There are two ways how to handle surprises that your organ might throw at you while playing in public:
1. To get upset, blame the instrument or the organ builder and try to squeeze your old program into new situation.
2. Relax and improvise, starting anywhere and making free use of whatever is at hand.
Which way seems scarier to you? Which way seems more honorable?
How can this go wrong?
You think you can play it perfectly, you practiced it hundreds of times before and here comes the day of the recital or any other public performance. You feel so confident that even the question "how can this go wrong?" seems a little funny.
1. You might make a mistake in the pedals and panic.
2. You might look down at the pedals and lose your place in the manuals.
3. You might not get the response from the listeners that you wanted.
4. You might start comparing yourself with others.
5. You might have to adjust or change your program due to the organ's current condition.
6. Your registration might be too soft/too loud when the room is full of people.
7. The actual length of your program might be too long/too short in comparison to your calculations.
8. Your music selections might not resonate with your audience.
9, The organ might present a few surprises of its own and you will have to adjust.
10. There's always a risk of messing up registration changes or page turns (even when it's done by the assistant).
Organ playing is an art and art is always risky because it touches and changes people and leaves you vulnerable for the world to touch you back.
There are a hundred things that can go wrong when you perform in public. Instead of wanting to feel secure and safe, it's better to ask yourself "is this the best I can do?"
Sight-reading and books
If you'll read one book, you won't see much of a change in yourself. But if you'll read 100 books, you'll become a different person altogether.
The same is true with sight-reading at the organ. One collection wouldn't make much of a difference in your skills but 100 most certainly would.
When you read a book, you definitely want to be able to understand what the book is about. Just reading the text and not following the story would be silly, wouldn't it?
"How do I figure out the meaning of the music that I play?" is an important question to ask.
Usually when we perform hymns on the organ, we play just in the main key, choosing the voice disposition with the melody in the soprano. But what would happen, if you played your harmonization in several closely related keys, putting the melody in the soprano, tenor, and the bass? This, by the way, is one of the first steps to improvise a real chorale fantasia. In this lesson, I will teach you how to do it.
Yesterday we discussed the procedure in creating chordal echos when improvising on any hymn tune. Today's lesson will be focused on a different technique - melodic echos. It's a very colorful way to demonstrate two different manuals and the reed stop in the pedals (if you have one). I hope you will experiment with this technique on a hymn tune of your choice.
How to Improvise Echo Passages
Echos are very useful if you want to improvise on hymn or choral melodies. An echo is the technique used in organ improvisation where you take an excerpt of the hymn tune (anywhere from 2-8 chords) and explore different colors, manuals, ranges of the keyboard, dynamics, and keys. In this video I will teach you how to play en echo based on just a few chords. It is a beautiful way to demonstrate your instrument to your friends or family and even during public performance.
Playing a hymn harmonization in four parts with the soprano voice on the solo manual might be fun to listen to and to play. However, did you know that once you can do this, you are only a few steps away from creating a beautiful ornamented chorale melody?
This in a sense is a technique that North German Baroque composers, such as Dieterich Buxtehude used to create ornamented chorale preludes. I'm sure that after learning about this technique you will be anxious to try it out on your favorite hymn tune.
When you have your favorite hymn tune in front of you, naturally you can harmonize it in four parts and put it into soprano or tenor or the bass with or without the solo registration. But you can do something else, too.
In this video, I will show you what can you create using just one chorale phrase. If you apply this procedure to the entire hymn tune or a chorale, the result will be quite unexpected and colorful. This will be sort of like a preliminary step to create a real chorale fantasia.
Do you have an organ recital to prepare in several months but don't know how to plan your practice so that you would have plenty of time to master the pieces in your program?
Or perhaps you have a wedding or a special church service coming up in a few weeks with several organ selections to play and you are worried that when the day comes for you to perform, you won't be ready?
Here's the thing - you need a solid plan with strategy, tactics, and precise steps. To help you with that, I have prepared this video for you which will show you how you can go about creating your own customized organ practice plan.
Surprising reason for transposition
There are some very clear reasons why organists should learn to transpose. Among them - playing with vocalists and performing in a lower or a higher key to accommodate keyboard compass are most easily understood.
After all, if your vocalist is not feeling like singing in a higher key today, instead of choosing another piece, an organist could offer to transpose. Also if the range of the piece is rather broad and you maybe required to play a note which is not there on the keyboard, one option would be to transpose to a lower key.
But here's another rather surprising reason to develop a skill to transpose music at sight: sometimes it's very handy when you play with instruments in an ensemble, too. Let me explain.
Suppose you have a historical organ which is tuned in Chorton pitch (about half-step higher than normal - ca. 466 Hz.) and you have to play with early Baroque instrument ensemble (consort). Since you knew in advance that your organ is tuned to 466 Hz, your instrumentalists brought with them their instruments which were tuned to that pitch level, too.
But when you get together for a rehearsal at the organ, you find out that because of the higher temperatures in the room (or maybe because of passing of the centuries), the organ pitch level rose to about 474 Hz. It's of almost no consequence to you, of course, but the instrumentalists, especially the wind instrument players, would be in a very bad situation.
Since their instruments are tuned to 466 Hz, there is no way they could adjust to 474 Hz pitch that the organ has now - simply their mouthpieces wouldn't go in anymore to make the tuning higher.
They would be very upset, of course. What to do? How could you save the concert?
You could transpose your accompaniment (continuo) pieces one half-step lower which would make the organ sound too low (in comparison with the wind instruments). But now they could take out their mouthpieces a little and adjust to the sound of the organ.
Usually there's more room to lower than to raise the pitch level of the wind instruments so that would be OK for them. I guess it's not the ideal scenario because playing on high pitch is different than playing on the lower pitch for them. Nevertheless, it's much better than nothing.
So there you have it: learn a skill to transpose music at sight not only for yourself but also for the sake of other musicians who might perform together with you.
By the way, this is one very practical reason that organs tuned in Chorton were more suited to accompany vocal and choir music back in the day while organs tuned in Kammerton (ca. 415 Hz - about half-step lower than normal) were meant to be used with chamber music ensembles.
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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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