Stephen Taylor: I hate music! But I like to sing…

by Stephen Taylor | Het ORGEL | Year 96 | (2000) | Issue 3


Stephen Taylor I hate music! But I like to sing…
Het ORGEL 96 (2000), nr. 3, 5-8 [summary]

In his song text I hate music! But I like to sing…, Leonard Bernstein makes fun ofthe way in which we become sidetracked from the essentials of music-making by peripheralmatters: ‘Music is a lot of men in a lot of tails.’

The peripheral matter discussed in this article are the printed score and the problemswhich its relative complexity causes to so many organists.

Today young children are often encouraged to play by ear, getting to know a tune bylistening first and working it out on their instrument later (the Suzuki method, forexample). We grown-ups are too impatient for all that, preferring to decode the printedpage as we play. Mistakes made at this point often remain unnoticed, since in our mind wehave no idea at all of what the piece is supposed to sound like.

In an experiment pupils played the beginning of J.S. Bach’s 6th Invention just oncefrom the score. After analysis of the first two and a half bars (ascending and descendingscales with one chromatic alteration) each pupil was able to play this passage and itsinversion from bar 5 without the printed music, as well as the transposed version from bar21.

Our impatience also leads us to practise in relatively fast tempos, causing all sortsof mistakes (and tempo deviations) simply because we allow ourselves insufficient time toread accurately.

As if these problems were not enough, we organists are not very good at listening toour own performance. At the touch of a key the sound emerges from somewhere above us orpossibly behind a pillar a far cry from the young violinist developing his ear bystruggling with tone quality and pitch. We play on our own and are not corrected by anensemble when we simply add an extra half beat to the bar because we need a little extratime to see what’s going on!