Gotta put on my, ped’ling shoes

I play with my feet; true story. No I am not twiddling with my toes or trimming my nails during boring meetings or conversing with friends and colleagues; that would be rude. When I play the organ however, I play with my hands and in equal measure I play with my feet. People know that organists play with their fingers as do pianists; they are other surprised to discover that organists add an extra dimension of complexity, by dancing around a pedalboard, a two and a half octave (32 note) array of pedals, a keyboard for the feet, which functions  independently from the console keyboards.

Pedalboard design varies; much depends on when the organ was constructed; also significant is the style of music best played on the instrument. Pedalboards can be flat and parallel; since the early 20th century a radiated pedal board was preferred. Regardless of style, the feet are a busy and integral part of the music making.

The biggest challenge for the beginner organist is to break the psychological connection between the left hand and the feet. Once mastered, the fun truly begins. As with riding a bicycle or with swimming, the skill once mastered is never lost. Composers through the centuries have exploited this beautiful reality, that of three independent voices, no less so than with J S Bach who created six challenging though exquisitely beautiful Trio Sonatas

Other works by J S Bach incorporate intricate pedal accompaniments to major works include Preludes and Fugues, Fantasias, Sonatas and Improvisations. In some cases, the pedal lines function as solo features, no less so than with the Toccata, Adagio & Fugue” in C major by J S Bach. While the entire piece is worth a careful listen, a brilliant performance by Maria-Magdalena Kaczor includes a pedal solo at 1:30. For many years this was the test piece for those auditioning for the position of Organ Scholar at King’s College, Cambridge. It tested the performer’s ability to manage a complex composition in a resonant acoustic.

Maria Magdalena Kaczor

For myself, coming back to the organ bench after many years, I have found it challenging to play accurately given my limited sight, my wonky memory and arthritic ankles. So when Kathie suggested I purchase a pair of Organmaster shoes I lept at the opportunity. What a great 65th birthday gift. Back in the day I used dancing shoes which provided a narrow profile and a tactile connection with the pedal board; the lack of a good sturdy heel was problematic.

Now everyone loves an enthusiast, whether a photographer using the newest camera or lens for the first time, or a kitchen goddess enjoying the efficiency  of the latest Mixmaster. Tools of the trade make life easier and more enjoyable. So what about organ shoes. Here is what Organmaster claims:

Suede Leather Soles allow you to FEEL your way across the pedal board. Trim fit means less bulk on your foot and a steel shank gives the support needed for the operating the swell pedals. Lightweight uppers enhance your development of kinesthetic sensation when locating notes and gaps by touch. Heel height of 1-1/4 inches (3cms) is fundamental for proper support as well as the legato playing of thirds and acquiring good technique. 

I ask you; how could I resist. Will these shoes improve my technique and allow for more accurate playing? Hopefully. Will I ever play like the late John Scott? Never. I will however take some time to get used to these comfortable performance accessories. Early experience is very, very positive. With thanks to Elvin Bishop, me and my ole’ lady are in fact getting along so I don’t need to put on my travvelin’ shoes, but I certainly do need to put on my pedaling shoes. Wish me luck, and thanks Organmaster (BTW your prompt billing, shipping, sizing, description and follow-up have been excellent).

May the music continue . . . and just for fun, see the score below . . . and yes, I did play this, back in the day.

2 thoughts on “Gotta put on my, ped’ling shoes

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  1. On behalf of those of us who thoroughly enjoy your music and the way you play, thank you!! Thanks for the insight into the feet of the organist. I too in my youth learned to play the pipe organ at St. Philip’s in Vancouver. My teacher was Susan Driver. Needless to say it has been quite awhile since my feet went peddling…..

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    1. Small world. I heard Susan give a recital at St. John’s, Quadra Street in Victoria in 1976. She and my teacher, Ed Norman (also organist at St. Philips prior to Susan) were students of Hugh Mclean who I later studied with at Western. He was the only Canadian to be organ scholar at Kings and he told me the story of the Bach as a test piece. I also studied with Richard Popplewell at the RCM in London, another Kings scholar and close friend of David Wilcocks. Wilcocks, Popplewell and my piano teacher in Victoria, Charles Palmer were all students of Douglas Fox at Clifton College, Bristol. Fox lost an arm in WW I but continue to teach for decades producing some of England’s finest musical talent. When Fox lost the arm, his mentor, Sir Hugh Allen at Oxford played evensong for a week with one arm tied behind his back. He later sent a not to Fox essentially saying “you can do it; carry on.” In the old days . . . it’s who you know it seems.

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