-By Kari Miller
When did you last check your “default settings?” A default setting is a preselected option adopted by a computer program when no alternative is specified. Lately I’ve been thinking that we ourselves, not just our computers, operate on default settings for all sorts of things.
I know that I have a default breakfast menu, several default Sunday morning church outfits, default driving routes, exercise routines and much more. Defaults certainly come into play in our musical lives, where good default settings can be life-savers, something to rely on when we are nervous or distracted, or when we feel underprepared or intimidated in a particular situation. They faithfully center us and carry us through difficult moments, black moods and strange circumstances.
Bad defaults are another story; they bring only frustration as we are led into the same troubles, dead-ends and mediocre outcomes again and again. Some common bad defaults might be: choosing difficult postludes (or preludes) without having the time to properly practice them, waiting until Sunday morning to look over the hymns, using the same few registrations for everything to save time and effort, and of course any technical shortcomings that hamper us on a regular basis. Bad settings, once acknowledged, can be supplanted by something better or more useful. But even our “good” settings should be examined periodically to be sure they still serve their purpose and offer the most pleasing options. No one drives a car indefinitely without a tune-up, oil change or tire rotation; likewise we should be willing and ready to adjust, fine-tune and rearrange.
Even our finest defaults are not meant to comprise the whole range and repertoire of what we hope to achieve in our music-making on this most colorful of instruments. But we need the stability, security and peace of mind that comes with having some basic things established and decided. We also need to remain aware of what we do, to never stop listening to what we do, and every now and then, to stop and ask ourselves “why?” If the answer is, “I’ve always done it that way,” “I never thought about it” or “I haven’t the faintest idea,” perhaps some reevaluation is in order. Even if the answer is “I think it sounds good that way,” “it’s the easiest” or “that’s the way X plays it on my favorite recording” it might still be worth exploring other options. Whether the issue involves organ registrations, hymn playing, articulation or rehearsal techniques, it can be tremendous fun to test the validity of one’s defaults by deliberately trying something different as a point of comparison. (It can wake up a sleepy congregation, too!) There is certainly nothing to lose. Don’t like it? Simply “restore defaults.”