Voice leading challenge:
Supply the tenor part to the above excerpt which is taken from my Processional March in C Major (try not to look at the answer ahead of time).
No. 5 Der Winter will hin wichen (p. 28) from Buxheimer Orgelbuch (ca. 1450), a German Renaissance collection of organ music.
All Depends On Our Possessing
Ariane writes that her dream in organ playing is to pass the so-called "C-Exam" which in Germany qualifies organists to play in church services whenever and wherever they are needed. The first of her problems is that she might make the strangest mistakes in hymns and some easy pieces. Also she just cannot fit in more than one hour's practice time per day. Lastly, the memorization of music is her real weakness.
It's very inspiring for the people, like Ariane to want to prepare and pass special examinations which would give them a special certificate that they are qualified to be liturgical organists. It gives a great sense of focus because now it's no longer just a dream, it's a likely outcome.
If you also want to pass the exams in your country, obviously the first thing is to build up a little bit of liturgical repertoire (at least some 12 pieces) - preludes, postludes, pieces for communion, and offertory, wedding processionals and marches, as well some funeral music. You would also need to be able to accompany hymns and psalms. In many cases, sight-reading, transposition, harmonization and basic hymn improvisation skills will be required, too.
It is frustrating to watch yourself play and be quite unpredictable in terms of quality - mistakes in easy places or mistakes in difficult places or sometimes no mistakes at all. What does it all mean?
I think it means you need to work even more diligently on getting the details perfected. Do you practice finger and pedal preparation repeatedly ? If not, you should be. This action which allows you to slide your foot with one swift motion into the new position for the next note and wait it here practically automates your pedal playing. The same can be said about the finger preparation, especially in leaps and places where you have to switch position. Check if you are depressing the pedals with the inside of your foot. This greatly adds to the overall precision of pedal playing.
Use this time wisely, even if you have just one hour available, like Ariane. It's not too little to start seeing the results you want. If you still feel frustrated and doubtful it is because probably you are uncertain whether or not you are using this time effectively.
Let me put it this way - it's way better to work on a couple of pieces in a deep level in this hour than to jump from one piece to another without actually achieving anything of value (unless you are sight-reading which has entirely different purpose).
Memorization is a challenge for a lot of people. Even teachers often don't tell us how to do it. They say - memorize this piece or a page of this piece and bring it to me next week. That's not enough to start to feel at home and secure and calm when learning to play without the score.
Regardless of what method you choose (voice by voice, like Helmut Walcha liked or measure by measure like Marcel Dupre recommended) here's what's really crucial - don't play the piece over and over hoping that one day you will learn it to play by heart. Yes, you might, but it's unpredictable - in time of stress when you have to play in front of other people, you might forget some crucial sections which will ruin your performance.
The more ruthlessly systematic you become in learning to play by heart, the longer you can keep this music in your long-term memory.
Do you want to test your harmony and voice leading skills? If so, try to supply the missing alto part to the above fragment which is taken from my Processional March in C Major (try not to look at the answer ahead of time).
The way you can guess the alto notes is this: look at all three parts (soprano, tenor, and bass) and spell out the chord. I try to always double the root of the chord (except on one occasion) and one note of the chord should be always missing - that's your clue (the pick up at the beginning can be left without a harmony).
Prelude and Fugue, Op.8 by Johan Adam Krygell (1835-1915) who was a Danish organist and composer of the Romantic period.
Through the Night of Doubt and Sorrow
How will you celebrate Saint Cecilia Day this Saturday (November 22)?
That evening, I will be playing a recital „Cantantibus Organis Caecilia Domino“ at Vilnius University St. John's church which will feature my improvisations based on the text of the poem by the famous 17th century English poet John Dryden (1631-1700) known as "A Song for Saint Cecilia Day" (1687).
The words of this poem became the foundation of the famous "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day" by Georg Frideric Handel.
In the poem Dryden tells a story about the Harmony of the Universe and touches upon the place of various musical instruments (strings, winds, and especially the organ) in the cosmology of the world. The listeners of this recital will be able to better comprehend and follow unfolding musical story because the text will be provided in the program notes for everyone to see.
Saint Cecilia Day is a perfect occasion to remember all musicians who are working in churches - organists, choir directors, choristers, cantors, and instrumentalists whose joint input into the liturgy and overall musical life in the church cannot be overestimated.
The improvisations which will sound in this recital will be divided into 8 spontaneous pieces - there are that many stanzas in the poem by Dryden. I will create a unified but contrasting cycle in which the Dryden world will be re-created with various musical means - melody, rhythms, harmony, dynamics, registration, texture, and form.
Do you have anything special planned for Saint Cecilia Day this year?
Duo VI Ave maris stella (in Versets of 2, 3 and 4 voices, Fabordones, Intermedios, p. 7) by Antonio de Cabezón (1510-1566), a blind Spanish Renaissance composer and organist.
The Bridegroom Soon Will Call Us
Have you ever wanted to learn to harmonize a melody or even to create a piece using modern sounds? The problem is that modern style usually implies the use of advanced chords and modes. However, you can create unexpected, fresh, spicy, and colorful pieces just employing 3-note major and minor chords (triads). Yesterday I created such a piece and even documented the entire process in the video series for you to learn how to do it. You can access the score here and the videos here.
Part I: Grave from Organ Sonata No. 2, in C minor, Op. 65 by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) who was a German composer, pianist, organist, and conductor of the early Romantic Period.
Songs of Thankfulness and Praise
Ever wondered what computer scientist has to say about the music of Bach? It turns out that a lot things many of us are not even aware of. If you like the music of Bach and have been fascinated by numbers, here's the thoughtful and insightful radio show from On Being featuring Bernard Chazelle that you don't want to miss.
Componimenti by Adriano Banchieri (1568-1634). He was an Italian composer, music theorist, and organist of the late Renaissance-early Baroque period.
Rejoice, O Pilgrim Throng
What do you ask your listeners after performance?
If you ask "did you like it", you might not get the answer you seek. If you seek an honest reply, a person might be too polite or too afraid to tell you the truth. If your goal for asking was to find out if you pleased your listener, the negative result might disappoint you.
A more reasonable approach would be to think why you have performed in the first place? If your goal was to entertain your audience, then by all means, the above question would work here.
If, on the other hand, your aim was to educate, elevate, inspire, create change in people who want to be changed, and lead, then something different needs to be asked.
"If music could be expressed by colors, what color or combination of colors would you associate this piece with?"
"Have you been able to count all the appearances of the theme in this fugue?"
"Which stop families (principals, flutes, strings, or reeds) do you think I used in this composition?"
"What was the most uncomfortable moment in today's performance that you will remember?"
There's no need to reassure yourself about the status quo, that everything is still OK. But there's a need to create art - uncomfortable, scary, and life-changing encounters which oneself.
[Thanks to John for inspiration]
Part II: Largo from the Trio Sonata No. 2 in C minor, BWV 526 by J.S. Bach
Hark the Glad Sound
Most people choose not to stop doing things that help others to achieve their dreams as long as they see that they are needed.
Some people, though, show the guts and the bravery not to stop doing this until they see that they are needed.
Each morning when they get out of bed, they are eager to feel this sense of urgency to inspire others, and the fear of wasting this calling even once.
Is it a surprise then, that when they choose to do things others were afraid of, over time they become the people we can't live without, the people whom we would miss, if they would be gone?
The first step that's needed for you to become this person is to give yourself the permission to say "go".
It's what you've always wanted all along, isn't it?
[Thanks to Irena and Dovile for inspiration]
Prelude (p. 1) from 12 Pièces, Op.16 by Leon Boellmann (1862-1897), French Romantic composer and organist.
Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring
It used to be that your parish could have been described as local - you went to a church in an area you lived. Small towns had parishes and communities of only several hundred people while parishes in larger cities could boast of having tenths of thousands churchgoers within their reach and influence.
With this locality came the notion of "stability" - you were stuck where you were - not only in terms of financial resources but also in human resources to spread the word of God and faith. Parishes in less culturally developed areas were stuck with what they got (or what was left to them).
Organists were also affected by this - if your parish, church leadership, town, area, or even country was less financially and culturally fortunate, you would really have to struggle even to have a decent level of congregational singing, not to mention of other works of sacred and organ music.
But now, when the industrial age is going away, when the locality matters less and less, when the technology gives you the power and the tools to connect with a person anywhere in the world, the church and parishes are starting to reach and influence people globally.
That's also a wake-up call for organists because it turns out that confining your work within the boundaries of your church and parish is no longer sufficient for a successful career. In fact, this is starting to be true to just about any profession.
Is it good news or bad news?
I think it's bad news, if you are reading these lines and start to feel nervous and worried. But it's good news, if you begin to understand what kind of tremendous opportunity for any organist that is.
It's never been a greater time to be an organist as it is now because the tools available for an ordinary person to make change happen are abundant as never before.
[Thanks to Rimvydas for inspiration]
Part III: Finale. Vivace maestoso (p. 14) from Organ Sonata "Appassionata", Op.57 by Johan Adam Krygell (1835-1915) who was a Danish organist and composer of the Romantic period.
Hark, Hark, My Soul!
Have you composed a piece and played for someone you know? What was the main idea swirling inside your brain afterwards?
Or perhaps you played a concert or church service and some people came to you after the event. What did you think about?
"Did they like it?"
This thought, although almost irresistible most of the time, can be counter-productive because it forces us to try to please someone.
It's not the same as a healthy striving with the idea of how can I improve? It's a perfectionism which raises the thought "what will they think of me? Will they find out that I'm a fraud?".
Sure, try to become better at what you do every day. But it's not clear to me that we should have a fear of losing self-respect if someone else doesn't like what we do.
[Thanks to David for inspiration]
Kyrie III (p. 4) from the Mass for the Parishes by François Couperin (1668-1733), one of the most influential French Classical composers and organists.
God Himself is Present
We want to feel safe, we want somebody else to take responsibility. That's why we ask for directions.
"Teach me how to play this piece."
"Tell me which fingers to use.
The problem with this thinking is that we end up following directions, we end up looking for a map.
It's way better (but riskier) to look for a compass instead and figure out the directions by ourselves.
Managers are made by following a map. Artists are forged by feeling where the north star is.
Guess who are desperately needed in today's society?
[Thanks to Eberhard and Christopher for inspiration]
Part IV: Allegro assai vivace (p. 11) from Organ Sonata No. 1, in F minor, Op. 65 by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) who was a German composer, pianist, organist, and conductor of the early Romantic Period.
Behold, A Host, Arrayed in White
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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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