OK. Christ is Risen and it’s time to dance a jig. There is no better way to do this than to dance to J.S. Bach’s Jig Fugue and also to sample one of the nice aspects of traditional Church liturgy, The Pipe Organ. It has been said that the greatest virtuoso is the organist and you’ll see why when you view this video of Diane Bish playing the Jig Fugue. Not only are both hands and all fingers going at rapid pace but so are both feet as she literally dances a jig on the pedal board. The piece starts out with hands only and then builds and gets more complicated as it goes on. Christ is risen, Dance a Jig.
In my first three years of college I had a summer job working for a Lewis and Hitchcock and company that built and serviced pipe organs. What a great job it was! I went all over the city helping to tune and repair pipe organs in some of the grandest churches of the area, both Catholic and Protestant. When you build and service Pipe Organs you have to know a little of everything: electrical, HVAC, carpentry (for the casework), plumbing (for the pipes and tubing that supply the wind), electrical motor repair (for the blower), even leather work for the air reservoirs and pipe valves. It also helps to know music and architecture to bring it all together. It was a great job it was. I learned so much.
These days, Pipe Organs are still being built but more often Electronic Organs are chosen by churches. Truth be told, with digital sampling, the sound of the newest electronic organs isn’t bad. But nothing beats the sound of a true pipe organ, the king of instruments.
When I was young and in high school I was a rock ‘n’ roll fan. It had to be loud and in your face. Then one day I walked into a large church and the organist was practicing with all the stops pulled. The loud organ shook the building and resonated through my very body. I was hooked! I said, “I have to learn to play that!” And I was off on my adventure. Alas, I am no virtuoso but I can play hymns well and I do all the footwork. I love to play the organ and make the whole build shake with the big 32 Foot in the pedal.
The first video shows you some of the basics of how a pipe organ works. The second video shows you the work of a true virtuoso as he plays Boellmann’s Tocatta from Suite Gothique. This was the piece that I heard that day over 30 years ago that hooked me on the pipe organ as the building shook all around. The greatest virtuoso is the organist and you will see why! Not only does he play all sorts of notes with his hands and feet, he’s also switching back and forth to different keyboards, controlling the volume with the black pedals at the center of his feet and switching stops using the toe buttons above the pedal keyboard. It takes ALOT to be a good organist.
Here is Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in F Major BWV 556. Bach wrote these in a collection of Eight Little Preludes and Fugues. Which was designed for organ students. This one is my favorite in the collection. The footwork of the Prelude is easy but the running triplets in both hands are a challenge to play well and at tempo.
By the way the organ used here is known as a “tracker” It works with an entirely mechanical action of levers and trackers much like the manual typewriters of old. Occasionally in this piece you can hear the mechanical action “clacking” in the background. Trackers usually require stronger fingers and a more certain touch of the fingers and feet, again just like the old manual typewriters required a stronger and more certain touch. (Are you old enough to remember manual typewriters?) OK, enjoy this short sample of the music of the pipe organ.
Hidden in many of our Choir lofts are secret virtuosos: the Organists of our Church! Though they vary in their capacities it remains true that to play the organ well requires great skill. I have always had special admiration for organists who can play with both feet and hands, turn pages, switch stops and never miss a beat. Over the years I taught myself to play hymns properly with both feet and hands and it is a wonderful “full body” experience. But I could never play the wonderful fugue you are about to see, that takes a real virtuoso like the beautiful young woman in this video. Sadly her name is not listed but she plays Bach’s Fugue in D major (BWV 532).
What is a fugue you might ask? A fugue is a simple musical theme that is introduced and them elaborated upon in a somewhat mathematical fashion. Bach was surely the master of this form. Notice how our organist introduces the theme with her right hand. The left hand next begins to answer and then come the feet. A marvelous thing to behold. Music and skill, science and art.
Enjoy! Even if classical music isn’t your thing and the pipe organ is not on your playlist, just enjoy the skill and many years of training that go into the moment of this performance.