Friday, September 6, 2013

Organ and Didgeridoo (but not together)

Last night was a great night for music. First I went to an incredible organ concert at St. James Basilica in Prague's Old Town. Then on the way home, I saw a couple of guys busking who were possibly the coolest buskers I've ever seen. I'll write about and post videos of the buskers first, so it's easier for y'all to skip the organ geek stuff at the end if you want to.

It is so amazing and cool to be walking along and come across this:

Yep, it's a didgeridoo! With some awesome percussion -- hang drum, bongos, and a rattling thing that the didgeridoo guy does sometimes (I have very little percussion vocabulary). That guy was getting some pretty great bass and other sounds out of the didgeridoo. They would have sounded right at home in a dance club. A little later, I brought the younger kids back with me, so in the next couple of videos, you get to hear their comments and maybe even some arguing! The first one is too short. The second one is a whole song and has bonus footage of a crazy, angry guy cracking a whip in a threatening manner, but fortunately in sync with the music.

Both of these guys are on Facebook and you can find a lot of other videos of them performing, so I think they've been doing this for a while and they're not just casual buskers.

Now a little about the organ concert. It's the second organ concert I've attended at St. James Basilica (which is the church that has an actual several-hundred-year-old human arm hanging in it; Seth wrote about it here), and I think it's the biggest organ in Prague. The more organs I hear, the more opinionated I get about them, and I really like this one. Last night the organist was Julian Gembalski from Poland and every piece on the program was improvised. Improvised! Apparently, you can learn to do that kind of thing, but it is a wonderful and beautiful mystery to me still. He played a Prelude and Fugue in the Baroque style, a several part Partita based on a sacred Czech song, a Sonata in the Romantic style, also based on a well-known tune (not that well-known to me, but presumably to others), and a four-part Biblical Suite based on the last supper, Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane, Golgotha, and the Resurrection that was modern and dissonant and awesome. The Golgotha section featured a heartbeat in the pedal that got progressively quieter (through registration changes) and slower until it stopped, followed by a high, ethereal, single-note theme that rose almost to the top of the manual and faded out.

The organ at St. James is behind the congregation, which is common in cathedrals, but for these Thursday night concerts, which comprise Prague's International Organ Festival, they broadcast live video of the organist (alternating between feet and hands) to a screen in front of the audience, which is a nice change from not being able to see him/her at all. But, while I do like to be able to see registration changes and manual and pedal technique, I find the video sort of distracting, too. For one thing, it tricks my brain a little into thinking that it's a recording. I also think I don't hear the music as well. When I close my eyes and just listen, the music seems to fill up the space just a bit more completely and I can feel the bass notes better, which is my favorite part of the organ, of course. So I switched between watching the organist and closing my eyes and just listening. Usually if I dare to close my eyes, it's not long before I fall asleep (is it age or just being a mom?). But I didn't even come close to sleeping during this concert. In fact, during some of the pieces, I was sort of white-knuckling the pen I was holding. The music had such a beautiful tension, it was kind of a physical experience listening to it.

This in spite of the incredibly uncomfortable pews in the church. Do you think they make them super uncomfortable on purpose, so the congregation can't fall asleep? These have a lip on the top that digs into my back, and they are at a perfect 90-degree angle to the seat. It's kind of like sitting against a door. But I'll go again, because the music is totally worth it!

4 comments:

  1. Love the music! It must have been wild to hear/see it live!

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  2. I'm reminded of Pres. Hinckley's comment about renovation work in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. To those worried about preserving the historicity of the famous benches, he quipped that the new ones would be just as uncomfortable as the old ones.

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  3. These are way worse than the benches in the Tabernacle! :)

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