Keeping it live

Oliver Condy explains why he puts himself through the pain of early-morning practice


Every morning my alarm goes off at an acceptable quarter past seven. At around 7.45am, having poured myself a strong cup of builder’s tea, I sit down to practise the organ for an hour. It’s part of my daily musical work-out (besides being completely necessary given that I’ve got three different recitals to prepare for this year). And each time I lace up my organ shoes, I give a thought to the thousands of people up and down the land, also cramming in their music practice before work or school.

It’s the only time when our brains will put up with bar-by-bar repetitions, let alone Bachian counterpoint or Haydnesque scale-work. It’s also the only free time in the day which ends with a deadline – the daily commute – and so you know you have exactly one hour in which to practise. And you make the most of it.

But why do we all do it? Why do us non-professionals put ourselves through so much hard graft (with some brave individuals even entering major amateur competitions)? For one, the sense of achievement at having nailed a Buxtehude Toccata and Fugue is immense. And when I can play Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G major (BWV 541 for those who care) without too many mistakes, I shall have a week-long grin on my face. And I’ll tell all my organist friends about it. Lucky them.

But mostly, I get so much more out of music by playing or singing it than I do by simply listening to it. I remember buying the Mozart symphonies arranged for piano duet and bashing through them for the first time with my father. We got to the end of the ravishing slow movement of No. 40 and had to take a breather – the intricacies of Mozart’s counterpoint and melodic development had been laid bare for us, much like the dismantled movement of a clock, and it was awe-inspiring. We were able to see exactly what made that particular piece tick, as it were – something I’d been unable to hear clearly before despite knowing the work well since childhood.

We’ve ruined Beethoven symphonies before in piano duet form, but I somehow understand more about those works through those terrible performances than I have done listening to the Vienna Philharmonic playing them somewhat more gloriously.

Oliver Condy is editor of BBC Music Magazine

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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