Wednesday, November 16, 2011

8. I've got a case of the "-tions"


Not to mention articulation, registration, and interpretation. I've got a case of the "-tions".

Being now 2 days away from the exam, I'm feeling focused. I know what is left to do and I have a vague sense of how long it is going to take to get there. I had my first practice session yesterday and spent the one and a half hours getting comfortable with the organ and getting my registrations set. Beyond setting pistons for the 7 pieces of repertoire (3 solo works, 2 accompaniments, and 2 hymns), it was important to me that I know enough about the organ that I could intelligently register when it comes time for the modulation and transposition sections.

And boy, am I glad we get those 20 minutes before the exam! I read in the examination guidelines that they suggest devoting 5 minutes to each of the sections (not including sightreading, of course). Speaking of sightreading - the guideline book for the CAGO has a really great sightreading example on the last page. Make sure to give it a look. It is a great barometer for where you are in that skill.

I have been trying to do at least two hymn transposition practices everyday. The example on the exam won't be exactly a hymn, but it will be hymn-like and the hymnal is a great practice book. I open it up to wherever it falls and play it five times: at pitch, then down a half step, then down a whole step, then up a half step, and finally up a whole step. I go down first because I find it more difficult. You might need to adjust that practice for your own strengths.

So tonight I'll work on slow practice of the repertoire so I can make sure I know the notes really well. Thankfully, the technical side of the rep isn't too difficult but there are a few "fiddly bits" that I need to tidy. Tomorrow is my second practice time and I am going to use that last hour and a half to get as comfortable as I can with every registration change and with the organ as a whole.

See you on the other side!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

7. Handy-dandy AGO Materials

Okay... the countdown is officially in full swing. I'm looking at a perfect 10 days to go! I'll be honest with you- I'm stressing out. I tell you this not to make you nervous but to share that everyone stresses out about these things. Its only natural. Don't let the stress or the nervousness keep you from what you want or need. The best things in life are worth fighting for.

I wanted to take the rest of this post and write about the materials that the AGO offers to aid in studying. I ordered two booklets: Preparing for AGO Exams and Colleague Examination Study Guidelines 

You can also order past AGO exams and solutions which I didn't order but would recommend.  (I'm not even sure they were up when I was online shopping...)

You should definitely at least order a few of these materials. You can get them here: AGO Store

It is really helpful to read these- they make the requirements and the expectations very black and white. I don't know about you, but I find this a helpful tool. Its easy to feel like you're doing this challenge all by yourself - these tools can give you the support and an extra boost of motivation you might need in the last few weeks and days.

Its getting real time for me. My college organ professor always says: the last 10% takes the last 90%. Which is to say that 90% of your effort is really going to go to that niggly last 10% of tidying up and "perfecting" the music. Of course, I used quotation marks with the word perfection. I honestly don't think the exam proctors are looking for perfection- I believe that the goal is to encourage personal and professional growth within the membership and to give us all extra boost when applying for positions.

So up for me next is just continuing on with the work every single day. I make a point of working on everything everyday. I usually start with the repertoire and then do transposition and modulation and then go into the accompaniments.

It is my greatest wish that this little blog of mine is providing you support and encouragement on your own AGO certification journey.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

6. Back to the Organ!

Whew.... Well, it has been an eventful past few days here in Connecticut. We had a huge snow storm (in October?!) and the power went out all over the state. Luckily, my house did not lose power but the church did- which meant no organ practicing for me. *hmph*

I spent the last two days working from the confines of my toasty home and practicing on my piano. Oddly, the rest of Westport had their power back a long time before the church but happily power was restored late last night. Today's task is to add pedals to the Gerald Near "Puer Nobis Nascitur" that I learned over the past days on my piano. I'm really enjoying this piece and would recommend playing it.

Also, I'll work on the Mozart "Laudate Dominum". I learned this MANY years ago when I was a teenager but only learned to play it on the piano. Why I did that; I have no idea. It will actually be easier on the organ with the pedal assisting the left hand- it is an awful lot of jumps to do without it!

Lastly, a big thank you for reading my humble little blog. I hope you're enjoying the journey- I certainly am! Things will pick up over the next few days because I'm just one day shy of two weeks to go (eek!), so I'm hoping to blog almost everyday. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

5. The 2 hymns and what to do with them

Its the age-old quandary of every organist and I just opened a BIG can of worms. We can play a million pieces during our careers but none seem to cause so much congregation-wide discussion as hymns. They are our bread and butter- the music that encourages the most participation and the most attention of anything we do. Even our guild's chaplain, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Troeger devoted last month's TAO article to hymns (hymn interludes, more specifically).

I am not an expert of any kind but I have always taken the approach that all hymn playing should begin and end with the text. Is that not the point? To sing the text? So, in preparing my two hymns for the CAGO exams, I have looked closely at the text and chosen 'treatments' I believe will benefit them and encourage an "enthusiastic congregation" to sing. My college organ professor, the very great Todd Wilson used to always tell us to "sing lustily!" when a colleague was playing a hymn. I've always taken that to be the goal: to have our congregations sing lustily. Is it not a thrill on Christmas Eve when everyone (Christ-Easters included) sing "O Come, All Ye Faithful" at the top of their lungs?? While we cannot achieve this level of enthusiasm every Sunday, we can at least play as if there is that lusty singing and maybe somewhere along the way, the congregation will join in our excitement.

To recap from an earlier post, the two hymns I will be playing are "Praise My Soul the King of Heaven" (Lauda Anima) and "Every Time I Feel the Spirit". The former will be quite straightforward. Since we are to play an introduction and two verses, I will take much of that material from the Accompaniment Edition of the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal. This features a very fine accompaniment and re-harmonization. This need only require practice for accuracy and playing security. A quick check through the text (as seen in the Revised Examination Hymn Booklet shows no phrasing difference between the two verses provided. This also simplifies things!

"Every Time I Feel the Spirit" presents, in contrast to the other, a whole different flavor of challenge. We are faced with a verse-refrain structure and not only do the sentence structures change between verses, we have to keep track of the occasional added note to compensate for added syllables. When it comes to approaching spirituals, start with the basics: play through the piece slowly, find the rhythm of the text and the rhythm of the piece. Do they match? Often a syncopation will signal an important moment in the text. For instance, we see a great deal happening on the "and" of the third beat. How will the congregation feel that, especially going from the introduction into the first verse? It is the same as good conducting: give the congregation a good third beat from which to bounce off and they will be perfectly in time, every time.

So we've begun the piece. The congregation is right on track with the refrain. We'll have this refrain three times. In practice, play with it. Find passing tones, a walking bass line, a pedal point... What are those tricks that you've been taught for hymn playing? Many of these apply to spiritual playing. Yet, none so much as rhythmic devices, however. Rhythm, especially in this hymn, drives everything. Imagine "Every Time I Feel the Spirit" slow- very slow. It could actually work! If the rhythm was convincing and the organ registration reflective, the "I will pray" text would have a whole new meaning. This is the power of rhythm.

I was about to type "if it were me" but then realized it is.....

So, since it is me, here is what I will do:

Introduction: refrain, forte registration
Refrain: straight, forte registration
Verse 1: straight,  forte registration with good 16' stops to illustrate "fire and smoke"
Refrain: added interest in bass line, mezzo-forte
Verse 2: mezzo-forte, soloing out melody in right hand
Refrain: forte, lots of energy and with a few chord substitutions for interest.

That's the start of things. I will play with this and see what tweaks I'd like to make. We all have to start somewhere. There are a million ways to play every hymn. My hope only is that my thoughts have provoked ideas in you for your own hymn playing. Let your hymn playing reflect you; your own playing, personality, and tastes. But remember, at the end of the day, we are there to help them sing!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

4. Make your own motivation...

Let's face it: we all have busy lives. This is neither a new nor radical idea. But, when we make the decision to do something important, we do it. We make time for it... and I'm hoping to make this a "do as I do" situation. "Hoping" being the key word in that last sentence.

I've been doing really well practicing the Stanford and the Near- both really great pieces and harmonically very orchestral. The Bach, however, is proving a challenge. Don't get me wrong, I love Bach. I love playing it and performing it and practicing it, even. I just seem to be having trouble getting that book onto the music rack. I tell you this not to complain but because I promised an honest account of my journey to the CAGO and this is part of it.

Solution time.

I, despite my own hectic schedule, have put the Bach down as the Postlude tomorrow. Am I crazy? Probably, but that's a topic for another day! So... enough chatting. Off to work!

Next time: hymns. See you then!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

3. But what to play?

It occurs to me that I haven't actually told you what I'm playing. A grievous oversight, to be sure!

I was really surprised looking at the repertoire requirements that I don't play any of the pieces!  But, I am going to view this as an opportunity.... (you might have to remind me I said this in about four weeks when I'm feeling stressed out!)

From Group A, I'm playing the Praeludium of BWV 537. The directions say we can use any edition so I'm sticking with my handy Barenreiter edition; it hasn't steered me wrong, yet! The other choice from this group was Wer nur den lierben Gott lasst walten, BWV 647 from  Schubler Chorales. This was a hard choice for me, since I adore the chorales. But, there are some really big stretches in Wer nur and I have some residual wrist damage from too many hours spent with Dupre's Opus 7 in grad school.... so in the interest of self-preservation I'm going with the Praeludium.

Group B gave me the choice of a Rheinberger fughetta or At Christmas-Tide, No. 1 by C.V. Stanford. This choice was also made for practical purposes: I would love to have more good Christmas music to play! I'm looking forward to learning this one.

In Group C, I could choose Wilbur Held's Simple Gifts, but I decided to go with Puer Nobis Nascitur, No. 10 by Gerald Near. I don't play any Gerald Near and so it will be a good chance to delve into a piece of his.

So. Bach, Stanford, Near. I think this will be a nice grouping. They allow you to choose what order to do them in, which I haven't figured out yet.

For the hymns, I have chose "Praise My Soul the King of Heaven" (LAUDA ANIMA) because it is one of my favorites and "Every Time I Feel the Spirit" (NO TUNE NAME). I will devote a later posting to the preparation of these hymns... lots to talk about there!

Until then, fair readers.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

2. What does the CAGO require of you?

What you need to know a.k.a. "What this post lacks in amusement, it makes up for in information"

The first thing I found out is that you need to write to the National Headquarters to request an application. Luckily, the person I emailed is very kind and will accept my returning the application a little late... not that I'd recommend doing that... which leads me to:

TIP #1: As soon as you've decided to take the exam, write to: to get an application.

It is better to have it and change your mind than run into a problem. (This is one of those "do as I say, not as I do" moments... I'll try to keep those to a minimum!)

On to the requirements:

The first thing you learn from the requirements sheet is that the exam won't be judged by the people actually listening to it; they send it to National Headquarters and there two people will judge, presumably, all of the national CAGO exams. I like that! It makes me feel on equal level with everyone else taking the test.

On to the actual requirements:

The playing section:
- The playing section has me playing three pieces of repertoire and two hymns.
- There are six pieces of rep to choose from and a large booklet of hymns

TIP #2: When you write to get an application, go ahead and request a Hymn Booklet (which is a .pdf they will email to you) in the same email.

The "keyboard skills" section:
- This section can be broken down into four sections:
     1. sight-read
     2. harmonize
     3. transpose
     4. improvise
-Very happily, I discovered that I get 20 minutes to prep for parts 2-4 of this section. However, I imagine that those will be the shortest 20 minutes on the planet, so I am going to focus a lot of my time and attention to these sections.

So, friends, this is the bare-bones organization of the exam. I'll be back in a week or so and hit the ground running with preparations. From that point, I'll have about 7 weeks to prep. Wish me luck!