I hear you
Whenever we're setting out to do something that matters, we hear two voices inside our heads:
"I would like to learn to transpose hymns on the organ."
"You're too old for that."
"I think I need to repeat the left hand and pedal combination 10 more times."
"It sounds good enough as it is."
"I feel the inner need to compose a hymn prelude for the organ."
"You're not creative. You don't know where to start."
"I want to improvise during the communion next Sunday."
"You're not an expert. People will laugh at you."
"I'm going to learn as much as I can about the keys, chords, harmony, modulations, and counterpoint."
"It's too boring. You won't last more than 3 days."
"I'm going to memorize this fugue by Bach."
"It's not for you. You are blind."
"I would like to provide an alternate harmonization to the last verse of this hymn next Sunday."
"Your church is treating you unfairly. Why bother?"
"I'll try to perfect my pedal technique."
"Forget it. You're sitting in a wheel-chair."
Often we give in to the second voice. But sometimes we respond by saying: "I hear you but I'm going to do it anyway." That's when art happens.
What would it take to do it more often?
Dream vs goal
A boy dreaming of becoming an organist one day.
A girl dreaming of overcoming her performance anxiety in the future.
A man in his 40's dreaming of perfecting his pedal technique.
A woman in her 50's dreaming of learning to play hymns on the organ.
An organist dreaming of mastering all the organ works of Bach.
An improviser dreaming of learning to improvise fugues on the organ.
A senior woman in her 70's dreaming of memorizing a choral partita by Pachelbel.
An elderly man in his 80's dreaming of re-gaining his organ playing skills after being away from the organ for 40 years.
Dreaming for success is not the same as working for success, though. If you work for success, your dream becomes your goal.
A likely outcome.
Privilege, not right
When a group of organ lovers decide to restore a historical organ in their town, the most common way to spread the word about the project in hope of finding financial support is to let the world know about it. Social media is at the core of this strategy.
Often organizers reach out to specific people who have a following and ask to promote the project to anybody who might be interested in supporting it. This, however, rarely works because the person whom they are contacting should have the high degree of trust in the person who asks for a favor. More often than not, this person doesn't even know the organizer. There is no trust involved here.
A better way for the organizer would be to contact some people who actually want to hear from him/her about the project regularly. A group of true fans who can't live without you.
If your message doesn't spread, it means either your message doesn't resonate or they are not the right people for you. Then change the message or find different people.
Start by being persistently generous to your audience because in today's world generosity and persistence create value which leads to trust.
Trust is not the right. It's a privilege which you have to earn.
Care and trust
There are some people learning to play the organ who never write in any fingering in their pieces. Even in places where it's impossible to play with accidental fingering. The funny thing is that they don't play with the correct fingering even in pieces where the fingering is already written in for you. No matter how obvious it is that they should do it, no matter how often you advise them to do so, they never listen.
Why is it so? Why are they content with poor fingerings which result in poor articulation (legato or articulate legato)?
Regardless of what they say ("I don't have the time", "I will manage to play correctly without writing in the fingerings"), there are only two real reasons:
1. They don't care enough about the result to practice correctly (their problem).
2. They don't trust the person who advises them (your problem).
The only way to help such people change their minds about the fingerings is to earn their trust first.
And sometimes it's OK to simply say: "It's not for you."
Fear is good
What's the most fearful thing about organ playing to you?
Playing from memory?
Changing registration in the middle of the piece by hand?
Playing in front of the choir members on short notice?
Sight-reading in public?
Improvising for church services?
When facing danger, there are only two primary reactions humans, like all animals have: flee or fight.
Most people tend to shy away of fearful and insecure situations. Some people, though, seek out danger because they have figured out that mistakes will not kill them.
Acknowledge your fear and use it as a compass. That's how you become fearless.
PS In today's ever evolving world this turns out to be the best strategy.
What do you do when you feel lost in organ playing? How do you find balance when you are not sure if you are doing the right thing? How do you stay focused when there are a hundred available paths to you?
What do you have to do is ask yourself, if you are acting out of fear.
Fear is everywhere. You are taking a faster tempo than you should, because you are afraid you are not going to have the courage to finish the piece slowly. You are playing with the wrong fingering because you are afraid of the feeling of being stuck when figuring out the right fingering. You are hitting the pedals and the keys with too much force because you are afraid of letting go and losing control of the piece. You are making mistakes because you are afraid of what would happen if you froze on the downbeat until you are absolutely sure of what's coming up next in this measure.
Have a clear mind and know you are doing the right thing.
No fear. Just practice.
Wrong pedal notes
When you hit the wrong notes in the pedals, this happens not because your organ playing shoes feels uncomfortable. It's not even the difficulty level of the pedal part that makes it easy to miss some correct notes. The reason you are hitting incorrect notes in the pedals is also not because you don't know it well enough.
Here's the thing: it all comes from your mind.
The deepest reason for making mistakes in the pedal line is your focus. Our thoughts wander all over the place during the practice and performance. This state of mind often causes you do depress the notes with your feet without being 100 % sure. If you aren't absolutely sure you will play the correct notes, you will probable make mistakes.
The secret is to be laser-focused on the spot you are playing right now.
Who is your teacher?
When you practice organ playing, who tells you that this piece is ready for public performance?
Who decides that it's not good enough?
Who decides that your pedal part was with mistakes?
Who decides that you need to repeat this voice combination 5 more times?
Who decides that you mixed up the manuals?
Who decides that your touch was too short or too long?
This person, of course, is you.
When you realize this, when you understand that there's no one who can choose or decide for you, suddenly the great weight of responsibility is upon you.
This responsibility is also a liberation, though. A freedom to achieve perfection of whatever level you choose.
The only question that remains is this: how bad do you want it?
What does perfect mean?
When you are preparing a piece to play in public, make sure you think about what would perfect performance mean to you.
Free of mistakes?
All the right notes and rhythms?
Correct fingering and pedaling?
Natural phrasing and breathing?
Everyone will have his/her own level of perfection in mind. As you think about the perfection, you also have to understand that perfect can rarely be achieved.
This realization often causes people to stall: "I will never achieve the perfect, therefore I shouldn't even try."
It's more productive, though, to figure out what would "ready" mean. If the piece is ready, you have to feel good when you play it in public.
Ready is not perfect but it has your permission to fly.
We all have these days when it's not that easy to get on the organ bench to practice. And when we sit down to play, every minute seems like an hour - it's very hard to stay on the bench and do the work.
Then you can have these kinds of thoughts:
"Maybe it's OK to end my practice earlier than I planned. I think I worked hard enough today."
"Why do I need to suffer so much?"
"Do I really need this?"
"Practice shouldn't be boring - it should be fun and easy."
"I can't play any longer - there are more interesting things to do."
"My recital is far away - I have plenty of time to learn the music."
"Maybe I could stop now and pick up where I left tomorrow?"
"Maybe tomorrow it will be easier to practice?"
Here's my favorite: "Yesterday I practiced too hard. I should take it easy now."
Did you notice that when you persevere, push yourself and continue to practice as planned, your feeling is much better afterwards than at times when you give up? And the harder you have to push yourself to stay on the organ bench, the better your feeling will be.
Practice like there's no tomorrow.
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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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