Recently I received a message from my Australian student John (an engineer by profession), who wanted to share an interesting experience he had the other night. I think he makes really good points in his message so I decided to recount them in this post because perhaps other organists are in a similar situation.
John writes that he has been asked to play for the wedding some 9 days from today, including some quiet music for 15 minutes before the service. He was going through his music folder looking for pieces he already knows that would be suitable, including a few hymns.
He had this profound realization of how his repertoire has grown! It has only been 2.5 years since he started playing the organ (Ich ruf zu dir by Bach was his the first piece), and he could only really play 2 or 3 other pieces at that point (and not very well).
He now has a short list of 11 pieces he could play before this wedding, and that is much more than he needs, however he thought it would be wise to have plenty of back up in case the bride is late!
And there are many more pieces he can play apart from these 11 pieces! It is so easy for him to feel overwhelmed when we talk about so many composers and pieces, many of them he has never heard of before! But this night was a very special realization of his growth.
John also writes that unfortunately he knows deep down that he would be struggling to pick any one of these pieces and play them really well immediately. He was a little bit surprised how hard it was to play a couple of these pieces that he hadn't played for over a year. He knows these pieces were once part of his repertory but it will require some "re-learning" and practice.
For him, life is about keeping a healthy balance between recognizing some good progress and achievements, and this realization of how far away from “excellent” his playing is, and how much work there is to be done to broaden his repertoire and discover other composers… He is so excited about further developing his skills including sight-reading, so that more and more of the organ repertoire becomes accessible to him!
I thanked him for sharing his experience in reflecting back on his achievements. I wrote that for him progress seems so slow because we are in the middle of it. But when you step back and watch yourself from the distance (perhaps through recording or video), you will notice how much stronger your playing has become since your humble beginnings.
One thing he writes about is particularly true - regardless of how much of repertoire we have accumulated over the years, it takes a significant time to refresh them to the concert level so we have to plan our practice accordingly if we are asked to play in public and want to refresh our old repertoire.
Have you ever had a similar experience like John? How do you realize that you are progressing in organ playing? I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments.
Praeludium F Ionian by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621), the Great Orpheus of Amsterdam, also called Maker of German Organists (Deutsche Organistenmacher).
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