(Not about books or photography, today)
In what may have started as teenage rebellion, my youngest boy (I’ll call him “P” for purposes of this blog) has become a classical piano player. If that’s not your cup of tea, this is probably a good time to stop reading.
I’ll clarify for those that don’t know P: classical music is a hobby for him, not his career. P started playing when he was knee-high to me. He’s no longer knee-high to me by a long shot, and the pieces he plays are complex. He occasionally plays jazz too. That, however, is just a classical music addict’s way of demonstrating that he could give up classical music if he wanted to, only …
Well, you know the rest of that phrase.
Rebellion, of course, is only effective if you can get the parent to mutter, “In my day, a bit of headbanging, heavy metal was what we considered to be real music.” I may have forgotten to mutter that, or I may even have given the appearance of enjoying P’s classical playing. The inevitable rebellion escalation came last year.
“I want to try the organ.”
“Typical teenager”, I said to myself, but quietly. Aloud, I kept to the high road. I merely said, “No monkeys in the house. I have very bad experience with monkeys.”
He looked blank. It wasn’t that kind of organ he wanted to try. He meant, big, air driven, pipe organs.
Until P started down this road, my only contact with pipe organs was the scenes in gothic horror movies where the medieval villain is playing the castle organ as he plots to destroy the world.
I totally get that:
Act 5. Scene 1. There you are in your castle turret looking down at the muddy plains far below. The Transylvanian peasantry – knee deep in the muck and made even more insignificant by the trickery of your lofty height – are debating whether the pointy end of the plough is the front or back.
Castle image courtesy of https://pixabay.com/photos/tower-fortress-castle-medieval-3584313/
Meanwhile you – lord of all you survey – have mastered the most complex machine of the age, the great organ. It harnesses ivory keys from slaughtered giant elephants; ebony woods from far-off lands your peasants have never heard of; it has giant brass pipes bigger than the castle canonry; it has reeds that are ground to precision that your plough-pushing rustic countryman cannot even measure, and wind-driven automation that must seem like magic to those ignoramuses down there. Message to self from megalomaniac brain: “You deserve a better class of serfs, you deserve a better world. Destroy and rebuild! Yes, yes, first just one more riff on this magnificent machine and then, ha, ha, ha! “
Maniacal laughter, fade, cut, shift to Act 5. Scene 2. The hero is climbing the outer castle ramparts in a desperate race against time. Will he be able to stop the villainous Count from destroying the world?
There is, of course, a lurking logic to P’s musical rebellion. The organ was the Moog synthesizer of its time. It’s covered with complex knobs, dials and buttons. Play with those and you can mimic a zillion other instruments. It’s rare, it’s expensive, it’s louder than anything your parents listen to, and the bass will crumble walls. If you were a keyboard artist in a sixties rock band, the Moog is exactly the kind of machine you’d be hankering to try; and if you were a pianist in JS Bach’s time, the organ would be the thing to annoy your neighbours. [No coincidence that Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and The Mothers have all played on the Royal Albert Hall’s 9,999-pipe organ.]
After a few weeks of P starting down his organ path, I asked if I could hear him play Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. He said it would take a while yet to master that. Perhaps a year or two. In the meantime, he is working on a Toccata in B Minor by a man called Eugène Gigout (1844-1925). Toccata means it’s a virtuoso piece, requiring finger-twisting speed and accuracy.
I don’t yet have a video of P playing this, but here’s a video of another organist, also at a young age, getting to try out this piece on a grand organ – 6600 pipes – in Paris. It looks like the cockpit of a Boeing 747 during a tricky landing. The co-pilots are giving terse updates, they are frantically pushing knobs; there’s a sense of mounting tension, and finally, relief and barely supressed smiles when the pilot brings the plane down safely.
A few things to listen for in the video that follows: the organ has a multi-level keyboard and a score for both left and right hands. It also has a two-and-a-half octave keyboard for the feet – and a score for the feet. Think of the processing the poor brain has to do to decode three clefs and co-ordinate all those limbs in real-time! You may not see the feet at work in this video, but if you hear the really low, booming, sustained, wall-shaking notes, e.g., at the 1’26” section of the video, those are the feet.
Here’s the video (worth opening full screen and cranking up the volume):
Just listen to that, now! That’s grand, that is.
Err, where was I? Oh, yes … Not as good as the music of my day, of course. Wouldn’t compare to some classic ELP, or Cream or Jethro Tull, but worth a listen none the less, just to see what the younger generation is into these days.
A shout-out to the (at the time) young organist, pianist and composer whose video I linked to. His name is Aaron Shows. If you’d like to get more details about his videos, etc., the link for above is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQvchO39eFY .
Update, Feb 19, 2020: Here’s a video extract of P playing the same piece. If you need the link it’s https://vimeo.com/391387524