We had spent about 30 minutes trying to connect for a podcast conversation. At first the technology on Zoom only allowed us to hear without seeing each other.
Then I tried to make a video call on Facebook but without success. We finally decided to go back to Zoom and talk using audio only.
It was worth it, I tell you. Here are 10 things I learned from Jeff Perks, concert organist and pianist from Charlotte, North Carolina, during our virtual cup of cappuccino together.
1. Sound delays.
The first pipe organ that Jeff played in his youth was an instrument with a significant sound delay. Perhaps it had an old pneumatic action. He learned the hard way that you can't force the organ to play faster. Instead, you have to relax and follow your fingers and not sound.
2. Hand and feet coordination.
One of the most significant challenges for Jeff when he first started playing the organ was coordinating hands and feet. Whenever his left hand played a downward melody, his feet also wanted to follow the same direction. Studying separate voices and voice combinations solved this problem.
3. Playing fugues.
One of the first pieces Jeff learned on the organ was Bach's G minor fugue, BWV 578. We joked that even though the voices come in one by one here, the listeners tend to go out one by one and even in droves. He stressed the importance of knowing in which voice and key does the subject appear.
4. Dealing with panic during performance.
In his early days, Jeff suffered several instances of anxiety during performance. Then he learned to control his nerves by concentrating on the music and breathing instead on the audience.
5. Playing with feeling.
Whenever mistakes occur in a performance, they are completely natural, Jeff says. We shouldn't beat ourselves up for this. We can play with wrong notes, but we can't play without feeling, though.
6. People are rooting for us.
When we are afraid to play in public, we should remember that in most cases our listeners are rooting for us. It's rare that our colleagues are observing our performance in secret wanting to criticize us.
7. Dealing with criticism.
Sometimes young people are full of criticism. Jeff believes that this generally changes with age and maturity. People learn how to appreciate others who are putting themselves on the line. Organists who can play well never criticize others for making mistakes. It's those who can't play well that become critics.
8. Sharing the gift.
In his current church Jeff appreciates the opportunity to share his gift with his parishioners. He believes that every organist should go out and play in public. Playing alone and hiding in the practice room is not sufficient for a development of a well-rounded musician.
9. Let them hear a variety of repertoire and stops.
Jeff's new congregation previously only heard hymns during services and a standard set of registration combinations. What he likes the most about his new job is the opportunity to demonstrate a wealth of organ repertoire and a curious combination of stops. "I didn't know our organ could play like this", is a frequent compliment he gets.
10. The danger of copying.
There is so much social pressure to become like the mega-church next doors - praise band, guitars, and synthesizers. We should all try to carve our own path of what we do best instead of blindly following the others, Jeff says. This applies to congregations and organists alike. Find your angle, your unique voice and others will later start following you.
Look forward for a real podcast conversation with Jeff on March 26.