The church where I normally play has a very “flat” acoustic -- no resonance -- and the organ sounds immediately, with no delay. So when I play a note, I immediately hear that note, and that’s what I’m used to. If I try to play somewhere that has a quite noticeable delay, or a lot of echo, I can manage simple or medium-difficult pieces, but if I try to play something that requires difficult coordination (a Bach fugue with a very active pedal part, for example) the delayed feedback is confusing and I can’t keep myself in sync. How do you manage this? Do you play more slowly, or more detached? Is there a way to learn not to listen to yourself, for example by practicing silently?
Thanks for any tips on this, and thanks for all your advice and encouragement to us organ students, best wishes, Patti.”
So Ausra, this is a question about, basically, adjusting to different acoustics.
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: Do you remember the time when we were students at the Lithuanian Academy of Music--we were just starting playing the organ--and of course, all the practice organs and even the studio organ were in rooms with dead acoustics?
Ausra: Sure, yes.
Vidas: So we were used to that setting. And then, it happened that somebody took us to a church. With lively acoustics. Do you remember the first church organ that you played?
Ausra: Well, yes, and actually it’s interesting because it was the Casparini organ from 1776 at the Holy Ghost church here in Vilnius, and I played the C minor Prelude and Fugue, BWV 546 by J. S. Bach. I was just so fascinated with that organ; but, you know, at that time I didn’t even think about acoustics and all those sort of things, because it was so fascinating. But I could tell you about the time when I played in the northern part of Lithuania in Biržai when I was still a student; and that organ was a pneumatic organ, sort of Romantic style, like late 19th century, early 20th century organ; and simply, I could not manage playing it, because the sound was so delayed no matter what I did. And instead of just letting organ sound, to let it go, I was pushing harder and harder; and the more I was trying to control that organ, the more delayed it sounded! It was so frustrating! But when I came back to the same instrument many years later, I found no difficulty to play it. So to make a long story short, the more you try different instruments in various settings, the easier it will get. What do you think about it?
Vidas: Good story, I believe I played in Biržai too--I think maybe not on that occasion--but yes, if you listen to what you basically hear in the room, your playing starts to be slower and slower and slower. But if you try to mechanically play with your fingers and your feet, just like it would be in a normal setting, and disconnect your ears a little bit from the echos --then it’s normal. But of course, as a beginner it’s extremely difficult to do this.
Ausra: But as Patti mentioned in her question, it’s very true what she mentioned: that if you’re playing in large acoustics, then definitely you have to articulate more. Especially when playing Bach, or any kind of polyphonic music. Because that will give you better sound; and of course, you might want to slow down just a little bit, in large acoustics.
Vidas: Yeah, we usually slow down and articulate more. Make larger spaces between the notes when you play in large settings with huge reverberations. For example, at our church, St. John’s Church, at night when I play the full organ, then it is very very quiet in the church, and outside the church too; so the reverberation increases up to maybe 5, 6, or even 7 seconds, especially when the room is empty. So it’s a lot of difference, very different feeling, playing during the day--or playing during a concert, when the room is packed!
Ausra: Sure, then the acoustics just disappear--not entirely, but a little bit, yes.
Vidas: So we always listen to what is happening downstairs with our sound. We listen to the echo: not what we are playing right here, but what the listener is actually hearing.
Ausra: Yes, and when you are playing in large acoustics, you always have to keep in mind phrasing: the end of sentences; never jump on to the next one, because it will sound bad. Just listen to the end of the sound.
Vidas: You mean those places where the musical idea ends, and another musical idea begins--
Ausra: Yes, definitely!
Vidas: You have to breathe, take a rest, and wait for the reverberation--wait for an echo a little bit. A little bit. Not too much, probably, if it’s just a mid-piece section.
Ausra: Yes. But still you have to take a breath. And when playing on a mechanical organ, it works nicely if you register it yourself, and you change stops during performance, yourself; because it also gives you correct timing. And it works well, because if you have to move your hand and to add or delete a stop, it will give quite a good amount of time, and it works nicely, acoustically.
Vidas: And even on electropneumatical organ with combinations, you can pretend that you are pushing the stops yourself by hand; imagine that you are not pressing the pistons, but you are moving the stop knobs yourself; and that way, you will make larger breaks between sections.
Ausra: And you need to think about these things in advance, not just when you will go to an actual instrument. For example, if you have settings, when you are learning a piece on the classroom organ with dead acoustics (or at your home church with no acoustics), but you know that you will have to perform it, on a different kind of instrument with larger acoustics. You need to pretend that you have that acoustic already. You need to think about things in advance. Because, it will not be so easy, especially for a beginner to change, for example, articulation; so maybe just practice with a shorter touch before going to that actual instrument.
Vidas: Good idea. Prepare in advance in your practice room. And of course, don’t despair if you don’t get it right the first time, second time, fifth time, or even the tenth time. When, Ausra, did you discover, yourself, that it’s easier for you on a big acoustics?
Ausra: Well, it took quite a while. I think it took a few years, at least.
Vidas: A few years of many performances!
Ausra: Yes, many performances.
Vidas: Maybe think this way: every tenth performance you will discover something new about that acoustic, about this instrument, about yourself. And it will be like a small breakthrough for you.
Ausra: Yes, but I guarantee, when you will play many times with large acoustics, it will be much harder for you to play with dead acoustics. When you can actually hear every little thing, that you even would not have noticed on the large organ and big acoustics.
Vidas: Yeah, it’s very slippery to play in dead acoustics! Everything is visible, and you’re sort of naked!
Ausra: I know, if now I would have to play at the Academy of Music in that room where we played all our exams...I would probably just die!
Vidas: Okay, guys, we hope this was useful to you. Please send us more of your questions, we love helping you grow as an organist. 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 that you get. Thanks guys, this was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.