Wednesday, March 1, 2017

My Musician Achilles' Heel

I have been playing a keyboard instrument since I was seven years old. I have been playing consistently ever since, starting with piano and moving to the organ. I play regularly for church services and I can accompany choirs, soloists, and instrumentalists.

Overall, people might say I'm a pretty decent organist and pianist. But what they don't know is my biggest problem. I have one issue that I've never been able to fix. Amidst all of the practice, practice, practice, I never practiced this, and now it's kind of rearing its ugly head.

My weakness?

I can't turn pages and play at the same time.

I never thought of this as a problem until I started seeing other experienced organists play. Instead of unfolding pages of copied music on the organ, they opened the book, started playing, and without breaking the rhythm of the song turned the page!

I see that and my jaw drops. How in the world did they do that? Do they stop time and turn the page? Do they have an imaginary friend who turns the page? Do they blow out with their mouths and curve the wind to turn one page at a time?

No - they simply learned how to do it when they were just starting out.

I didn't even realize that was a thing! When I find an organ piece that's three or more pages, I make a mental note that I need to make a copy of the third page and tape it to the other two. There are only two or three pieces that I can think of off the top of my head where the page turn is when only one hand is playing.

It was easy in the first ten years of playing. But when I started to jump up to the advanced level, the pieces just started getting longer, and suddenly I was making copies of four pages. Some books are starting to thicken up because I have to accordion out a bunch of pages to play a piece!

What's even worse? When I am accompanying a song with a choir, and I get the music complete with all the choral parts plus the instruments. As a result, I have ten pages of a song, but I can't fit ten pages on the piano! I end up copying, cutting, and pasting together only the keyboard part so I can put three pages up instead of ten. Of course, this means that if the choir somehow gets off or I get off, I am going to have a much harder time bringing everything back together because I don't have the full music in front of me.

When I attend major concerts or music conferences and those amazing organists read the music, they usually have a page turner there. When I accompanied in high school and college I was able to use a choir member to help me turn a page. But now it's hard to find a person in the congregation who is not only musically inclined, but also is there every time I play and is willing to help me out!

Believe me, I've tried to work on my page turns. But with all the coordinating skills required of an organist, throwing in another step is pretty impossible. I'm already struggling to have a conversation with someone or sing along with the hymn as I play, making one hand leave the organ to turn a page just seems too Herculean!

I'll work on it, but I can't promise anything. You might have to just deal with an awkward pause as I fumble to turn just one page of this piece.

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