Until my next lesson, I will be using the metronome as I practice to help me correct the tempo issue. If you have any suggestions please post a comment!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

One Hour

I have one hour of time. I must decide how to spend that hour. Not deciding is the same as deciding to do nothing. Here are some things that I could do in a hour:
  • Play organ
  • Open and read the Experiencing God workbook
  • Read a book
  • Learn more about the features of my new smart phone
  • Put away laundry
  • Clean something
  • Check tire pressure
  • Go for a walk
  • Pray
  • Take nap
  • Start a Words with Friends game with each of my Facebook friends.
The list could go on and on. I have many choices. If we are intentional about how we spend our time we will get more accomplished and come closer to reaching our goals. I decided to spend part of the hour writing this post and will spend the reminder of the hour at the organ.

Are you deliberate with your time? 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

10 hours of practice update

At the end of March 2012, I set a goal to practice 10 hours per week. For the week ending 6/2/12, I practiced for 7 hours. This is the closest I have come to the 10 hour goal so far. For tracking, I am using calendar weeks. The lowest number of hours for a week, occurred when I had Shingles.

A couple of weeks after setting the goal, I read a post on Jon Acuff's blog about practicing your dream more than you promote it. He suggests that we practice 10 hours for every 1 hour of promotion. It was a great reminder of how important practice is when it comes to reaching our goals/dreams.

My blog could be categorized as promotion, since the idea of the blog is to share about my progress and experiences of becoming an organist (any other random things of my life). Maybe someday I will also become a writer although I suppose that am I writer since I am writing this blog! For now though, I want my ratio of organ practice to blog writing to be about 10:1.

I've wondered how much better my organ playing would be now, if I had set a specific practice goal early on. 

What goals do you need to set?

Monday, May 28, 2012

From Awkward to Beneficial

When playing the organ, the organist may be required to use awkward positions of the hand and fingers. In a piece I am currently learning, there are some suggested fingerings. Fingerings are notated above or below the note with a number (or numbers for multiple keys). Each finger is numbered from 1 to 5 with the thumb being #1. In most cases I decided to go with those fingerings in the score. Someone (probably not the composer) felt confident enough in them to have the printed in the score.

This lead to some awkward hand positions for a few measures but I pressed on with them not even considering alternate fingers while practicing. At my last lesson Michael noticed. He suggested a different sequence which was much more comfortable for my hand and would make the section easier to execute. But my muscles only new the awkward way. I had a choice to make: keep playing the key with the awkward fingerings way or make the effort to switch to the suggested more comfortable fingerings.

In life there is often more than one way to accomplish a goal or task. Perhaps we have done it the same way for years. Then we learn of a different way which would be easier or more efficient (or better anyway).  But change can be hard and often requires effort. Some will stick to their old methods and say change is too hard! They would rather remain awkward than make the effort to learn a new way with a beneficial result. Sometimes awkward can be beneficial but not in this example.

I choose to learn those new fingerings and the benefits that came with making the change.

What choice will you make when change is presented in your life?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Eating candy bars for Jesus

This week a co-worker was selling candy bars to raise money for her son's youth group. The candy bars were in the office kitchen with an envelope and a short note explaining the goal of the fundraiser (I don't recall the fundraiser's purpose). Each candy bar was $1. I put $1 in the envelope and proceeded back to my desk and consumed the candy bar.

I later justified this by saying "I ate a candy bar for Jesus!". In an indirect way, the result of my purchase of the candy bar would support the youth group and thus be for Jesus. Right?

In retrospect, I was having a stressful day and just wanted to have a candy bar. At the time, I was not thinking about Jesus or the youth group of the son of a co-worker who I've never met. I don't know anything about the youth group and what its church believes. Maybe, it was not even a youth group that believes in Jesus. I hope it is a Christ believing group, but I didn't bother to check. I just wanted a candy bar to soothe my stress.

I did not need this candy bar as I have been attempting to lose a few pounds. If it was really about the youth group and Jesus I could have just put a $1 donation (or other amount) into the envelope and not taken a candy bar. I gave into the candy bar temptation instead of asking Jesus for way out. 

 1 Corinthians 10:12-13
12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

This week (after the candy bar incident) I read an email from Weight Watchers that I could come back (I did WW previously) and they would waive the sign up fee. After discussing WW with a close friend, I decided to sign up again! I am planning to use Weight Watchers as my "way out" when food temptations arrive after today since I ate a lot of desserts for Mother's Day!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

May 2012 Lesson

This afternoon I had an organ lesson with Michael Gartz at Trinity Episcopal Church.

Today's lesson began with a question. What should I play first? Should it be a piece that I feel better about than the others? Michael said that when performing a recital the organist will start with a piece they are very comfortable with to give them confidence and help settle nerves. It seemed logical to start my lesson in this fashion.

I choose to being with Andante movement of Mendelssohn's Organ Sonata No. 6 which I had played through with only a few issues this morning before church. Well, about half way through it feel apart! There is a difficult section which I thought I had mastered. I could barely get through the measure. I was playing wrong notes and trying again slower did not help. Part of the issue was the pipe organ at Trinity sounds different than my electronic organ at home. I need to learn to adjust more quickly to different organs! Anyway, I eventually calmed down and managed to play through the problematic section.

The lesson proceeded with the usual things that occur during a lesson. I played through my pieces and Michael gave me feedback. Last fall, I had requested to learn a Christmas hymn. Michael choose O Come, All Ye Faithful.  Since I was very familiar with it, he felt it would be easier for me to learn. However, I continue to struggle with playing it evenly and adding time when I shouldn't. I am confident that I will be able to play by Christmas 2012!

I finally had Michael take my picture at the console. The sharp/flat keys are made of beautiful rosewood and the white keys are made of bone.

Heidi at Trinity Episcopal Church, Toledo, OH

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Giving organ music a chance

Three years ago I did not know that Bach was an organist.

When I decided to become an organist three years ago, I knew very little about organ music. I had heard hymns accompanied by organ at my childhood church and at my current church (until they switched to praise band format).

Early on in my lessons, I learned the world of organ music is vast and greatly extends beyond hymns.  With the Internet, there is easy access to any type of music of interest.  Perhaps, you have never heard pipe organ music besides in horror movies. I encourage you to check out organ music, especially if you have not given it much consideration previously. Keep in mind that all performances are not equal! Do not let a bad performance on YouTube discourage you.

I hope you have not dismissed organ music without ever giving it a chance! 

I highly recommend Pipedreams. Pipedreams is produced by American Public Media. Each week they air a 2 hour program on many public radio stations. Most (if not all) of the music is recorded on pipe organs. A list of stations is available on their website. The programs are also available for listening on their website. I usually listen to the program while at work. streams organ music continuously. Some of the recordings are not great, but you can request any piece they have in their library to be played.

The Joy of Music with Diane Bish is broadcast weekly on TV (check website for stations). Diane Bish is very talented and provides me with inspiration. Her performances are wonderful and often include some history of the piece or that where she is preforming. I enjoy seeing the old European churches that have maintained their pipe organs.

I also suggest checking out live events in your area at churches (that still have and use their organs) or performances put on by college/university students. I have attended a couple of recitals put on by students from the University of Michigan. These students will not disappoint!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

First Presbyterian Church Ypsilanti Concert

Last Sunday, April 15, 2012, I traveled to the First Presbyterian Church in Ypsilanti, MI for a pipe organ concert. My friend, Arwana from church, drove along with me as she also enjoys organ music. According to their website, the church was built in the mid 1857 and remodeled in 1899. The front entrances have grand wooden doors. Inside, the crown modeling is magnificent along with the beautiful stained glass windows. The pews are wooden (but have cushions) with detailed carvings on the pew ends. The pews also have a slight curve to them.

The concert was put on by the Ypsilanti Pipe Organ Festival and featured students of Dr. James Kibbie from the University of Michigan. The program was design was interesting as four students performed one piece each in the first half of the program. Then after intermission five students (the same four as first half of program plus one more) each played one  of the five movements of Charles-Marie Widor's Symphony VI in G Minor.  This symphony is bold, powerful, and captivating

Overall, the program was very enjoyable and the students preformed very well.  Unlike me, these students have been playing for many years with most starting on piano and/or organ at a young age. And although students, several are already successful organists holding position with churches and performing recitals.

John Woolsey played Free Fantasia on "O Zion, Haste" and "How Firm a Foundation"  by Willian Bolcom as his stand alone piece. This piece left me feeling a bit disconcerted and I wondered if this was the composer's intent and if I was the only one that felt this way!

The third movement - Intermezzo - of Charles-Marie Widor's Symphony VI in G Minor was performed by memory by Mathew Dempsey. He was the only student to play a piece from memory during the program.

Below is a photo of the organ and console. There are several pictures of the organ from when it was rededicated in on 2009 after being refurbished on the church's photo page.

Pipe Organ at First Presbyterian Church, Ypsilanti, MI

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


You may have noticed that I did not make a post last weekend. I had a busy Saturday spending time with a friend from high school. Then on Sunday afternoon I attended an organ concert. I felt very tired on Sunday evening. Monday I also felt drained most of the day while I was at work. I had some itchy redness on my face that didn't seem to be going away.

On Tuesday I finally went to the doctor and learned that I have shingles! Fortunately, my case is relatively mild. I have not had much pain, mostly the spots have been itchy and I've been tired. I took a day off work to rest and feel like I am on the road to recovery. The size of the anti-viral pills is a bit intimidating.

I've learned a lot about shingles this week. My body gave me the shingles. The chicken pox virus has been in my system ever since I had chicken pox when I was a child and will apparently always been there. When the virus re-activates it appears as shingles.

I did not expect to learn about shingles this week. Have you learned anything unexpected this week?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Lift High the Cross (Hymn)

Have you ever heard a song and unexpectedly felt great delight?

This happened to me this week when listening to the Pipedreams program: Prayers and Alleluias which aired on April 2, 2012.  With Easter being tomorrow, the pieces in this program are those usually preformed around Easter. The hymn Lift High the Cross caught my attention. Astoundingly, I was not familiar with this tune before hearing it this week. (perhaps, I have heard it previously in at church and do not recall).

This recording is spectacular and majestic. A choir sings the hymn. The organ elegantly accompanies conveying the emotion of the hymn. The combination of voice and organ is marvelous. The message in the lyrics is powerful.

To hear this recording of Lift High the Cross go to Pipedreams and then click on the link to listen to Hour 2. Lift High the Cross is the first piece played in hour 2 which is followed by a trumpet ensemble playing variations of this hymn.  The lyrics and information about the tune can be read from the Psalter Hymnal.

Of course, there are videos of  Lift High the Cross on YouTube. I did not find any as grand as the recording on Pipedreams. I listened to several YouTube videos and they did not touch me in the same way. I highly recommend checking out the Pipedreams recording.

The tune name is CRUCIFER. Jesus was crucified for us. I will end with the verse under the title of Lift High the Cross my hymnal John 12:32 "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Myself." (American Standard Version).

Friday, March 30, 2012

Blog Updates and Practice Goals

Thank you to those that are reading my blog. I want to let you know that my goal is to add a new blog post about once a week which likely be done on Saturday or Sunday.

Another goal I set recently is to practice the organ 10 hours a week. I started tracking my practice time only to realize that I am not practicing as much as I thought I was. In order to reach my goal I will need to become much more intentional with making time to practice. I'll provide updates on my progress from time to time.

What goals are you working on?

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Sometimes, while playing a piece during a lesson, I suddenly stop and hold a chord and ask Michael "Does that sound right?" To me, the sound resulting from these notes being played sounds wrong. I feel like I must be pushing a wrong pedal or key. In reality, these notes are being played correctly and are dissonant.

Dissonance is when the combination of 2 or more notes sound off or wrong. Dissonance has it purposes and will usually resolve pleasantly. During my last lesson, Michael explained that I need to trust the composer when I hear dissonance as the composer intentionally included it. If I were to keep playing, instead of freezing I would hear the resolution. 

This conversation reminded me of problems in life. Our problems are like dissonance. Just as dissonant notes sound wrong, our problems can be (and usually are) troubling (otherwise they would not be problems). God, the composer of our lives, can be trusted to help resolve our problems (in His way, of course).  Sometimes, we make up our own notes, instead of playing those that God intended for us, which can lead to even more problems.

It would seem fitting to end this post with a trust Bible verse. I have been a Christian since a young age, but I'm struggling to remember a trust God verse at the moment. Instead of copying/pasting a random verse, feel free to insert your favorite "trust" Bible verse here or visit Bible Gateway and search on trust.

My mom likes this verse: Trust in the lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding: in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.     Proverbs 3:5-6

What is your favorite trust verse?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Friday's Lenten recital

The parking garage near the First Congregational Church was full. This week, instead of going to other parking garage I decided to be patient and wait for an open spot. After seeing several people leave and the garage status remaining at "full" I was getting anxious that I would be late again this week. I would have backed out but another car was behind me, so I had little choice but to just wait. Within a few minutes the garage allowed entry, I received a ticket, and found a great parking spot on level 2.

This week's organists were Steven Flick (recently retired) and Gail Jennings. Steven started the program with 3 pieces. Then mid way through 3 men sang and the program concluded with Gail playing 4 pieces. Gail's final piece was Spirituals for Organ in Jazz Styles by Joe Utterback (b. 1944). I typically do not enjoy jazz music and had not associated jazz with the organ but I did enjoy these pieces (she played 3) and was very impressed with Gail. She is currently organist at Bethlehem United Church of Christ in Ann Arbor, has a piano studio, performs recitals with her husband (violinist Andrew Jennings), and is a member of the Ceciliana Chamber Players.

The weather on Friday was beautiful and I enjoyed the 2 block walk to the church. The recital was not as well attended as in previous weeks, perhaps, due to the exceptionally warm weather. The door of the church remained open during the recital which was a bit distracting during the performances as the traffic on State St. could be heard.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Three Days - Three pipe organ concerts

In the past 52 hours I have attended 3 organ concerts!

First, last Friday during my lunch break, I went back to First Congregational Church for their Lenten organ recital. The parking garage near the church was full so parked in another garage which was about a 10 minute walk from the church.  I arrived at the church after the performance started and also there were not any programs left. Therefore,  I do not know the name of any of the pieces played or the performers. I did snap a few pictures of the organ. This picture shows the organ pipes and the console. There are many more pipes which are not visible.

Pipe organ at First Congregational Church, Ann Arbor, MI

On Friday evening, I attended an organ concert at Pease Auditorium on the campus of Eastern Michigan University with organist Bruce Neswick.  The program was titled "American Music on an American Organ". Bruce is an excellent organist masterfully played through the program.  I didn't take any pictures but if you follow the link to Pease Auditorium you will be able to see the stage and pipes. My impression is that the organ could be lowered through the stage floor when not in use.

My favorite piece of the performance was improvisations of the hymn All Creatures of Our God and King. This hymn is amazing! Bruce played it through several times changing the key and also playing the melody on the pedals. It was indeed wonderful to hear performed live. I was familiar with the hymn tune but not the words. Yesterday, I found this hymn in my hymnal and the words themselves are also fantastic.

Today, I was present at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Tecumseh, MI for an organ concert with organists from the University of Michigan. This program was "Happy Birthday, Dear Johann" and all pieces were composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750).  Professor James Kibbie introduced each piece and the organist playing the piece (he played a few of the pieces himself). James Kibbie has recorded every work of Bach which can be downloaded for free.

I learned today that Bach titled two pieces Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565 and BWV 538. (BWV is the cataloging system for Bach's pieces). BWV 565 is the famous piece that most will recognize. Professor Kibbie's performance of it was impressive. The concert ended with another organist playing the BWV 538 piece.

The pipe organ at St. Peter's Episcopal Church is in the balcony.
View of pipe organ in balcony from the main level

The console (not visible from the main level)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lenten Recital Series

Last Friday, I went to an organ recital at the First Congregational Church in downtown Ann Arbor. Each Friday, during Lent there is an organ recital at noon presented by the Ann Arbor chapter of the American Guild of Organists. This church is a short distance from my work place which means I can easily attend when my work schedule allows.

The First Congregational Church was built in the 1800's. I enjoy visiting these older churches and appreciated the architecture. The pipe organ is from 1985. There are not many pictures of it on the church's website. If permitted, I will take a few pictures of the console at next Friday's recital.

The recital was preformed by the Men's Schola Cantorum, and organists Thomas Strode and Naki Sung Kripfgans. The Men's Schola Cantorum began the program with Lent Prose. Thomas Strode than played 3 selections from The Stations of the Cross, Op. 29 composed by Marcel Dupré. He continued with Prelude and Fugue in A minor (BWV 543) - J.S. Bach.

Next, the Men's Schola Cantorum, which consisted of 2 men, sang Audi benigne Conditor. Naki then played a piece with the same name, by Marcel Dupré, on the pipe organ. Naki ended the program with Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor (BWV 582) - J.S. Bach. Watching this piece performed was a marvel as Thomas Strode changed the stops many times throughout the performance. It was dance like how he switched from one side of the console to other to pull stops. On many organs the organist can change which stops are pulled with the push of a button, but this organ did not seem to have those features.

Which stops are pulled determine how the organ will sound. Check out the organ terminology here.  I have so much more to learn myself, not only in how various pipe organs function but also about the music and composers.

I am very much looking forward to next Friday's recital. I hope to see you there!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Life Lessons from Organ Lessons

In March, I will be writing about life lessons taken from the organ bench. Sound strange? There have been a number of instances during an organ lesson where the problem I'm facing and (usually the solution) could also be applied to life. For example, dealing with dissonance... Wondering what dissonance is? Check back in March to find out!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

February 2012 Lesson

Yesterday, I traveled to Trinity for an organ lesson. The sun was shinning which made for an enjoyable ride. My lesson was scheduled for 1:00 so for lunch I had a peanut butter sandwich and an apple on my drive. I surely did not want to feel hungry mid-lesson!

When I arrived Michael was at the organ with Chris who attends Trinity. He is an organ enthusiast. Chris listened to at least part of my lesson or possibly all of it (I quickly forgot his presence). I was thankful that he did not stay in the balcony as I still have anxiety to play in front of others (except for my cats!).

I have been pondering what should I share about my actual lesson. When a few people asked me how it went I responded with "good". But what does that really mean? Just answering with "good" feels just as fake (automatic) as when someone asks "how are you?" and the answer is a quick one word reply only I can't respond with "good, and how was your lesson?".

So what made my lesson good? First, Michael remains patient with me as I continue to work on the same pieces month after month. I expressed some frustration with the length of time in learning a piece and received encouragement.  Also, the sound of the pipe organ at Trinity is awesome compared to the electronic organ I practice on at home.

God willing, some day I will finally become an accomplished organist!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Organ Recital at Rosary Cathedral

Today, my husband (Ted) and I attended an organ recital at the Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral in Toledo, OH. The organist was Paul Monachino, who is the Director of Music / Organist for the Cathedral. The Cathedral is beautiful with a painted ceiling and intricate architecture. I recommended taking the Virtual Tour.

I was very much looking forward to this concert. Ted took the day off to attend with me. It was his first time to hear a pipe organ live. We arrived early and choose a pew towards in the middle and sat on the right, so that we could see Paul at the organ console.  The organ pipes are not visible.

We both enjoyed the concert. Paul started with Chaconne by Francois Couperin, which I recognized as Michael has provided me with his recordings of this piece. Next was Prelude and Fugue in C Major; BWV 547 by Bach followed by Three Early American Hymn Tunes: Woundrous Love, Simple Gifts, and Amazing Grace. The last piece before intermission was Prelude and Trumpetings (1961) by Myron Roberts.

For the second half of the program, Paul performed Charles-Marie Widor's Symphony No 4. in F Minor. This symphony has 6 movements: Tocatta, Fugue, Dolce, Scherzo, Adagio,  Finale. The Finale definitely sounded like a finale!

One of my goals is to eventually be able to describe the actual music (not just list the titles of pieces) so that others can be inspired to give organ music a chance.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sunny Afternoon Nap

Pictured below is my cat, Buster. He was sleeping on the organ bench one sunny afternoon until I came along with my camera!

Sometimes I like to take a nap on a sunny afternoon too especially on Sundays after lunch at my parents. The warmth of the sun coming through the window puts me to sleep.

Do you like to take naps in the sun?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

January 2012 organ lesson

Yesterday morning, I went to Toledo for an organ lesson with Michael Gartz at Trinity Episcopal Church. This was my first lesson at Trinity as St. Mark's Episcopal recently merged with Trinity. . There are a few pictures from when the organ was installed in 2005 here. I had planned to take my camera along but in my anxiety of driving in snow (which turned out to not be problematic) I forgot it. I will take some pictures at my next lesson.

When we first arrived, I had the pleasure of listening to Michael practice a few of his pieces.  The organ is in the balcony so I walked around the nave while he played.  (In protestant churches this is usually considered the sanctuary). The sound of this organ is amazing.

I have heard it said that sometimes the organist has the worst seat in the house. This was apparent to me yesterday when I comparing how the organ sounded while standing in the balcony to hearing it while in the nave. The music sounded much more complete and how you would expect to hear a piece in the nave. In the balcony, the distance to the organ pipes is short so the full affect of the sound combining cannot be realized.

My actual lesson started off well. I did not need much coaching on the first piece as I am aware of when I slow down on harder parts and I'm still learning the end. From there, I needed much more help. Michael pointed out areas where I still need work and gave advice on techniques I can do at home. Overall, it was a great lesson and I am slowly making progress. I hope to be able to successfully play "O Come, All Ye Faithful" by next Christmas!