Bach By Immersion 2018

James Pressler, Organist & Creator 

Imagine an organist seated at a computer, an organist who is no longer able to play as a result of an disability of one arm due to a stroke, but an organist who still retains all the knowledge of the lifetime study of Bach. An organist with time and the desire to put everything he knows about playing Bach to work to fill his time.

His creation, Bach By Immersion, now stands as the entire organ works of Bach in MIDI format.

Performance files include articulations, phrasings and style.

Practice files are ready for hands and feet alone practice.



VOX HUMANA: Bach by Immersion

JAMES PRESSLER has a story to tell, and a stirring one at that. With it, what would have been an otherwise not-too-noticeable item received for review assumes real importance. Granted, an op-ed column ought not to replace the reviews elsewhere in this journal, but the process in this project begs for a word or two and, in the end, outflanks the results.

Pressler, a Californian since 1952, says he played recitals for 37 years from 1957 to 1994. A stroke finished his live performing. But since he had acquired technological skills, Pressler tied his physical recovery to his skill in MIDI. Think about it. How many of us with MIDI-equipped consoles actually use the technology to positive benefit? Here's one positive tale.

Pressler, you see, had to learn to do everything in life with his left hand unassisted. With time, he discovered that encoding MIDI music would enable him to "play" again on appropriately equipped consoles. He also located sound fonts replicating the organ (pretty well) on computers, and synthesized desktop "performances." Evidence ofthis technological productivity abounds on his several Web sites (he also develops sites for others). But Pressler's real breakthrough resulted from collaboration with Noel Jones in Knoxville. Jones wanted a MIDI encoding of the whole of Bach's organ music for his Rodgers Organs dedicated Web site. Pressler replied by extending his work into a pedagogical project 
and making available his Bach MIDI files with left, right hand, and pedal alone, and in various combinations (remember practicing the Trio Sonatas with one hand on a silent manual?). Jones distributed these files through frog music press ( a site about "music, MIDI, support, innovation, and talk, mostly for and about Rodgers Organs"). Users have the option of playing Pressler's sequences on a computer, MIDI device, or MIDI-equipped organ. Students may practice with these files (by playing the missing voice or voices with them at whatever tempo). So Pressler's "learning project" led to a "performance" in which finished performances of the complete Bach works were assembled, all from an organist limited to the use of one hand.

Pressler and Jones put the resulting music on a CD entitled Bach by Immersjon, (Frog Music Press, 3706 Terrace View Dr., Knoxville TN 37918, or the Web address above). Jones custom-designed and voiced a Rodgers for these "MIDI preparations."

Generally, a recording of the Bach jntegrale on an electronic organ would not reap great attention here. Nor, probably, would a disc full of MIDI files. If it is Bach one wants, one can select from dozens of sterling, conversant performances on appropriate instruments ranging from indigenous to authentic replicas to just plain wonderful to refreshingly off-center. These qualify as unashamedly good performances, but not more. Artistic integrity also counts. Are MIDI encodings performance? The very desktop computer that produces this commentary holds the software to scan a printed score of Bach, bring it up as notation, and save it to MIDI, thus enabling, in the end, a "performance" of the piece on a MIDI-equipped organ, all without a single human finger depressing a key. Is that honest performance? Have we altered aesthetic truth?

James Pressler's "preparations" seem honest enough. They qualify as inventive, fresh, and musical, not the germ-free metronomic stuff of MIDI sequencing, but more the spontaneous expression of a live player. True, it is still a digital organ we hear on the CD, and one may choose not to accept this solution either ideologically or musically, but Rodgers technology enabled the project and deserves to be there at the end. Still, all this would be unremarkable were it not for the two big overarching factors.

First, James Pressler, after suffering a limiting disability, returned to performance as a "virtual organist." Art is not the act of a victim, it is the expression of an artist. Whatever it takes to make art, it takes. Second, Pressler looked at technology in thoughtful and musical ways. In doing so, he uncovered a valuable teaching tool. The Bach works in MIDI enable those just learning this axial repertoire just as they enable Pressler to "perform" again. It looks as if James Pressler not only returned to the stage, but to teaching.


©2004 The American Guild of Organists
Reprinted by permission of The American Organist

James Pressler

Listen to one of the performance files:  BACH C MINOR

List of music in the Volumes

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why should I pay for MIDI files of Bach works from you when I can download MIDI files of Bach Works for free from other sites on the net?

Good question. The Bach By Immersion MIDI files are different from what you will find freely floating on the net. A MIDI file can contain much information beyond just the actual notes.

Organist James Pressler has studied and evolved a system of MIDI control and entry that provides you with a MIDI file that starts with the notes, but adds placing the notes on the correct channels so they play on the correct manuals of the organ, adding musical expression and finally stop registrations for the Rodgers® Organ. This results in the performance files you will receive.

In addition he then creates files that exclude each hand and pedal part in order, following the long-available and respected C.F. Peters Edition for this edition. 

How do I actually use these files?

Playing Notes

Each Volume has a performance disk and one or more practice disks. Complete sets arrive on CD. Instructions on the CD assist you in finding and using the MIDI Files.

Performance Files (Disk 1)

The display unit is limited to 16 characters, of which the first 3 are used for an automatic numbering system. For example,
Volume 4 contains:


How to Use Practice Files

Every piece has six separate files. On your display unit they will be, for example:

For pieces without pedal, only the right hand and left hand will appear.

The speed is full prformance speed, which you can slow down as you're getting started using your MIDI player.

Increasing the speed in subsequent practice sessions is part of the mastery process; some even find it useful to practice a little faster than performance speed.

Original notes about the project:

James Pressler writes: My active career as an performing organist spanned 37 years, from when I gave my first organ recital in 1957 to when my stroke occurred in March of 1994. Along the way, I developed a little MIDI system for helping choir singers learn their parts by reinforcing the individual part and then playing all voices but their part, sort of a “Music Minus One” approach which was similar to the Karaoke system in popular music. But for serious performance, MIDI seemed too complex when all I had to do was sit down and play the music. While I was retraining to use only my left hand to do everything (from learning to type with one hand after being a 110wpm speed typist, on down to tying my shoes) I held the thought that computers could really assist my new life. I felt my three month period away from computers was like Rip Van Winkle’s long sleep--when he woke up some amazing progress would have occurred. I wasn’t far wrong, but it took several years for the real progress in music to occur, mainly through more powerful machines and the Internet.  On November 11, 2000 Noel Jones emailed me an idea for an ambitious project: the entire organ works of J. S. Bach prepared for Rodgers Digital Organs. I didn’t embrace this enthusiastically at the beginning, but before long had learned enough about the way Rodgers controls stops to send Noel a few files. Rather than just prepare performances, we eventually worked out a learning system based on the one I had used to learn trio sonatas: Left hand alone; Right hand alone; Pedal alone; Right hand and Pedal, Left hand and Pedal, Right and Left Hands, and finally, all three together, with and without a metronome. The difference with the system we have created called “Bach By Immersion” is that the other voices now play while you are learning your part, and the metronome has been built into the MIDI file. From the beginning I tried to put a little playfulness in the phrasing, to occasionally begin a trill on the lower note, to try to create an atmosphere of playful variety and creativity rather than one of dogmatic rigidity. Clearly, if organists are to stay interested and to play interestingly, they will have to strongly disagree with others’ ideas on tempos, registrations, and phrasings. You can use this series as you would a teacher’s instruction or the playing of other organists--as a springboard for developing your own unique style.

 James Pressler

A Note About Hand Division

Every attempt has been made to make the practice sessions comfortable for the beginning player. In particular this means:

1. When possible the left hand will take over most of the notes when the right hand is executing a trill.

2. The first two fugue voices will enter in a different hand, even if they are shown on one staff in the score.

3. Simple parts like parallel thirds and sixths will be assigned to one hand when there is a more intricate part to play in the other hand.

4. Intervals greater than an octave will be divided between the hands, even if shown on one staff in the score.

5. Sometimes two contrasting textures will be divided between the hands, even when shown on one staff in the score.

6. Rapid scale passages that are shown on one score with stems up and stems down actually indicate alternation of right and left hands, and they are so treated in the practice files.

With all of the above in mind, it should be obvious that the score needs to be marked up so you know which hand plays what. This will help when you are finally playing alone without these files.

A Note About Interpretation

I have deliberately tried to make the ornaments sound slightly different, to encourage freedom in your own playing. Occasionally, I even break the rule of trills beginning on the upper note when it seems right to me. Sometimes identical passages have been echoed on another manual, sometimes played more staccato. Some phrasings may be different than the way you feel them. That is one of the reasons you are practicing the organ, to bring your personality into your performance.

When slowed down, the phrasings are exaggerated and the ornamentations may sound strange to your ears. Again, this is part of the creative interchange we are having. When you play your part(s), you should not be slavishly imitating what I am playing, but thinking of ways to give the final performance your own flavor.

--James Pressler, June 12, 20