Welcome to The LDS Organist Blog

The purpose of this blog is to help pianists learn to become true organists. Many individuals believe that if you play the piano you can play the organ, but the instruments differ greatly. While this blog is specifically geared towards members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, much of the information shared can be utilized by all. I hope that the information I share here will help you become an effective organist in your ward, stake, or other congregation.

Feel free to browse and search this blog. It was started in January 2010 and new posts will be added regularly. If you're a new reader, you can find the first lesson here: Before We Begin: Acquiring the Essentials.

Thanks for visiting!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Before We Begin: Acquiring the Essentials

Welcome to The LDS Organist blog! I hope these lessons are helpful to you. Before beginning serious study of the organ, it is important to have these correct tools. (If you're a pianist who simply wants to learn how to "cheat" better, you'll only need #3.)

Essential #1: Proper Organ Shoes
Purchase shoes that will work for the organ. I use OrganMaster shoes.

My Organmaster Shoes

As you can see, these are the criterion for organ shoes:
  • A heel of 3/4" to 1 1/4" in height, wide enough to not easily fit in the space between the natural keys, and surfaced so that it slides easily forward and back on the foot pedals without leaving marks. Leather is best.
Wide heel
  • A sole made of thin leather--the softer the better--that does not to protrude beyond the sides of the foot. As with the heel, the sole should also slide easily up and down the keys, and from black pedals to white.
  • The heel and sole should not be connected with a bridge. The instep should allow you to straddle one natural to another.
Lack of bridge
  • The uppers should be flexible and lightweight. They should not stick to each other, but slide without sticking.
  • The shoes should fit well, with laces or a strap that holds the shoe snugly to the foot.
I use OrganMaster shoes:
http://www.organmastershoes.com/

Tic-Tac-Toes also sells organ shoes:
http://www-tictactoes-com.netsolads.com/dance/organist_choose.htm

Alternately, you can use dance shoes, as long as they aren't too stiff. Other shoes that meet the above criteria can also be used. It is possible to alter a pair of shoes to make them suitable for organ use.

Essential #2: Hymns from the L.D.S. Hymnal Marked for the Organ by Carol Dean

Hymns from the L.D.S. Hymnal Marked for the Organ by Carol Dean

This book isn't totally essential, but I firmly believe it is worth its weight in gold. To order this book, contact Carol Dean at carolorg1111 @ gmail . com (remove the spaces). If you absolutely cannot purchase this book, that's okay--I'll teach you how to mark up your own book. It's just a lot easier and much less time consuming to use Carol's markings. My copy is very well-loved, as you can see.

Essential #3: A stop list from the organ you will be playing

A stop list? What are stops? Stops are the tabs, rocker tabs, or drawknobs on the organ that have numbers and names on or above them. They are divided into sections and located either above the keys:

Location of organ stops above keys

To the left and right sides:

Location of organ stops on either side of manuals

Or both:

Location of organ stops above and to the right of keys

If possible, identify the organ brand and model that you will be using. If your organ is located in the chapel of an LDS church, the manual may be available online at this location, complete with stop list: http://www.lds.org/cm/display/0,17631,8549-1,00.html

If not, or if you choose to create your own, you can use this example to guide you:

Great
Principal 8
Gedackt 8
Viola Celeste II 8
Octave 4
Koppel Flote 4
Super Octave 2
Blockflote 2
Mixture IV
Tremulant
Swell to Great
Midi to Great

Swell
Bourdon 16
Gedackt 8
Viola 8
Viola Celeste 8
Spitz Prinzipal 4
Koppel Flote 4
Nasat 2 2/3
Block flote 2
Mixture III
Basson 16
Trompette 8
Clairon 4
Tremulant
Midi to Swell

Pedal
Bourdon 16
Lieblich Gedackt 16
Octave 8
Gedackt 8
Choral Bass 4
Mixture II
Basson 16
Trompette 8
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal
Midi to Pedal

General
Melody Coupler
Bass Coupler
Alternate Tuning
Tremulants Full
Console Speakers OFF
External Speakers OFF

In conclusion
Once you have placed an order for organ shoes and Carol Dean's book, place your stop list in a safe place and continue on to Lesson 1: Understanding the Parts of the Organ.

46 comments:

  1. My mom used to always play barefoot, LOL!

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  2. I totally disagree! My cousin, Mary, my ex-wife and new girl friend all play in their stocking feet. They say they have more feel and control of the pedals, and feel more "as one" and connected to the organ. If you are a new organ student, you will learn to play the pedals much faster. In fact my girl friend prefers to play barefoot. She wipes a good dose of baby powder on the bottom of her feet. This allows her to slide from pedal to pedal. She is an excellent organist and often plays 2 pedal notes at the same time (each foot on its own pedal) She teaches 6 high school girls and they all play barefoot or in their stockings.

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    Replies
    1. If an organist wishes to play easy repertoire such as mostly quarter and half notes, at slower moving tempi, sure, go barefoot. If an organist wishes to excel at moderate to difficult repertoire such as Sowerby's "Pageant" or Reger's Op. 73, it is impossible to play those fast tempi and difficult passages with ease and facilty and great control AND without bruising the feet. Get the shoes.
      Faythe Freese, D.Mus.
      Professor of Organ
      The University of Alabama

      Delete
  3. While it is true that some organists choose to play without organ shoes, the vast majority of professional organists use an organ shoe, and all organ classes at the college/university level that I am aware of require the use of organ shoes.

    The heel on the shoe facilitates playing notes with the heel and straddling natural keys. The heel also guards against the organist developing a "march fracture," which is also known as fatigue fracture or stress fracture of metatarsal bone.

    Having played the organ both with and without organ shoes, I greatly prefer playing with shoes and have no plans to go back.

    Readers of my blog are, as always, free to follow my recommendations or not--the choice is yours.

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  4. When I learned to play the organ I couldn't afford organ shoes, so played in stocking feet. While it is true that you can "feel" the pedals and where you are better in stocking (or bare) feet, my teacher did point out that playing with your heel is more difficult as you have to move your leg downward in order to get good contact with the pedal.
    A few years after I first learned to play, I could finally afford to buy my first pair of organ shoes. If they have a soft, flexible sole, along with a heel you can still "feel" the pedals and have the advantage of not having to dislocate your hip in order to play the pedals.
    I found my pedaling improved remarkably with the shoes after I got used to the feel of the sole. This especially helps when playing more difficult pieces. While in stocking feet, I tended to play only with my toes and hated the "heel-toe" combinations.
    So, while somewhat expensive, I've found my organ shoes to be worth their weight in gold. And if you don't wear them as street shoes (which should be never), they last an amazingly long time. I'm only on my second pair in 20 years!

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  5. Thank you for starting this site. I have been a ward organist for the past year now. I am a musician that mostly plays by ear but I can read pian music well enough, so they called me to be an organist. I alternate weeks with other musicians so it has lessened the load and practice time. Now that I feel a little more confident (blessed really) I am ready to learn more so I can really magnify my calling and bring the spirit to our meetings. I have a feeling your site will make all the difference in my ability to serve, as I feel this calling as a church musician will be life-long.

    Sincerely,

    Bonnie Goble Egbert

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  6. Hi LSD,
    I have being on and off for a few years, I had a Viscount Grand Opera at home 12 years ago but had to sell it. I have a CLP 380 Clavinova at the moment with some nice church sounds onboard but nothing compares to a true classical organ. I've also had a Johannus Opus ? 15 years ago and it had some wonderful sounds.

    I'm going to come to this great blog often as I progress with the piano, but hopefully I'll be able to learn to play organ music on the piano, but with one manual I guess I'm a bit limited and of course no pedalboard.

    I can't thank you enough for starting this blog as I love the classical organ but only purchased the piano cos of space.

    Keep posting and I love to hear the music and close ups of you playing at the keyboard.

    Stuart

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  7. Hi,
    I sent an email to the email suggested for Carol Deans book and it bounced back. Can you tell me where I can purchase Carols book that you said we should buy?

    Stuart

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  8. Make sure you sent it to: carolorg @ msn . com

    Just remove the spaces so that it looks like a regular email address. I've emailed her recently, so yours should go through. Let me know if it still doesn't work!

    Now is a great time to focus on your manual technique. If you get a chance, find an organ where you can periodically practice the pedal board.

    Thank you for your comments!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The new email address is carolorg1111 at gmail dot com

      Delete
  9. Hi
    I discovered a typo I made, it went through fine.
    Thanks for your help. Your blog is really packed with information. The packet is great, and I downloaded the free mp3's, which has given me answers to my questions I had many years ago before the birth of the internet. Thanks for all your help.

    Stuart

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  10. I wish I had paid attention to your suggestion to get the organ shoes before starting to play. Trying to save a few bucks, I got ballet slippers and used them til I was sure the organ was for me. Once my lessons starting to include heel pedaling, the ballet slippers had to go. Alas, once my nice (and not THAT expensive) OrganMaster shoes came, I had to relearn my pedal technique. It took about a whole frustrating month to get back to where I was. So again, go ahead and splurge on the OrganMaster or TicTacToe shoes because they will contribute to your success as an organist.

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  11. As a teenager in Illinois, I played the organ with stocking feet because I didn't know any better. In my 20's I attended several BYU Church Music Workshop organ classes where I learned about pedal technique and Organmaster shoes. What a difference they have made. I love my shoes. I've been using mine now for over 30 years and they are still in great shape. I also have a pair of white Organmaster shoes that I use while playing the organ in the temple. Thanks for your website:)

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  12. I am so excited to have stumbled on your blog!
    I am also a pianist turned organist and I also have a blog http://sixtybysixty.tumblr.com/
    My project is Sixty by Sixty a Musical Journey. I'm trying to play sixty pipe organs before I turn sixty. I'm trying to learn as much as I can about pipe organ playing as I make this journey. Your blog will be a wonderful resource for me. Thank you.

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  13. I am taking organ lessons through my ward for the third time. I came up with and idea for "Organ Socks". The idea is to combine the feel of the "sock" with a home made heel. Also to provide an affordable means of playing the pedals.

    I used crafters, plasic canvas to cut out the shape of the heel and make sides, top, and bottom for the "heel box" which I then stuffed with layers of cut to fit old towels. Using a yarn needle I whip stitched the box together.
    Next, I custom crocheted a cover for the heel box out of regular yarn.

    Finally, I knitted a custom "Sock" or slipper and , using the yarn needle and yarn, whip stitched the heel to the sock.

    I can't wait to try them out tomorrow to see how they work!

    If it works, these heels can be custom fit to any slipper.

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  14. The Organ socks worked! I showed them to one of my teachers and she was excited!

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  15. I have just been called as an assistant ward organist. I have not played an organ for over 20 years and am relearning everything that I had learned years ago. I never had organ shoes before but did invest in them and am delighted, when I start using the pedals again I am sure that they will make a great difference. I am so glad this site was here as there is no one that teaches organ (full size) here.

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  16. I'd love to see a picture of your organ socks. That's a very interesting idea.

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  17. I first learned in my bare feet.. and honestly, the pedals hurt my feet between the big toe pad and the little toe pad. I'm amazed by how much easier pedals are with pedals to this day. I think about it at least weekly. I LOVE my organ shoes, and they are really not that expensive. Secondly, I have been thinking about getting new organ shoes (I've had my current ones since I was 16.. unfortunately, my feet got bigger especially after the birth of my first child). Has anyone heard anything about the tic-tac-toe shoes.. specifically, the allegro. I love my organmasters, but I like the allegro style better.

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  18. ***How much easier pedals are with shoes***

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  19. I would love to send pictures of my organ socks and the organ slippers I made. Both work. Tell me how I can do it.

    I am also working on perfecting my idea for an organ practice pedal board for those who cannot get access to a full sized organ. It makes no sound, but I am working on a scaled, flat model of the Ago pedal board for possitioning and reference points. A step up from the "immaginary pedals" at your piano. I have pictures of those too.

    A work in progress
    "Thinking outside the box"
    (Anonymous 2)

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  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  21. An organ practice pedal board would be great. I don't have a piano or keyboard either so I practice by "playing" on my kitchen table. The bishop doesn't want me in the building alone, so the only real practice I get is 45 minutes before church. Progress is slow, but coming.

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    1. My name is Sandra Thomas. You can find my original Organ sock and Practice pedal board ideas on my Face Book page.
      I have since worked on them a great deal and perfected them.
      1.Pedal board: materials: 52" x 33" flexible mat that you can use hot glue to glue Clothes pins and high density carpet foam to.; clothes pins and pop sickle sticks for the sharps; high density carpet foam or dowel rods for the neutrals; lots of Black and white duct tape. The AGo pedal board has 32 notes divided into sharps and neutrals. The keys are 3/4" wide. The "spaces" are 2" with he keys at the top being 1 3/4" apart and 1" apart at the bottom. Start in the center with middle D and work towards each side with a marker. The colored duct tape strips in half lengthwise to match the width of the neutrals and sharps. The clothes pins serve as springs for the sharps. The foam or dowel rods help you feel the neutrals with your feet.
      I use an 4 octave electronic keyboard that you could put on your kitchen table. Align the keyboard and the pedal board with middle D. You can prop the sharp end up using a pool noodle to better match the actual angle of the organ plus you can use the on the sides to get the concave effect.
      2. the organ slippers are easiest if you crochet the whole slipper to fit your foot and then make a heel with and opening in the inside of the foot to put the heel forms into. I have made them for a few people and they work the best.
      For more information or questions on my ideas you can contact me via my e-mail: SandraDeeSilva@yahoo.com or see my original ideas on my facebook page: Sandra Thomas.

      Delete
    2. Silent Pedal Board dimensions correction:

      The neutrals are 7/8" wide x 27.5" long. the spacing at the top is 1 3/4" instead of 2". The bottom spacing is 1" from the center of each neutral to the center of the next neutral. Sharps are 7/8" wide x 5" long.

      Half round for neutrals and a top wooden clothes pins works best. Simplest mad is 3mfoarmboard duct taped together.

      Line up Middle D on the pedal board with Middle D on the Keyboard. Add pool noodles on the sides to get the concave curve.

      Pictures and details are available on Face book under "Organ Slippers"

      Or I can send them to you via e-mail: SandraDeeSilva@yahoo.com

      Delete
  22. I am a Catholic organist at a Catholic school, where we have Masses three days a week. I began playing for Mass at the piano as my understanding was that our organ didn't work too well. I spent a couple of free/prep periods in the church to get some practice and found that the organ worked just fine. I have found this site to be useful for me, since I too am making the transition from piano (which isn't my first instrument to begin with: clarinet) to the organ.

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  23. I'm so glad it works for you, Ian. Let me know if I can help with any specific questions.

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  24. Please note Carol Dean's new email address. Her old one was hacked. :(

    carolorg1111 at gmail dot com

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  25. FYI:
    1. LDS.org online store has an inexpensive electronic keyboard for 92 dollars. Go to the on line store and type "Keyboard" into the search box and it will take you right to it.

    2. The crochetted organ slippers with heels combined with the practice pedalboard and the electronic keyboard work the best if you have small children and/or very little money, time and space.

    3. Don Cook of BYU said a letter was sent to all the Stakes in the L.D.S. church to give the called organists and students keys to the building or at least access to the chapel organs so they could learn the instrument and prepare for meetings. (He helped me perfect the dimentions on the pedalboard). My bishop did not respond when I asked him about it, however. I assume this is not uncommon. Eash area has it's own unique circumstances which is why I worked on the above ideas in an effort to help others.

    4. Other options are to practice the organ during Mutual or other times when the church is open for other activities.

    5. Find someone who has an instrument and who is willing to let you practice on it is another option. (You can take the pedalboard with you as it is quite portable)

    I hope these ideas help. =)
    Sandra

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    Replies
    1. It was brought to my attention that there are in the neighborhood of 100 "Sandra Thomas" profiles on face book. For this reason, I have created a new profile "Organ Slippers" on face book. Try searching that. It contains pictures of my Organ Slippers.

      That page is public and only has my Inventions on it. I also have a how-to pdf if you are interested in that. Just send an e-mail to SandraDeeSilva@yahoo.com and I will send you a copy at no charge.

      Shoes are best if you have the money. However, if you don't or have tried the shoes and do not like them. The Organ Slipper are an alternative. They are a blend of both socks and shoes.

      Sandra

      Delete
  26. There are lots of times when I can get into the church to practice--during den meetings, achievement days, ball practices, when it's being cleaned, bishop interview times. If not then, anybody with a key is willing to loan it for the hour.

    I just got my first pair of organ shoes last month after 40 years of playing organ in street shoes. What a difference! I'm making great progress with improving my pedal technique now.

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    Replies
    1. I agree. This is true. I do try to get into the Church when it is open, however that is less than 3 times per week. Don Cook of the BYU organ studies department recommends practicing on an organ at LEAST 3 times per week.

      In our area keys are not shared as a policy because too many have been unaccountably lost. Mothers with small children or busy students cannot always make time to get to the church. I quit as teenager because I was too shy to ask for the keys to the church and the organ.

      The children are the ones that need to be encouraged to learn. All the old ladies are dying and the organs are beginning to collect dust.

      The LDS Church has an on line keyboarding course for beginning pianists and organists. The Organ section begins on page 135. In that section it is suggested that you practice at the piano when away from the Church and use an "Imaginary Pedal board" for your feet. The problem with this is that you have to memorize where to put your feet blind folded. All organ pedal boards are not equal as was pointed out to me by Don Cook of BYU Organ studies. You have to imagine not just ANY pedal board but an AGO pedal board. My imagination is not that accurate. :(

      That is why I have been working over the last year on an inexpensive, more practical alternative for the few who cannot make it to the church.

      I now have one that works (the one with duct tape). However, I just came up with a better idea. It involves using pine half round and a rubber mat. It will soon be available on my Organ Slippers face book page.

      Nothing can truly replace the real organ, but, like they announced in my last regional organ class, "Due to the fact that the organ is not portable, those who will be taking the Organ class, please remain in the chapel."

      My ideas are portable.

      Just trying to help keep the organs from collecting dust. :)

      Sandra

      Delete
    2. When I was called as a Ward Organist (one of 3 in our Ward) I was provided with a key. I am able to practice anytime there isn't anything else major going on, from 4am to 11pm. Don't know what I would do without a key. I TRY to practice every day, even on Sunday evenings, of course I don't always :)

      Delete
  27. I have perfected my ideas for the Silent pedal board. The best one uses half round for the keys. E-mail me at SandraDeeSilva@yahoo.com for complete instructions or see my ORGAN SLIPPERS site on faceBook. I am also willing to part with the prototypes.

    Sandra Thomas

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  28. I must agree that the children need to learn. My Bishop was our organist until he was called to the High Counsel. We combined wards shortly after and our organist has no backup. My daughter and I started piano lessons 3 years ago so that we could help out. I stopped due to arthritic pain and cost, but my 11 year old has been plaing 20 hymns on Sundays and starts organ lessons next week.

    I'd hate to buy new organ shoes for her knowing that they will soon be outgrown. Is there anyone out there who wants to sell us a used pair? She's a 7 or 7.5 now. If you have this size or bigger that we can buy, please contact us at (take out the spaces) genealogy janet @ century link . net

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    Replies
    1. The Organ slippers how to that is listed under "older Posts on the front page of this blog are a hybrid organ shoe. The LDS Organist explains why she feels they should be used. I am currently using them myself and have made them for other that have found problems using plain socks and hard organ shoes. A PDF file is available upon request "SandraDeeSilva@yahoo.com" or in the event that you do not know how to crochet, I will make them for anyone who asks for a small fee. Contact me for details.

      Sandra Thomas

      Delete
  29. I've been a prof. organist/keyboardist for 45 years. I do quite a bit of theatre pipe organ work, as well as a regular Sunday church position. I've always used leather sole dress shoes. I thought about getting a pair of organist shoes, however, there are no color choices...I was looking for something in white. If anyone is aware of a source for white organist shoes, email me at keyboard.king@yahoo.com

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    Replies
    1. I have looked and can't find any men's white organ shoes! Have you tried dance shoes? They're not ideal, but in the absence of true organ shoes, that would be your second best bet.

      Delete
  30. I have a question. We have a young man (17) who is learning to play the ward organ and doing quite well. However, I do not understand why he insists on using a self-made apparatus under the two sides of the organ bench to lift it up. His height is about 5'10'. These two "lifts" he is using consist of two 2 x 4 's nailed together ( abt 2 feet in length) with an area carved out in the middle for the bench legs to fit in. Should he not be learning to play sitting on the bench as it is without lifting it up?
    I am the stake organist attempting to understand this reasoning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is actually very common if the organ doesn't have an adjustable bench, or if the bench doesn't adjust high enough. It's very important for an organist to have the bench at the proper height.

      In this post I covered proper bench height:
      http://organlessons.blogspot.com/2010/02/lesson-6-breaking-in-those-shoes.html
      "If the bench is at the proper height, your feet should lightly rest on the pedals. By moving your ankle, you can play with your toes (on the ball of your foot) or with your heel. You should not have to physically hold your legs up to prevent playing, nor should you have to lean forward or sit forward on the bench in order to play the pedals."

      I hope this helps!

      Delete
    2. So - what do you do when the non adjustable bench is WAY to high? I can only play with my toes and practically fall off then.

      Delete
    3. That's a tough one. The answer is to have the bench shortened (sawed off), with blocks provided for organists who need it higher. Either that or lobby for an adjustable bench, but they can be pretty pricey.

      Hopefully you have a supportive Priesthood leader!

      Delete
    4. boigman56@gmail.comFebruary 18, 2013 at 8:02 PM

      One thing I have found that helps expand my practice opportunities is to use headphones at the organ. Then I can be confident that I am not disturbing anyone else. Once, when I really felt I needed some practice time before Sacrament meeting, I slipped over to the organ while another ward was using the chapel to practice for their Primary Children's program. It probably looked a little funny, but we didn't get in each other's way.

      Delete
  31. Thank you so much for this blog!!! I took a semester organ class at BYU in 2002, as well, but did not make the time to practice. I have played prelude in my wards the past few years, but that is about all the practice I get. My sight-reading is only so-so (although it has improved greatly since being called as the RS pianist). I tend to panic when accompanying, though, and stumble all over the keyboard/manuals. With a little help from this blog and my materials from the class I took, I should be able to really improve!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing! Let me know if you need anything else.

      Delete
  32. SandraDeeSilva@yahoo.comMarch 6, 2013 at 3:36 PM

    RE: too short to touch the pedals with your heels.
    The Crocheted Organ Slippers ( see instructions on this blog spot under Sandra Thomas guest or email SandraDeeSilva@yahoo.com) can be made to compensate for your height. Just make the heels higher. I did one of my first pairs for someone I noticed doing just that: playing with her toes because she was too short. My guess is she was either just under 5' or equal to. Anyway, she just loved them. Contact me either via e-mail or see "Organ Slippers " on face book. If you can't crochet, I will make them in any color you want for $10 plus postage.

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