Thank you for #AskVidasAndAusra 58!
I do appreciate your advice, which, I am sure, suggest the best solution and help me to tackle my struggle!
What is most enlightening (and what I have failed to pay attention to so far) is the fact that you cannot play everything on every single instrument and that you need to pick the right music for the right instrument.
Organ playing begins when you select the repertoire for the instrument, not when you sit on the organ bench... I will keep your advice in mind so that I feel more comfortable and confident when I encounter a new instrument.
And thank you for another great advice, "Every tenth instrument" principle, which encourages me to keep trying overcome my struggle.
I will take every opportunity to play on as many instrument as possible in Japan (to begin with) and overseas (if conditions permit)!"
These type of messages go into our special Love Letters folder because it shows that we are helping real people.
So anyway, now let's go to the podcast for the day.
Vidas: We’re starting Episode No. 60 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Minori. He writes that he has a small physique:
“My height is 155 cm; small hands (I reach an octave, but not beyond); I have difficulty in maintaining postural stability while playing organ works with pedal part (perhaps because of poor muscle strength). I am always wondering what kind of exercise would improve my postural stability while playing the organ.”
So Ausra, you are well-equipped to answer this question, because you are a little bit taller, I would say, but not too tall.
Ausra: Well, yes, I’m 162 cm high, so just a little bit higher than Minori is, but still not as high as I wish to be. But actually, at first I can suggest what he could do about strengthening his muscles. So, I just found a year ago the so-called Pilates system of exercise, and actually it helped me a lot, to strengthen the whole body, to strengthen my muscles. And since I started to do Pilates, I have never had any trouble with my back anymore. And I can sit and practice on the organ very easily.
Vidas: Yes, it’s very good for recovery after illnesses, after stress, after injuries, and it’s a low-stress exercise, basically. You can have muscle fatigue after that, but not necessarily--sometimes you even feel refreshed. Like after yoga, but the difference between yoga and Pilates is that you move quicker in Pilates.
Ausra: Yes, and you know, for me, for example, it’s hard to do yoga because I don’t have such a slow character. It’s hard for me to focus while doing yoga; but in Pilates, you just keep moving all the time. But it’s not like a very fast movement as it is in some other kinds of sports; but it’s sort of well-balanced between motion and breathing. So it’s very good. I suggest, really, every organist to try it. Maybe you will not like it, you never know, but I have learned a lot from these exercises.
Vidas: Somehow it’s not very popular with men, right? In Lithuania...
Ausra: Well, it’s actually too bad. I think it would be very good for both genders. It’s very useful.
Vidas: What about breathing? Is Pilates helpful for developing your breathing, and focusing too?
Ausra: Sure, you have to learn how to breathe correctly in order to do those exercises; breathing is very important. So then, it helps you too, because knowing how to breathe well, you can use that while sitting on the organ bench, especially during performances, or before performances. And that short height… I know, it might be a problem when you have to reach for example the fourth manual and reach pedals at the same time, but you can get used to it. Sometimes maybe you have to adjust the height of the bench; sometimes maybe don’t use the upper keyboard; but still, you can do it. I think it might be even easier to adjust while being just, 155 cm high, than to be 2 meters and 20 cm high!
Vidas: Exactly. To reach with your short legs the extreme edges on the pedalboard is easier than being extremely tall, and trying to tense your leg muscles and abdominal muscles all the time when you sit on a lower organ bench.
Ausra: And also, you have to choose your repertoire wisely; because definitely there is some kind of music that I would not suggest Minoru to play. It might be too hard; because he reaches only an octave with his hands, so that means that some pieces by César Franck, or some pieces by Max Reger would be unreachable.
Vidas: Late Romantic…
Ausra: Late Romantic, yes. When you choose new music, maybe just sight-read it and look if the intervals are not too wide in the hands. For example, such pieces as Franck’s “Prière”--which is a beautiful piece--I would never play it myself, because I might hurt my hands, not being able to reach those intervals. And when I looked at pictures of Franck, actually I saw that his hands were just enormous! So that’s why he composed pieces like this.
Vidas: He could reach a tenth, probably.
Ausra: I think easily, if not more.
Vidas: So guys, if you are struggling with adjusting to the organ because of small physique, I think yes, you could strengthen your muscles and tone your muscles with some kind of exercise system. Do you think, Ausra, that martial arts would help Minori?
Ausra: I don’t know how he feels about martial arts. It might help but I think it’s more for focusing your mind, maybe. But I practiced karate for one year, back in the States. And it was good, but I find Pilates much more useful, at least for my nature. And also, you need to find, the pieces which will be your strength; for example, mine is with trio texture, which is the best texture where I feel very comfortable, where I have three different voices and they are all on an equal difficulty. And that way, because I am sort of small, I can move very easily on the organ and feel comfortable with it; I don’t hurt my hands, and my feet while playing, for example, a trio sonata by J.S. Bach.
Vidas: You mentioned earlier karate and martial arts, how they helped focusing and mind strength; it’s the same with Pilates too. Pilates also develops your focus, too, because you can focus on your breath.
Ausra: Yes, and Pilates is very good for your back. I know organists very often have back pain.
Vidas: Because of slipping?
Ausra: Yes. Because of slipping, and because of playing pedals. It’s not that easy, but it’s very good for your back.
Vidas: Okay, so Pilates would help; playing pieces with thinner textures, like trio textures, or early music, probably?
Vidas: What about improvisation, Ausra? You would think that when a person improvises, he or she could really play whatever is comfortable for his or her physique, right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s true, but it’s actually your strength, improvisation; so maybe you can tell us more about it.
Vidas: Well, it’s very simple. Because when I improvise, I never play something I cannot play, right? I play something which I can do. Of course there are challenges, and things I’ve never tried; and I push myself a little bit further each time. But those things that Ausra was talking about--reaching an interval of a tenth or more, or playing in extreme edges of the pedalboard--it’s not really necessary when you improvise. You can do all kinds of things without that.
Vidas: Wonderful. Please, guys, send us your questions; we love helping you grow. And you can do this by subscribing to our blog at www.organduo.lt if you haven’t done so already, and simply replying to any of our messages. This was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.