Thursday, November 20, 2008

Can Your Feet Do This?

In my music history classes, we have reached the end of the Baroque era and spent the first part of the week talking about the rise of the German style of composition through its organ music. The prototypical sound of the organ that is running through your head even now is that of late Baroque German music. It is the sound that has haunted many a silent scary movie, particularly the Phantom of the Opera pounding away in his subterranean cave.

Perhaps most unique to that style was the use of the feet. Organs had long featured pedals, but a virtuosic pedal technique really developed through Buxtehude, Pachelbel (yes, that Pachelbel), and ultimately J.S. Bach. My students generally have limited exposure to the organ before class, so they are always amazed by the pedal parts in some of the works we study and their mouths hang open that people can move their feet so quickly.

I found a new way to drive home the point or organ virtuosity this week through a performance by a young organist named Cameron Carpenter. Carpenter wants to change the way people view the organ through expanding the repertoire, expanding the organ's sound through digital organs, and expanding the audience by putting on an entertaining show (Liberace is obviously his hero as he dressing like the pianist, from the sequins down to his unfortunately named Maverick organ shoes that allow him to play intervals with his heels). My mouth fell open watching him play Chopin's Revolutionary Etude. I played the work for my sophomore recital and know how hard the left hand part is when you use the hands; Carpenter uses the feet:

This will certainly become a fixture in my lecture on the Baroque organ.

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