OROWITZ USED TO SPEAK of pianists who practice a piece 100 times, then go on stage and practice it for the 101st time. A few weeks ago, I was forced to listen to a pianist “practicing” by playing a piece from start to finish—over and over. She did not carefully isolate the trouble spots, searching for solutions. She gave little thought to architecture. She did not practice “in rhythms” (as Ruth Slenczynska would say). She simply played the entire thing from start to finish, slowing down at the hard spots. I wanted to scream! The point Horowitz was trying to make is that we must understand the end result. Practice should be quite different from performance. To give an example, a section that’s already perfect should not be “practiced” over and over—because doing so will lead to a stale performance. And so forth.
This easy piece will guarantee no wrong notes:
I have a confession to make: I can’t stand hearing wrong notes (unless your name is Edwin Fischer or Alfred Cortot). I would rather hear a simple piece played perfectly than a difficult piece played poorly. 1
Half the battle when playing the organ is choosing the registration. This includes eliminating any stops that are severely out of tune. The reality is, when you have 15 seconds to become acquainted with a new organ, “the simpler the better.” If you have months and months, that’s a different story. For the record, Spe Salvi is also quite easy.
Another way to get my point across would be: Nobody cares how we practice—the only thing that matters is the performance.
Practicing with the “end result” in mind is extremely draining, yet absolutely essential to a performer. Like it or not, every church musician is a performer (although we are much more than that, as Dr. Tappan reminds us).
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 I especially hate when organists insist on using the pedal, even though they have to greatly reduce the hymn’s tempo to accomplish this. That drives me nuts—but unfortunately this practice is widespread. Those not skilled enough to play the hymn at the correct tempo should omit pedals until they can be added without destroying the piece.