Thursday, February 18, 2016

Where Do You Put Your Feet?

I play the organ every week at church.  I'm proficient, but not splendiferous at it.  My mother, who had a 40-year tenure as the ward organist, taught me that the two most important parts of accompanying hymns were to begin the song together, and end when they end.  So I do, and anyting more than that is icing.

Now that's not to say that I am a terrible organist who is limping along.  On the contrary, I have played for many years myself and am quite comfortable with most of the hymns in the book.  Most, but not all.  So I practice.

I know what the hymns are at the beginning of the week, more or less.  The idea is that I practice them a bit every day and then I'm ready when Sunday rolls around.  Reality lives in a different world from my ideas, unfortunately.  I think about my songs at the beginning of the week, and then forget in the busyness of daily life.  About Thursday I start feeling panicky and by Friday I actually haul out the hymnbook.  I practice a lot on Friday, intend to practice more on Saturday, and brush the hymns up on Sunday morning.  And some weeks I actually do better than that!

I was practicing the other day when David came into the room.  He watched me play the songs for a few minutes, and then asked how I could practice the pedals when I was playing on a piano, not an organ.  I showed him where I put my feet as I practice, and how I pretend that the pedals are there.

I've been thinking a lot about that ever since.  How can I practice when I'm not really practicing?

First of all, I know the organ.  We had an organ at home when I was a child, and I really learned to play as a teenager.  I know that the D below middle C is directly in front of me as I sit at the organ.  I know that the F is just to the right of my right foot as I sit naturally, and that I have to stretch to the left about a foot to reach low G.

My feet feel the pedals as I play.  Officially, an organist wears special shoes while playing the organ, with a specific low heel and soft leather soles so as to feel the pedals beneath your feet.  Organ shoes are pricey, and I could never justify the expense, so I haven't ever bought any.  I remember my mother buying tap shoes and unscrewing the noisy taps for her organ shoes, but I just play barefoot. The pedals are arranged in white and clusters of black keys, just like the keyboard, and  I can feel where the pedals are, and where the black (or darker) pedals are in relation to the white pedals (which are usually light wood toned).  Low B is on the left side of the break between the the sets of black pedals, and F is on the right side of the next break.

Mostly, however, I practice the crud out of my hands before adding the pedals.  Mistakes are crud, right?  I want to practice the hand parts well enough that I don't even need to think about where they are going.  I need the brain space to pay attention to what my feet should be doing.

As I have been thinking about playing pedals, some other things have also come to mind.  I have some potentially stressful situations coming up that I've been worrying about. How can I prepare for those?  The same way.

I need to know me.  I've lived in me a long time, and I know where my boundaries are.  I know what comes easily, and what kinds of things I have to stretch the accomplish.  I need to respect myself and my strengths and not be afraid to shine.

There is strength in being sensitive.  I am able to feel out a situation, listening as I go, to play the right parts and correct it when it gets disharmonious.  I need to trust my gut feel.

Mostly, I need to make sure that the other parts of my life are in harmony.  Do the things well that I know how to do well.  Keep a schedule.  Get enough sleep.  Eat nourishing food.  Read my scriptures and do the things that fill my heart with happiness and goodness.  Then I will have the space to think and respond to new things as they come up.

Thanks, David, for asking the questions that helped me to answer my own wonderings. Love this family and the things I can learn from them!

And maybe I should even go to the church occasionally and really practice on an organ.  For real.

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