Organ pipesImage by Glamhag via Flickr

You probably know that Olivier Messiaen incorporated bird song into his music. Well, today I practiced one of his preludes that has bells throughout!

The piece, “Cloches d’angoisse et larmes d’adieu (Bells of Anguish and Tears of Farewell)” is the 6th of 8 Preludes composed in 1928-29, when Messiaen was about 20 years old & still a student.

Although I felt rushed today, I practiced slowly. That worked well ~ calmed me down, helped me concentrate, & resulted in making significant progress.

Slow practice ended up in my happening into the perfect tempo for this piece! I have been struggling w/this tempo for some time. Although I thought about a week ago that I had the tempo, today’s begins a full 14 beats on the metronome slower!

A recording of this piece that I heard on the radio felt way too fast. I experienced it as sounding superficial. And now I know why!

One section of the piece, which is repeated, has bells going in 3 different note values: mf 8th notes, pp 16ths, & ppp 32nds. All of this must be heard.

Messiaen was a devout Catholic and an organist who thought on a grandiose scale. I don’t think, when he wrote bell sounds, that he was imagining wind chimes tinkling on the porch! More like the 32-foot stop on the organ. It rattles.

When I lived in New York, I became a member of Riverside Church. On New Year’s Eve @ midnight, as well as other times, there is a tradition of bell ringing. The ceiling between the sanctuary & the bell tower slowly creaks open so the congregation can fully experience the sound.

Huge bells such as these don’t do anything fast. It takes time for them to sound, & a very long time for them to stop sounding. Anything that sounds fast would be due to several bells ringing one after the other.

For a look @ Riverside’s 10-ton bourdon bell, click here!

If by some chance you have never heard bells like this, GO! It’s an incredible sound & a wonderful experience.

So this is where my tempo for this prelude comes from. This is a majestic piece, suitable for a very large, diginified event, & I intend to play it that way!

I’m glad I practiced slowly today. This is new for me, practicing slowly on a daily basis. Had I given in, practicing fast because of feeling rushed for time, my tempo discovery would not have happened.

Today I practiced 1 Liszt, 1 Stravinsky, 2 Charles Turner, & 2 Messiaen. Total time: 2 hrs.

Happy practicing!

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