When I was just starting to learn to play the organ some 22 years ago, things were not as clear as they are now. Every new discovery came with a price. Here are 7 things I wish I knew then which would have made my road much more straight.
1. Organ Practice. It takes at least twice as long to master a piece. No matter how fast you are learning, now matter how good a sight-reader you are, you will still need a considerable time to help the piece to really sink in.
2. Fingering and Pedaling. Writing in fingering and pedaling is not as boring if you work out only the fragment you are currently practicing - perhaps one line at a time.
3. Public Performance. It's all about focus. If you can fix your attention on the current measure and watch your slow and deep breathing, any worries and fears will fade away.
4. Music Theory. It's helpful to try to see the piece you are playing as a collection of modes, intervals, and chords (besides the themes, and textures, and form). Then you can decipher it and convey to the listener what's the most important and what's not as much.
5. Harmony. Simplicity is an advantage. Many wonderful things can be played using only Tonic, Dominant, Subdominant, and Dominant seventh chords and their inversions. The colorfulness comes from changing keys and modes frequently.
6. Hymn Playing. Four-part SATB hymn playing with the tune in soprano is overrated. Two-part hymn setting with the tune alternating in the soprano and the bass can be just as beautiful as a classic SATB arrangement. Placing the tune in the tenor is as easy as flipping the soprano with the tenor.
7. Organ Improvisation. The most important thing is facing yourself. Noticing your own fears and limitations. When things get scary and tough, staying on the bench no matter what is as difficult as improvising a well-thought out fugue. It's all in your mind, though. The danger is not real and it will pass away sooner than it seems (until the next one).
All these 7 points can be summarized in this one sentence:
Curiosity, combined with the willingness to get slapped in the face and put in the hours is the key to forge your own path.
Secrets of Organ Playing Community:
David Oyen: The 104 year old two manual Casavant organ Op. 396. The first of six organs built by Casavant for use in Masonic Temples. It has only two manuals, but includes two octaves of mechanical chimes. The manual was relocated so that it is at 90 degrees to the organ, allowing the organist to see the floor below without using mirrors. There are two other keyboard instruments in the room... a two manual reed organ from the 1880's and a Hammond 2B from the 1950's, but this is the one I prefer to play.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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Don't have an organ at home?
Download paper manuals and pedals, print them out, cut the white spaces, tape the sheets together and you'll be ready to practice anywhere where is a desk and floor. Make sure you have a higher chair.