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How do you sit on the bench?

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MeOulSegosha

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How do you sit on the bench?

PostWed Jan 11, 2023 4:31 am

I appreciate that this seems like a ridiculous question for somebody to ask after 30 years of playing the organ, but setting up a Hauptwerk system at home has me thinking a lot about bench height, distance from manuals, and how I actually sit on the bench itself.

I have always sat very forward on the bench, as it gives the legs the most freedom to move (I'm 5'9" but I have pretty short legs). In his book "Organ Technique", Jacques van Oortmerssen says:

To achieve maximum freedom, it is important that the area of contact between the body and bench is as small as possible. The area where the legs join the buttocks must be situated on the edge of the bench. One must not sit on the bench but, in a manner of speaking, against it. The point of balance is, therefore, the buttocks.


Of course this is only one point of view, but he backs it up with measurements from historical instruments, etc. I don't sit quite that far forward (there's definitely some leg still on the bench) but it's not far off.

When I look at videos on YouTube, most organists seem to sit very solidly on the bench, just as you would for comfort, but pedalling looks relaxed and movement is minimised, somehow. If I try to do that I just can't reach the higher pedal notes with my left foot or the lower notes with my right foot, no matter how much I swivel. It also seems to require a *lot* of movement for me to even attempt this, and when the going gets tough I'm the exact opposite of relaxed. I can get away with that position in hymns or the like, but anything with a bit more virtuosity (even Bach P&Fs) has me moving forward again.

This all has knock-on effects on bench height and distance from manuals, and to be honest I haven't yet settled on a final answer. Obviously "wherever you feel comfortable" is the correct answer, but for whatever reason I'm struggling to find that sweet spot on my home organ. I feel either uncomfortable or unstable a lot of the time, and I haven't quite figured out why yet.

So how do you sit on the bench?
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JulianMoney-Kyrle

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Re: How do you sit on the bench?

PostWed Jan 11, 2023 4:57 am

I have also had difficulty getting comfortable on the organ bench, though I have two collapsed vertebrae as a result of cancer which doesn't help. I came to realise that my pedal technique was atrocious and a few months ago I bought Anne Marsden Thomas's book "Pedalling for Organists" in the hope that it might help. It starts right at the beginning with how you should sit and goes on to cover the whole range of pedalling techniques with exercises for all of them. I found the exercises difficult and uncomfortable at first, as always happens when you are using unfamiliar muscles, but they have made a lot of difference, particularly in terms of accuracy and feeling more confident at the extremes of the pedal board.
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larason2

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Re: How do you sit on the bench?

PostWed Jan 11, 2023 10:02 am

There are a lot of different opinions on how to sit on the bench, and teaching on the matter has changed over time. If you have to play on a historic bench, then you need to be able to use it however it is found! My teacher taught me that you should be able to sit comfortably on the bench, and that when your legs are relaxed, they sit right over, but not pushing down the pedals. If this can't happen on your bench, then you either have to raise it up or lower it. It sounds like you have to lower your bench. If it's not adjustable, maybe take it to a woodworker. If you have to play on benches that are too tall for you, then what you're accustomed to isn't wrong.
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MeOulSegosha

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Re: How do you sit on the bench?

PostThu Jan 12, 2023 5:13 am

Thank you both for your thoughts. Julian, I am sorry to hear about the collapsed vertebrae, I can only imagine the challenge that poses. I will have a look at the book you have suggested. Larason2, I think part of the problem is that I'm not used to everything being to AGO spec! I am based in Europe, and have dealt with all kinds of different consoles, but rarely AGO. I think you are right about the bench height, and I may have been setting it too high for a long time. I will continue to experiment. It's one of my new year's resolutions to take advantage of FINALLY having a home instrument to work through some of these technical things that I've been ignoring for years.

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