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Category: Composers

  1. Music for Miditzer

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    Although my main interest has always been classical organ music, I have a great affection for the theatre organ too, and I know I'm not alone in this. It was a long time before I had a chance to play one (a Compton) and it didn't go at all well. I felt lost because everything was so different from what I was used to. It was only when Miditzer came along that I was finally able to get to grips with the church organ's flamboyant cousin.

    One of the problems for people like me, who've approached the organ from a church/classical perspective, is how do you find suitable music to play on Miditzer. Of course, there's any amount of suitable middle-of-the-road stuff out there, from popular songs of yesteryear to light classics, but some of us need a little assistance in arranging it to re-create an authentic theatre organ style.

    Fortunately, help is at hand. One valuable source is a series of books entitled Vintage Theatre Styles for the Modern Organist by William McMains. Assuming little prior knowledge, he explains the basic components like Chicago style, changes of time signature and modulation, all illustrated by his own arrangements (on 3 staves) which just sound so "right" on Miditzer. There are also incomplete arrangements which are left as an exercise for the student, but so far I've been too busy (lazy) to attempt these. I can't find any examples of these books on Amazon or Ebay at present, but they're sure to come up from time to time.

    Another book I've found useful is Up with the Curtain by Robin Richmond. (Currently two used copies on Amazon and one on Ebay.) Although better known as presenter of Radio 2's The Organist Entertains, he also had a long career as a performer on both theatre and Hammond organs. Richmond arranges his music on two staves and demands slightly more technical ability than McMains. The left hand has to grapple with some awkward 6-note chords at times, but there's no doubt he's a skillful and effective arranger. It was worth getting the book for one piece alone: Lonely Ballerina by Michael Carr and P.Lambrecht. It really is one of the sweetest little tunes you're ever likely to come across, and Richmond arranges it with a sure touch. "Give it all the sweetest sounds you can find on your organ," he advises, "and all the emotion you have in your heart!" With that in mind, I start with a solitary Tibia 8 for the RH, accompanied by Flute 8 (with tremulants on, naturally!!) and later add Diapason 8 to right and Violin 8 to left. This sharpens up the LH part and brings out an element of counter-melody. After adding louder stops for the middle section, I return to the original registration at the end, but play alternate lines with Tibia 8 plus Bells. Gorgeous!

    One final piece in my current Miditzer repertoire is Maurizio Machella's organ arrangement of Joplin's The Entertainer which is available  for free download at (see our "Links" page). If you've got the 3-manual version of Miditzer you can incorporate plenty of piano into your registrations. It sounds great, and would also provide a useful pattern for anyone who wanted to make their own organ arrangements of other Joplin rags. The Entertainer always takes me straight back to my teenage years when the film The Sting prompted a Joplin revival. To my ears, the piece sounded totally fresh and contemporary. I assumed it had just been written, and was gobsmacked to discover Joplin died in 1917. I also remember hearing Ernest Broadbent playing it on the Blackpool Tower Wurlitzer. I must have been 14 or 15 at the time, when for some reason we took our annual family holiday in Blackpool instead of the more usual Great Yarmouth. It was the first time I'd heard a theatre organ live, though I did listen to The Organist Entertains every week (I wasn't exactly your typical teenager!) So while my younger brother (who was your typical teenager) headed off to ride the roller coaster at the pleasure beach at every opportunity, I was to be found leaning on the balcony at the Tower Ballroom, intently watching Ernest's every move with a big grin on my face.

  2. Franck on the box

    Posted on

    I never hesitate to name Cesar Franck as my favourite composer. It's not just because of his massive contribution to the organ repertoire (and I'm speaking as much about quality as quantity). He made his mark on most other branches of music too. The three mature chamber works are all quite outstanding, and then there's Psyche, his late symphonic poem for orchestra and chorus. It's like having a wonderful musical dream which you never want to wake from. But I mustn't go on! Not everyone agrees with me, I'm well aware of that. But I do feel slightly irritated when people who should know better, like Radio 3 presenters, imply that there's something slightly second-rate about him. They should remember what Claude Debussy said. Although following a very different musical path himself, he described Franck as "one of the greatest of the great musicians." 

    What does please me greatly is when this slightly obscure composer gets some unexpected exposure in the mass media. One example which springs to mind was on BBC Children in Need a few years back when Russell Watson sang Panis Angelicus, assisted by a choir of schoolgirls - and very delightful it was too. More unexpectedly, I happened upon an episode of Neighbours which featured the sublime 3rd movement of the String Quartet. Two youg women were listening to it while they revised for an exam. There was a chance to hear much more of the quartet in Alan Bennet's play about Proust 102 Boulevard Haussmann. Although not admirable in all respects, Proust was a fervent Franck devotee and commissioned a private performance of the quartet to be given in his own bedroom. As for me, being a big fan of both Franck and Bennett, the pleasure of this production was almost too much to cope with!

    I'm not sure whether Franck has ever made it onto the big screen. In John Berendt's novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil there's a reference to Jim Williams playing Piece Heroique loudly on the pipe organ in his mansion late at night - revenge for his neighbours' howling dogs. I haven't yet managed to see Clint Eastwood's film of the book, so I don't know if this material was included, but considering Clint has a musical side, and tickles the ivories himself, how could he possibly resist?

    I'll return to the small screen for one final example. In the highly accident-prone Yorshire village of Emmerdale, there was one occasion when poacher-turned-gamekeeper Seth Armstrong (acted by the late Stan Richards) was heard at the organ of the village church playing the Prelude from Prelude, Fugue and Variation before a wedding service - something I've done myself on numerous occasions. Sad to relate, the wedding went the way of most soap weddings - a slanging match in the church, followed by a punch-up in the graveyard! But none of this could be blamed on the organist who discharged his duties very expertly indeed. One couldn't help wondering why old Seth didn't give up the poaching/gamekeeping life altogether and go on tour as an international recitalist.