SOPP377 (Continued): The first 30 seconds of the DVD out in front of the church we had to do that 9 times to get it right
This is the continuation of the episode 377 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast where I talk with John Higgins, the organist of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Morewell, Australia. If you haven't seen the beginning, check it out here.
John: Because there were so many details that we needed to get right, learning how to move my hands and move them at the right time. For example the first 30 seconds of the DVD out in front of the church we had to do that 9 times to get it right and I said to my cameraman I need your help because I’ve never done this before and he was really fantastic and he said John just relax, every time we have a new journalist at the news station they all have the same problem you have speaking to a camera because it was a rather strange experience that when you play in public a recital your very happy to be there and very happy to give the gift of music to the people and you draw energy off of them and you want to be your best for them but playing in an empty church and speaking to a camera without listeners. And my cameraman Cody was absolutely superb. He coached me through it and we’d do a couple of run-throughs and then we’d look at the footage together and he’d say “See how you stopped smiling there or see how that spot there needs to have more energy or he’d stop me and he’d say “Say it like you really mean it, not just going through the motions."
Vidas: Right, right. This is really important to understand because when we rehearse sometimes we forget that we have to do our best, right? And by this I mean that we have to play like it’s maybe our last try, the last time we are playing the organ and sometimes we don’t remember this and think “Oh maybe next time I will get it right” which of course is not necessarily true, right John?
J: Yes, that’s right. Another difference is that initially I was trying to read from a script or repeat it from memory because I wanted to say exactly the right words. After a few tries that wasn’t working for me so that was quite a lesson. Sometimes you might have a plan of how you want to do it but sometimes you have to be flexible and so we decided that I know the pieces well and I know the history well, I know it word by word. Just relax and have the conversation if it was with a friend. And once I started doing that the quality improved dramatically.
V: Exactly and I think I’d like to ask you about “What was your worst moment in the entire recording process? What was your lowest point?”
J: I think there were two lowest points. The first lowest point was when I was listening to all of the recordings of the music and sometimes it took 3, 4, 5 times playing through the piece and I still wasn’t happy with it.
J: And that was when I listened to all of those run-throughs afterwards I was quite discouraged because I thought “Why can’t I get this right or I think when I recorded it that sounds OK but then when I listened to it afterwards it appeared I made a mistake here or a wrong stop change here” so that was difficult and then the other most difficult part was to record the pieces.
J: Because I was running out of time and I really wanted to have an image done. My friends who I trusted said “I really think you should do it again” and that cost me more money to pay the cameraman again and also mentally I sort of closed the chapter. I thought “I finished all the recording, that’s it” and I just wanted it done and it was quite painful having to go “well you haven’t got this right and you have to try again.”
V: Umm-hmm. Yes, it’s really discouraging to see those mistakes when time is of the essence, right? You are paying for the cameraman’s probably time and you try to do everything as fast as possible and as best as you can but those mistakes creep in and you have to repeat and repeat sometimes many times. As you say sometimes two or three hours are needed in order to create a clean copy of 15 minutes of music, right? That’s a process. Do you think John, that in the future you will be able to make a recording faster?
J: Oh yes, very much so. The lessons that I’ve learned that when I do volume 2, and even that was quite a difficult decision because when I was designing the cover and the artwork DVD case do I just leave the title on or do I put “Volume 1” because as soon as I put “Volume 1” that implies that there will be a volume 2 and so I thought “No, I need to be brave and commit to Volume 2.” I then have to commit to the date that I’m committing to volume 2 and I’m sure that that will be much more streamlined and I’m quite sure that it will be even better.
V: Umm-hmm. Can you tell us what you played in your DVD so that our listeners would know.
J: Yes, so I played the Toccata by Bach in D Minor, Prelude and Fugue F Major and G Major from 8 Little Preludes and Fugues, "Ich ruf zu dir", a beautiful prelude by Bach, then I played “Largo from Xerxes” by Handel, Priere a Notre Dame by Leon Boellmann, and then two my own improvisations on Judas Maccabeus which is the hymn tune Thine Be the Glory and Ein Feste Burg which is hymn tune “A Mighty Fortress is our God” plus Festive Trumpet Tune and Nimrod from the Enigma Variations, God So Loved the World from Sir John Stainer’s The Crucifixion, and O Savior of the World by Sir John Goss.
V: Umm-hmm. Wonderful program and I also have to add that you managed to introduce each piece so gracefully and listeners and people who will be watching this DVD will be enjoying your speeches before the pieces a lot.
J: Thank you very much. Very kind of you and that was an interesting decision how to manage that practically because there are many professional organists who make DVD’s and they tend to have each piece played one after another and then a printed section on the DVD they’ll have maybe 10 minutes talking about their program or the organ and the main DVD jumps from one piece to the next.
(This conversation continues in the next episode)
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