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Organ shoes are special shoes an organist wears to facilitate her playing (or “pedaling”) of an organ pedalboard.
Few shoes are designed specifically for organ playing, the best known in the USA being sold by the Connecticut-based company Organmaster. Organmaster shoes are made by Capezio, though they differ from the dance shoes this company sells. Many other types of footwear, however, also have characteristics that make them suitable for use as organ shoes, depending on the needs and preferences of the individual organist.
The typical features of an organ shoe are:
- A flexible, lightweight leather or synthetic upper held snugly to the foot by a lace, strap, or ribbon. The material should allow the organist’s feet to glide against each other without sticking together.
- A soft, flexible leather sole that allows the organist to slip her foot easily both up and down a pedal and across pedals. The sole should be thin enough for her to feel the pedals easily, and it should not extend beyond the sole of her foot.
- A slight heel of about an inch in height, and wide enough so that it cannot become wedged between two pedals.
There are some additional considerations:
- The organ shoes, whatever their type, should be dedicated to pedaling and worn only at the organ to avoid damaging their soles or picking up grit or grime that could scar or stain the pedals.
- Aesthetic concerns may also be important for organists who perform in public; in these cases, the shoes should work nicely with the rest of the organist’s attire.
Many shoes with some or all of these characteristics may serve well; the choice tends to be rather personal. Women’s fashion is more varied than men’s, and this trend extends to organ shoes. Because pedaling is similar in several respects to dance, shoes made for the latter purpose are often especially suitable for the former. Many girls and women play organ in ballet slippers, which are soft and comfortable. Lightweight and with a brushed leather sole, as well as inexpensive and readily available, ballet slippers are in many ways an ideal organ shoe. They do lack heels, however, which can be a drawback; organists who prefer heels to flats may choose more specialized dance shoes called character shoes (see illustration). Tic-Tac-Toes, a dance shoe manufacturer, also makes lines of organ shoes for both men and women. Some organists, however, simply use a particularly suitable pair of “street shoes” that they set aside strictly for playing: these can range from casual sandals to formal evening shoes. The common denominator in these cases is a light, comfortable, flexible shoe that hugs the foot and has a thin leather sole.
Many shoes, however, are unsuitable for pedaling. These include sneakers and other rubber-soled shoes; flip-flops, clogs, and any other shoe that fails to hug the heel; platform shoes, “chunky shoes” or any other heavy or inflexible footwear that would slow, or decrease the agility of, the organist’s feet.
Some women organists play in high, stiletto, or kitten heels; this makes proper pedaling difficult and is largely a concession to style at the expense of performance.
Some organists also choose to play barefoot or in stocking feet in order to be able to feel the pedals and to be as agile on them as possible. Classical organists, however, tend to look down on playing barefoot because it is not possible to play legato thirds on naturals without a proper heel.
Suppliers of dance shoes that may be suitable for organ playing may be found by performing a web search on brand names such as
Organ shoe makers: