Sunday, June 16, 2013

Now blogging at

I am now blogging at Please check it out! I have made the switch to a self hosted blog and to WordPress. I am still learning WordPress, but came to the conclusion that it is okay to release it without it being 100% perfect. I can still make changes as I continue to learn it.

For those of you that are subscribed to receive posts via email, you will still be subscribed at the new site. Thank you for your continued support!

Heidi Bender

Monday, May 20, 2013


I have decided to move my blog to a self hosted site. I have been thinking about this for quite some time. Last week, one of my posts received over 30 spam comments. Google caught most, but not all of them. This was the final push I needed to move to self hosted and Word Press where I should have more control over preventing spam comments from appearing on the site (so I've read anyway).

You may have noticed that I haven't made a new post in a few weeks. That was not really intentional. It was more of an accidental break as I had good intentions of posting but I just didn't do it. I will spare you the excuses! 

I am hoping to have the new site ready in a week or two. Then I will announce the new address (URL). For those of you that are currently subscribed to receive emails, I don't think you will need to resubscribe.

I hope you are enjoying the spring weather!


Monday, April 29, 2013

Confidence and practice technique - April 2013 Lesson

Last Saturday at my lesson two themes emerged: confidence and practice technique.

I have been learning the hymn "All Creatures of Our God and King" for several months. I choose to start my lesson with this piece. I was nervous as it had been 6 weeks since my last lesson. Also, I had lost a week of practice time due to illness. When I am nervous, my playing sounds nervous. My first couple of attempts did not go so well. Finally, Michael told me to focus. He knew I could do it. Then I played the hymn much better. I need to learn to have confidence going into to a lesson as eventually as I will need confidence once I am ready for public performances. 

Practice Technique:
We ended the lesson with Fugue from Prelude and Fugue in C Major (BWV 553) which I have been working on for over a year. I am still having issues with holding a consistent tempo (speed). I slow down for harder sections and speed up for easier sections. This is not a new problem and has been discussed at many lessons. The problem is with how I practice. I keep doing the same things over and over again which ingrain the wrong habits into my brain. 

Albert Einstein described insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". 

To combat this insanity Michael suggested I practice in small sections, only 3 or 4 measures at a time, alternating with and without the metronome. I should also record myself so that I can get better at critiquing myself and hearing my problems on my own. 

Overall, the lesson went well and it was a joy to play the pipe organ. The picture below was taken from the balcony just before my lesson began. As you may remember, the organ at Trinity Episcopal Church is in the balcony. This is the organist's view of the nave from the balcony.
Organist's view from balcony at Trinity Episcopal Church


Monday, April 8, 2013

Would you stop for a free concert?

Would you stop for a free concert? Probably not. Does that answer surprise you?

During Lent this year, I attended all but one of the noon organ recitals at First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor
This sign was placed on the sidewalk advertising the free organ concert. The church is in downtown Ann Arbor and there is plenty of foot traffic. I don't know if any pedestrians stopped in because of this sign but at least they were aware of the opportunity. 

A few months ago through organist Katherine Crosier's blog, I learned of Joshua Bell and the subway experiment. Joshua Bell is a talented violinist who plays to sold out concert halls. The experiment occurred at a subway station in Washington, D.C. in 2007 in coordination with the Washington Post. One morning he played his violin for about 45 minutes. Very few people actually stopped to listen. The article states "In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run -- for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look. " I encourage you to read the Washington Post article. Also, check out this video which has over 4 million views. It is less than 3 minutes and shows Joshua at the subway.

Would I have stopped? Probably not. But now, after reading about this experiment, I will be more likely to stop and listen to the music. How about you?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

March 2013 Lesson - A lesson in multitasking

A couple of Saturdays ago, I traveled to Toledo for an organ lesson. The theme of the lesson became multitasking as I had trouble learning the new hymns and Bach piece assigned at my previous lesson. What do you think of first when you here "multitasking"? I think of my job where I often have several tasks going at once. 

How does this apply to an organist?  

Organists need to be very good at multitasking to be successful. Each hand and foot usually has it's own "task" to handle. The notes for the left hand will not be the same as the right. The feet are playing the pedals. The tempo must remain consistent. Registration (stops) may need to be changed throughout a piece. Pages may need to be turned. Some organists also direct a choir while they play! 

I've learned that playing the organ is harder than it looks! To improve more quickly, I need to practice each "task" independently. For example, learning the part for each hand separately before playing them together. 

What could you learn more quickly if you broke it down into smaller pieces?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Music from Sainte-Clotilde, Ypsilanti Pipe Organ Festival

On February 17th, 2013 I attended an organ concert presented by the Ypsilanti Pipe Organ Festival at thFirst Presbyterian Church in Ypsilanti, MI. Five of the six organists are students of James Kibbie at the University of Michigan. All pieces played were composed by former organists at Sainte Clotilde in Paris, France from 1863 to 1987:
  • C├ęsar Franck, 1863-1890
  • Gabriel Pierne, 1890-1898
  • Charles Tournemire, 1898-1939
  • Joseph Ermend Bonnal, 1942-1944
  • Jean Langlais, 1945-1987
A complete listing of past and current organists at Sainte-Clotilde can be found here.

This concert was excellent. The organists may be students, but don't let "student" fool you into assuming that are not first class organists. Most of the students already hold organists positions at area churches and are accomplished organists. 
Organ at First Presbyterian Church in Ypsilanti, MI
Like the Christmas Concert at First United Methodist Church, this concert showed two views of the organist and console on a screen. Two alternating views were displayed - hands on the key boards and feet on the pedals. 

Each organist shared a little about the piece they were about to play or about the composer. The information varied from fun fact to stories. Organist and composer Jean Langlais was blind!

The next Ypsilanti Pipe Organ Festival concert will be held on March 17, 2013 at 4:00 PM at the First Presbyterian Church in Ypsilanti, MI. Program details can be found on their website:

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lenten Organ Recital at FCC of Ann Arbor - 2/15/2013

The first recital in the 2013 Lenten organ recital series presented by the Ann Arbor chapter of the American Guild of Organists was last Friday. The recitals are at noon every Friday from Ash Wednesday until Easter at the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor
First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor
I arrived about 10 minutes early. Much to my surprise there were only about 10 in the audience, excluding the organists and organizers. However, by the end of the concert there were closer to 20 in attendance. 
There was a sign on the front sidewalk advertising for the free concert. I wondered if any of those coming in late stopped in because they heard the organ music and the sign on the sidewalk advertising the free concert or if they planned to come and were late.

Morgan Byrd, a third year undergraduate student at the University of Michigan studying organ, started the recital with Bach's Prelude and Fugue in D Major (BWV 532). This exciting piece is about 10 lengths in length and Morgan played it all from memory! An impressive feat given the intricacies of this piece which includes some fancy footwork. 

The remainder of the concert was performed by Renate McLaughlin. She is a Master of Music (Church Music) student at the University of Michigan. Renate explained a little bit about the pieces she would play. She started with "Kryie" composed by Jean Langlais. Then she played 4 chorale preludes back to back before introducing the last piece, "Duo" from Messe pour les couvents  by Francois Couperin. 

I am looking forward to the remaining recitals and encourage you to attend organ recitals in your area! The Prelude and Fugue in D Major was amazing to hear live. Take 10 minutes and watch Diane Bish's performance.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Facing anxiety (February 2013 Lesson)

Last Saturday at my lesson I was reminded that when I feel anxious, that anxiety transfers to my playing and can be heard by all. Even after 3 years of lessons, I still feel intimidated when I sit on the organ bench of a pipe organ at the beginning of a lesson. The pipe organ is much more grand and awesome than the old electronic instrument I practice on at home. And Michael (my teacher) is there too watching and listening ready to critique or give approval of my performance. 

I began this lesson with the hymn "O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee" as I was confident in my ability to play it. What I didn't consider was my anxiety level. It was uneven and rushed and wrong notes were played! This hymn should bring peace and my initial attempt was quite the opposite. After a few attempts, I calmed down and was able to play it successfully. 

Michael and I had the anxiety talk again. I should be relaxed from the start. How do we conquer anxiety? 

In this video, "O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee", is played by Frederick Swann.

At the 30 second mark of this video of the camera pans over the audience of several hundred.  Just the thought of playing for this many people provokes anxiety. 
With more practice and patience, I will gain confidence reducing the anxiety, at least that is what I am telling myself. The first step is making it through a lesson without anxiety.

Have you ever had to overcome public performance anxiety? How did you do it?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tracking with a NeuYear calendar

In early January, I announced my intention to schedule practice time. I haven't done any advance scheduling yet but I started tracking my practice sessions with a NeuYear calendar. After I practice, I record the time of day and length in that day's box. The calender is poster size and displays every day of the year. Encouragement is also included at the top: "2013 SEIZE THE YEAR". 
NeuYear Calendar
My goal is to practice everyday for at least 15 minutes. I have practiced the last 17 days! Previously, I did not practice when I felt too busy or tired or distracted. These 15 minutes segments will add about a hour onto my weekly total. And sometimes the 15 minutes turns into 30 minutes...

What could you improve by tracking your efforts?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Email Test

It turns out that yesterday, I didn't include the code that actually puts the blog post into the email! This is my second try. I am hoping I have it set up correctly now and that it will come through correctly tomorrow.

Thanks to those that have subscribed! And I appreciate your patience while I get this figured out.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Subscribe by email or RSS

You can now subscribe to receive an email when a new post is added. The emails will go out around 10:00 AM. You can also choose to add the RSS feed to a reader. Both options are on the top right of the site.

Please post a comment if you notice any issues with either the emails or RSS. Issues can also be reported by replying to the email.

This post is my first test. It's about 3:00 in the afternoon, so I think the email will not go out until 10:00 AM tomorrow.

Thanks for reading and subscribing!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Singing all the verses

My maternal grandma passed away recently. At her funeral, we learned that she liked to sing all the verses of a hymn. The reverend, who knew grandma for many years, explained that grandma felt that hymns tell a story and she didn't want to miss any part of it!

Grandma documented this desire when planning her funeral. Just before singing "In the Garden", the keyboardist announced that we would sing all the verses as Grandma requested. Near the end of the service a soloist sang every verse of "How Great Thou Art". 

Do you like to sing all the verses of hymn? Do you feel like you are missing out when some verses are skipped? As I continue to learn how to play more hymns on the organ, I will be reading the words of every verse to learn the complete story of the hymn as inspired by Grandma.


Monday, January 7, 2013

What if I set a schedule

A new year is upon us. What will your goals be? Will you write them down and commit to them? I set several goals in a few areas including the typical to eat healthier and exercise more. I wrote them down which increases the likelihood that I will be successful. Now let's get to my organ related goals.

Back in March 2012 I announced my goal to practice 10 hours a week. I have not yet come close to 10 hours in a week. Since mid October 2012 I have been recording a few notes, the date, day of week, and amount of time spent practicing in Evernote. Upon review, I have only been practicing 3 or 4 days a week. I had intended to practice at my church on the way to work but discovered that I am afraid to go there in the dark. 

I learned from Jon Acuff that we will accomplish more if we schedule time to work on our goals. Writing out a schedule feels scary. Then I will be committed and can be held accountable. I am afraid of not sticking to the schedule. Should I let fear stand in my way? Should I let fear convince me that I should not try it because I am going to fail? What if I did it? What if each Sunday I wrote on a calendar practice times for the week? Even if some weeks I could not stick to it I'm sure my overall practice time would increase which is the ultimate goal.

Scheduling practice times could change my life!