First, the news:
Final by Louis Vierne with fingering and pedaling from Symphony No. 1. 50 % discount is valid until December 6. Free for Total Organist students. PDF score (14 pages). Advanced Level.
And now, let's go to the podcast for today.
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 118 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. Today’s question was sent by Neil, and he writes that he finds it hard to think of chord progressions and keep on sticking to a few major and minor keys. Basically, Ausra, he needs to progress, but he’s stuck, right--with harmony.
Vidas: So...Do you have students like this in your classes?
Ausra: Yes, of course I have them.
Vidas: Who only love a few keys, like C Major, a minor, G Major, e minor, F Major, d minor--and that’s all!
Ausra: Yes, that’s right. I have such students.
Vidas: Do you sometimes ask your kids in which key your dictation will be today? Sometimes I do.
Ausra: Yes, I do.
Vidas: And what do they reply?
Ausra: “C Major!”
Vidas: C Major, right? What about E Major? Probably never.
Ausra: Hmm...not too much.
Vidas: Right? So, young people love keys with zero or one accidental.
Ausra: That’s right. But we have to use all keys. Such is life.
Vidas: You have some experience with key characters, right, now?
Ausra: Yes, because I’m going to have a recital, actually. To…
Vidas: Announce and to lead, right?
Ausra: Yes, to lead the recital, yes. Which is called “ABCs;” and the idea of this recital is that I will have to talk about different keys and their meaning.
Vidas: So what are the keys that will be in the program?
Ausra: Well, basically, 12 pieces of a minor, 8 C Major, and then I think 2 or 3 A Major, 4 c♯ minor (wow)
Ausra: 3 c minor, and only 1 b minor.
Ausra: And no other like piece--no B♭, no minor or major, no.
Vidas: So why do people...why are there so many keys, by the way? Why can’t a composer create everything in C Major or a minor?
Ausra: Well, because you know, in old times, different keys sounded differently, and each had its own character.
Vidas: That’s why they chose different keys, right?
Ausra: Yes, yes; and only after 1917 all keys started to sound the same--you know, after all instruments started to be tempered in equal temperament.
Vidas: Mhm. Which is now changing, of course, because of the movement in early style and early performance practice.
Ausra: Yes, that’s right. That’s right. Plus, we are organists; we have so many historical instruments that are tuned in different temperaments.
Vidas: Mhm. So you are going to explain all this, a little bit?
Ausra: Yes, a little bit, because there will be kids from first grade till the end of high school, so my talk needs to be appropriate to everybody. So I cannot talk on a very high musicological level.
Vidas: Not like we are talking today?
Ausra: Oh, don’t make fun of me!
Vidas: Hahaha! Excellent. So, what are the differences between some major keys--let’s say, what is the most joyful key, do you think?
Ausra: C Major, probably.
Vidas: C Major, right?
Ausra: But F Major is joyful, too. And A Major.
Vidas: E♭ Major might be a different character from C Major, although it’s a major key, too.
Ausra: Yes. But for example, A♭ Major, you know, is the key of “grave”…
Vidas: Grave key, right? Serious key.
Ausra: Yes, it’s a serious key, although it’s a major key.
Ausra: So there are very interesting things, actually.
Vidas: And with minor, too, there are some characteristics of sadness, melancholic keys; but there are also sorrowful keys, which is not the same; and also some pathetic keys, like very dramatic, like c minor…
Ausra: Yes, that’s right, yes.
Vidas: There is a reason why composers chose to have a “pathétique” sonata, right-- Sonata Pathétique (by Beethoven), in c minor.
Ausra: Yes. And actually, its middle movement is in A♭ Major.
Vidas: Uh-huh, uh-huh. True. And in different historical periods, composers chose different key relationships for middle movements. Do you remember, we have been playing Franz Seydelmann’s 4-hand sonatas? And middle movements are always in the key of the subdominant.
Ausra: That’s very often the case with Classical sonatas, say with Mozart.
Ausra: You very rarely find keys of dominant in the middle movement.
Vidas: And even no keys with parallel major or minor.
Ausra: Yes, yes
Vidas: As was the case with Baroque music.
Ausra: Yes, but then the Romantics already did things differently. For example, like Edvard Grieg, his famous Sonata in A Minor--the middle movement is in C Major.
Vidas: True. So, Neil and others could really benefit from looking deeply into the keys and their meaning, right?
Vidas: And discovering, for example, the differences from one piece in one key and another piece in another key, of the same composer, let’s say, because it will be easier to compare.
Ausra: As Neil said, he has a hard time understanding chord progressions.
Ausra: Actually, you need to study chord progressions before actually playing or learning to play that piece, just for a better understanding of how music is written. But when you will actually perform it and learn it, you won’t always have to think about every single chord.
Vidas: There is no time for this.
Vidas: You have to make music.
Ausra: That’s right.
Vidas: So, in order for him to understand chord progressions and get better acquainted with different keys, could he try playing sequences?
Ausra: That’s right, yes. And YouTube is full of my sequences that I played as examples for my students.
Vidas: True. And this helps, right?
Ausra: Yes, it definitely helps.
Vidas: Mhm. Because you can take a very simple chord, like a dominant 6 chord, and play up and down; so you can play those sequences in descending motion or ascending motion, right? That would help, right Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, that would help; and it would help you to get familiar with all keys, and to feel comfortable while playing any key.
Vidas: You can stick in one key: that is called the tonic sequence...
Ausra: Yes, but you can, you know, transpose them to different keys.
Vidas: ...While choosing a particular interval, like a major third, minor third, or major or minor second. That helps.
Vidas: Wonderful. Guys, please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. This was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
Would you like to learn to play the famous Final from Symphony No. 1 by Louis Vierne?
You can do it much faster with my fingering and pedaling.
I've recorded this piece as part of my DMA recital while doing my doctorate at UNL on the excellent French symphonic style Bedient organ at St Paul's United Methodist church in Lincoln, NE.
Regretfully, I didn't write in fingering at that time, just the pedaling. Therefore, a few days ago I started working on the fingering part and yesterday evening finally I finished it.
50 % discount is valid until December 6. Free for Total Organist students. PDF score (14 pages). Advanced Level.
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 117 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. Today’s question was sent by Neil, and he writes:
“I don’t have a home organ so practising is on my Roland piano but I have access to an organ at my parish church.”
So Ausra, do you think that playing on a keyboard or electronic piano is beneficial?
Ausra: Yes, of course; you can do a lot on those.
Ausra: You can learn the text, and keep your shape; but of course, it’s better in Neil’s case to practice at church. And it’s good that he has access to his parish church organ. And actually, very few of us have an organ at home.
Vidas: So it’s good to have any type of keyboard at home. And even acclaimed virtuoso pianists sometimes don’t practice on an acoustic piano. They sometimes have electronic keyboards, like clavinovas, or Rolands, or others at home. Remember Ausra, we visited one house here in Vilnius, looking at some apartments; and there was a famous Lithuanian pianist--we saw his wife, with a baby--and of course, they had a piano, but not an acoustic piano, but an electronic piano!
Ausra: Yes, I remember that.
Vidas: So we talked about that, and apparently, her husband practices quite a bit.
Ausra: Yes yes. So there is always a solution. But if you live in the States, I would say people in the States are quite generous--churches are very generous, actually, with sharing the organ. So you could easily get access to basically many church organs to practice on.
Pipe organs, electronic organs...
Vidas: All kinds of organs. Of course, some churches don’t have pipe organs; and we prefer even a small pipe organ to a large electronic organ, I think.
Vidas: But that’s our taste, right? Other people might choose differently.
Vidas: Ausra, do you have some suggestions for people who are struggling to get access to a church organ?
Ausra: Well, yes; just try to find a church that will accept you.
Vidas: What will you need--the number 1 step--for this?
Ausra: Well, just to call, actually.
Ausra: To your local churches.
Vidas: Or...Is it better to call, or to visit on a Sunday?
Ausra: Well, I think it’s better to visit personally, then you show that you really care about it. But if you cannot do that, then call them.
Vidas: Sometimes you can befriend a local organist, right?
Vidas: And listen to them play, and maybe after a while, ask them permission to play yourself once in awhile.
Ausra: That’s right.
Vidas: Or maybe volunteer to play in the church service, maybe for communion or prelude or postlude--just one piece, so that the local organist could get a better feeling for your abilities, right?
Vidas: And then, if you are friends, you can ask for more regular access to this instrument.
Ausra: That’s right. Especially because in the States there are so many churches. So many organs!
Vidas: Do you think sometimes donation helps?
Vidas: You could donate some small amount…
Ausra: Yes, you could donate, or you could volunteer in some kind of work in the church...
Vidas: Mhm. Not necessarily organ music-related…
Ausra: Yes, yes, definitely. To be an usher or acolyte, or whatever you can come up with as an idea of what could be beneficial to the church.
Vidas: Basically, make yourself useful to the community, and earn their trust.
Vidas: And then, maybe they themselves will offer you practice and rehearsal opportunities.
Vidas: Wonderful. So, I think, guys, you can look up many churches in your area; maybe some miles around your house, because you can drive some distances. What to do if people live in rural areas, like villages, remote forests--in the middle of nowhere, basically?
Ausra: But still there should be a church in the main neighborhood. Maybe not as close, but still…
Vidas: Like in the middle of Australia, or far north in Canada.
Ausra: Well, that’s a hard question. What would you do in that case?
Vidas: Well, I would probably try to find some bear settlements. And maybe in the bear settlement, you could befriend some polar bears, if you are in Canada, and then make yourself useful to their community; and then maybe the bears will offer you an opportunity to play their instruments! Not necessarily pipe organs, though.
Ausra: Well, I would not want to get acquainted with a polar bear. Because I think this would be the last acquaintance you made!
Vidas: What about in Australia? What kind of animals live in Australia that you could make yourself useful to? You know those ostriches, right--emu?
Ausra: Yes, I have seen those on TV.
Vidas: Uh-huh. So they run very fast, and they can kick you…
Ausra: Well, you know, if you live in such a remote area, then probably the best thing would be to have an instrument at home. Not an organ, necessarily, but maybe a piano or electric piano…
Vidas: Or some sort of keyboard, right?
Ausra: Yes, some sort of keyboard.
Vidas: You can get a cheap, used one from Ebay shipped to you for $20 or so. Just for starters--maybe not for a lifetime, but just to get used to the keyboard layout, and start practicing, basically.
Ausra: Like in Lithuania, for example, they have upright pianos in a lot of homes; and some people don’t need them, and they want to get rid of them. But it’s hard to move them, because they are heavy; for example, imagine that you live on the tenth floor, and this piano cannot fit into an elevator, so you have to manually bring it downstairs by using the real stairs.
Ausra: So it’s very hard work. So some people just want to get rid of the piano, and they make such an announcement like, “I’m giving away a piano, but you have to come and pick it up, and move it out.” So that’s what you could try to do: to look for an announcement like this.
Vidas: And when you get a used piano, and if you don’t mind making alterations to your piano, you can modify this piano and attach an organ pedalboard to it. To the strings.
Ausra: Yes, I know, some people have done that quite successfully.
Vidas: Just like people who “midify” their keyboards, and add pedalboards with midi input, and play with the synthesized sounds with their feet, right? You could also do this with acoustic upright piano, while playing piano sounds with your feet!
Ausra: And remember reading about Albert Schweitzer, when he was a missionary in Africa…
Ausra: What kind of instrument did he have at home?
Vidas: I think a pedal piano.
Ausra: I think so, too.
Vidas: But it might have been not an upright piano, but a grand piano with pedals.
Ausra: Could be. I think it would have sounded very bizarre, in the middle of the jungle--Schweitzer playing Bach.
Vidas: But people around him would have sung, too. In their local indigenous tradition.
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: It sounds a little bit like Lithuanian folk music, right?
Ausra: Yes. Yes, some similarities, yes.
Vidas: Those chords and harmonies...Wonderful, guys. Please send us more of your questions; we hope to help you grow as an organist. And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
Reminder: Today is the last day for Black Friday Cyber Monday 50 % discount:
You can buy any of our practice scores and training programs for half price.
Enter discount code BFCM17 at the checkout: secrets-of-organ-playing.myshopify.com/discount/BFCM17
50 % discount also applies to Total Organist too!
And now let's go to the podcast for today:
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 116 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Here's the audio version. Today’s question was sent by Neil, and he writes that his challenge is with confidence:
“I do suffer with nerves and when I have a service to play I try to make sure all hymns and service music feel OK.”
So, confidence comes from experience, right Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, but also some people are more confident from the beginning than others.
Vidas: What do you mean?
Ausra: Well, it depends how your parents raised you. Because for some kids, their parents tell them that they can do anything, they are the best, and so on and so forth; and for some, they just tell them, “You cannot do anything right,” “You are bad,” etc. so I think this is also very important.
Vidas: Do you think that--I agree with you, by the way--but do you think that when a person gets to an older age--is an adult, and can make his or her own decisions about life--do you think that these previous childhood experiences might be changed a little bit?
Ausra: Well, I think a little bit, yes; but not much.
Vidas: I mean, can you change who you are?
Ausra: That’s a very hard thing to do.
Vidas: Not inside-out, but maybe you have some strengths that you want to develop, right? And some weaknesses that you want to make less pronounced in your character. So, could you go both directions a little bit, or even more?
Ausra: Yes, you could go a little bit, I think so, yes.
Vidas: Even though your childhood experiences were bad, right?
Vidas: Actually, research shows that children who had very abusive parents tend to be very independent later in life, and quite creative, by the way. Because in childhood experiences, they had to come up with some creative solution how to cope with those abusive parents and situations like that. Sometimes it’s a good thing to have stressful childhoods. From some perspectives.
Ausra: Well, yes...I...well, yes, but still…
Vidas: Of course, everyone would like to be a princess or a prince, right? Or cosmonaut, astronaut; they want to have this golden opportunity in life, and they have those dreams, right? But sometimes parents don’t let them dream, right? They steal their dreams. But what can you do about those parents? Basically nothing.
Ausra: Yes, and I think Neil, in his question, in the second part of it, he actually answers his own question.
Vidas: Which is: he writes that, “When I have a service to play, I try to make sure all hymns and service music feel okay.”
Ausra: Yes. I think that’s the key to be more confident while you’re playing, while you perform during your service.
Vidas: Be very well prepared?
Ausra: Yes, you need to be very well prepared. This will add to your confidence.
Vidas: This is something like you yourself, Ausra, feel like doing, right? When you have a project coming up, you tend to prepare for it very well.
Ausra: I know, I have to do this. Because otherwise I would not survive. I would just have a nervous breakdown or something.
Vidas: You don’t want to wing it on the spot?
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: Even though the result might be the same!
Ausra: I know, the result might be the same, but my psychological comfort will be much different!
Vidas: Right. So then, people like yourself and Neil have to spend quite a bit of time in preparation of church services or hymn playing. But by the way, when you for example, when you were working at Grace Lutheran Church in Nebraska, did you have to practice those hymns a lot?
Ausra: Well, not a lot, but I practiced them, yes.
Vidas: But not a lot, right?
Ausra: Not a lot.
Vidas: Even though you are a very prepared person and love to spend some time in advance with projects like hymn playing; even though you are such a person, you didn’t spend hours, right? Why?
Ausra: Well, because I already had a good technical base.
Vidas: And sight-reading abilities?
Vidas: So there is a way out, even for you and for Neil, I think. Because whenever your experience with sightreading gets better and better and better, I think you will feel the need to prepare diminish; because you will become, as Neil writes, much more confident.
Ausra: Yes, that’s true...actually, that’s true!
Vidas: So guys, I think I”ve never come across a better medicine and solution to this problem, to the confidence problem, than persistent, regular, and passionate sight-reading every single day. You don’t have to do it for hours; you don’t have to do it for half an hour, even; but spend a few minutes at least with a new, unfamiliar organ piece.
Ausra: That’s right.
Vidas: And perhaps, spend some time with harmony, too, and music theory, proofing your theory skills.
Ausra: Yes, scales too.
Vidas: Playing sequences, cadences, modulations.
Ausra: Sometimes, when my eyes lose the text of the music, I’ll just play from my ear, knowing harmony and knowing what should come.
Vidas: There is, of course, this dangerous moment: whenever you lose your text, and before you start to improvise on those chords in the style, when you are okay--but in between, this moment where you can slip and panic, right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: But if you have experience, right--real-life experience with getting out of these situations, and improvising and playing harmony--then you can feel much more confident
Ausra: That’s right. And you know, another thing about confidence, being confident--you have to choose your repertoire very wisely. Because sometimes, lack of confidence might be because you are choosing pieces that are too hard for you yet. Of course, you cannot pick out your own hymns, because usually, the pastor decides what hymns will be during the service. But the chorale prelude, and offering, and postlude--you can play what you want.
Vidas: And remember, you don’t have to play all 4 parts in your hymns. You can play the 2 outer parts--soprano and bass--with 2 separate hands with loud registration, and it would sound beautiful.
Ausra: Because while you are preparing for the service, if you are making mistakes in your hymns or your prelude/postlude, it means that during the actual service, it will be even worse, because you will get anxiety, too. So you have to choose very wisely.
Vidas: Mhm. Preferably too easy than too hard.
Vidas: That would be your final advice, right Ausra?
Vidas: Excellent. And my advice would be: today, before you hit the sack, make sure you pick up some new organ music and sight-read it. Even on the table, if you don’t have access to a keyboard. It really helps in the long run. Make it a lifelong habit. If you do this for 67 days, then it will become your second nature, and you won’t have to think about it anymore; you just miss it if you don’t do it, right? And become grumpy, like myself if I miss a day or two without practice.
Vidas: Wonderful. Thank you, guys, for listening and applying our tips in your practice. It really makes a difference, right Ausra?
Vidas: And keep sending us your questions; we love helping you grow. Okay guys, this was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
Welcome to Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast #122!
In this conversation, Thomas shares his insights about his musical style and creative process and gives tips for organists who would love to begin composing don't know where to start.
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By the way, you can upload your own recordings to YOUR channel to maximize revenue.
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Listen to the conversation
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 115 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here.
And today’s question was sent by Neil. He writes:
“My challenge is with concentration - practicing a voluntary is one thing but when playing the piece at the end of the service I feel under pressure and can make mistakes even though the run-through before the service went OK.”
So, a lot of people struggle with this, right? Focus, concentration…
Ausra: Yes, I think so. But you know, since he writes that before the service, when he practiced, he could play the same piece okay, I think it might be not only concentration but also performance anxiety.
Vidas: I see. Do you mean that when playing before the service, he can play without many mistakes because he’s less nervous? Or the prelude or voluntary might be easier than the toccata at the end? What do you think?
Ausra: Hmm, well, that’s a good question. I’m just thinking that maybe he gets tired after playing an entire service; and I don’t know what the tradition is at his church, but maybe people stay to listen to the postlude...
Ausra: And maybe the postlude is a more virtuosic piece than the prelude. I’m not sure, exactly; but yes, everybody, or many of us, have concentration problems.
Vidas: I kind of feel that he might be not only tired, but feeling the end of playing, the end of the service, right? And his job is almost done, and his mind is almost relaxed, therefore. It’s like playing the last piece of the recital, or the last page of the piece: sometimes we make stupid mistakes!
Ausra: Yes, that’s true. Sometimes, you know, after playing a hard spot, you just think, “Oh, I played that so well!” and then the mistake comes.
Vidas: Remember the legendary organist…
Ausra: Marilyn Mason?
Ausra: Yes, I thought about her, too!
Vidas: What did she say?
Ausra: Well, she would say that your recital is not over until you are in the parking lot, next to your car. So...meaning that you have to keep your concentration until the very end. Because even after you release your final chord, if you will not be careful, you might hit the note or something...
Vidas: Or pedals!
Ausra: Or pedals, yes! That happens!
Vidas: Or, when climbing off the organ bench, you would press the extreme high or low keys with your hand!
Ausra: Yes, because of course, if you have a cancel button then you can solve that problem, just press cancel.
Ausra: But if it’s a mechanical organ, and you forgot to take off some stops, then yes, that’s a possibility.
Vidas: Yeah, because on a mechanical organ, if you play very loudly, and want to reduce the registration suddenly, you have to do all those mechanical changes by hand; and some people don’t do this right away because it’s very noisy.
Ausra: That’s right; for example, in our church at St. John’s.
Vidas: Mhm. So yeah. Did you, Ausra, have this experience yourself when playing a church service? Towards the end, you would make mistakes, or get more nervous than before?
Ausra: Actually, no. It’s easier for me to play the end of a recital or service.
Vidas: Because nobody listens to it?
Ausra: Well, no, not because of that. For me, the hardest part is probably the first 10 minutes of performing.
Vidas: Mhm. Like in any basketball match, right? Both teams are very nervous, and both testing the ground, and seeing who is stronger, right? But afterwards, they kind of get in the flow.
Ausra: I know. It’s like this for different types of people. Some can be very excited at the beginning, and do things energetically, and then they lose the energy very soon.
Ausra: And then for some, it’s very hard to begin to do a work, but after beginning they can just keep going forever. And I think I belong to these latter ones. For me, it’s hardest to start.
Vidas: What about me? What do you think--which group do I belong in?
Ausra: I don’t know, you should decide for yourself!
Vidas: Because sometimes, I kind of feel that I also move very slowly at the beginning, but then go very long with excitement. But other times, I get excited very fast, and my focus switches, too, also, before I reach the end of the project!
Ausra: Yes, but you know, going back to Neil’s problem, I would suggest that for every postlude he was going to play, he would find himself some sort of…(not a big) assignment. He would assign himself some sort of new thing to do in that. I don’t know, maybe just think in his mind, “Tenor voice.” Or you know, focus more on cadences. Or find something in his piece that would keep his concentration going on.
Vidas: Mhm. And take his mind off that pressure.
Ausra: Yes, yes. And just think about that particular thing that he has to do in his piece.
Vidas: I usually tend to advise people to focus their gaze, their eyes on the current measure. That keeps them really focused throughout the piece; as the measures keep flowing, also your mind keeps flowing, your gaze keeps coming along. But then, you don’t pay attention to any outside things, like choir members walking or talking, outside of the organ, right? Would that help, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, could be. And I’m thinking that concentration is probably one of the biggest problems for everybody.
Vidas: Because of course, technology and this instant gratification culture in our society rewards people with a very short attention span--right? Ads everywhere click and change every few seconds, and stimuli on the web are also constantly switching and changing; and everything is so colorful and bright. So yeah, we get confused, and focus is not a strong thing for us.
Ausra: Well, yes, and because we are talking about postludes, I believe that all kinds of movement is going on during the postlude. Because some people are probably listening, but some are maybe already leaving the church, and moving, and I don’t know what about choir members, if they are also listening to your postlude or they are also talking, chatting…
Vidas: Yeah, chatting, definitely. I think that part of the service is really…
Ausra: The noisiest, probably, yes.
Vidas: The noisiest, nobody’s really paying attention, everybody’s cheering that it’s over, and they want to interact with each other, right? Because they didn’t see each other for a week!
Ausra: That’s right.
Vidas: And suddenly, organ music distracts them from interacting, in this case.
Vidas: But the organist has to stay out of this, right?
Vidas: You have to keep going until the very end.
Ausra: Yes, that’s why you need to play your postlude on organo pleno registration. Just play it loud.
Vidas: So that they could not really chat loudly enough?
Ausra: Yes. Make them listen to you!
Vidas: Like thunder from above, right?
Vidas: Like God’s voice. Excellent. Ausra, do you think that people could strengthen their concentration somehow, over time? Are there any exercises?
Ausra: Yes, I think so.
Vidas: What helps, to you?
Ausra: Meditation, probably. But of course, not everybody can meditate.
Vidas: You don’t have to call it meditation, right?
Ausra: Yes, just…
Vidas: It’s breathing!
Ausra: Yes. Or you know, yoga helps for some people.
Ausra: And I realized that yoga for me is actually torture.
Ausra: Because you have to concentrate, you have to breathe. But I think it might help
Vidas: In yoga, time passes so slowly…
Ausra: I know, I know. It’s just very hard--I find it very hard.
Ausra: I like more dynamic exercises. But I think this thing could help. And also other intellectual games.
Vidas: Will you have to focus for a longer time?
Ausra: Yes, like maybe sudoku. Or I don’t know, doing crisscross.
Vidas: Or reading. Even reading from long books, right? Not from newspapers and magazines with flashing pictures, but real books: novels, fiction writing, where you have to sit for a longer time with one work and immerse yourself in another life, in another world. That helps, right?
Vidas: Okay guys. What would be your last advice, Ausra, for Neil?
Ausra: Well, for Neil and everybody else, and even for myself, I think that working on concentration is a lifelong goal. So eventually you will succeed; I hope so. And that’s what I wish for you all. And for myself, too.
Vidas: And enjoy this process, right? Because the results are far away. Excellent. This was Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
PS Organ improvisation "The Wolf And The Tailor" based on my favorite childhood's Lithuanian fairy-tale where the wolf threatens the tailor and the tailor cheats the wolf and cuts his tail off. Fun but cruel stuff.
I just wanted to let our subscribers that November 24-27 you can buy any of our practice scores and training programs for half price.
Enter discount code BFCM17 at the checkout: secrets-of-organ-playing.myshopify.com/discount/BFCM17
PS Organ improvisations: Flowing, Keep Going and In Memoriam Monika
#AskVidasAndAusra 114: How Do You Deal With The Organ Loft Getting Cold In Winter
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 114 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. And today’s question was sent by Kae. And she writes:
Hi again! How do you deal with the organ loft getting cold in winter? It doesn't even get that cold here in Seattle (compared to Vilnius!), but now that winter is on the way, I'm thinking of keeping blankets here! Do you ever find that it's too cold to practice for very long?
First of all, Kae is helping us with transcribing our audio teachings.
Ausra: Yes, she’s a great help. Thank you, Kae!
Vidas: Without her, doing the work of transcription ourselves would be very difficult and long work. She’s very fast at typing and transcribing; thank you so much, Kae. And now going back to the question. I remember, Ausra, that you once worked in a very cold church, right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s right; Holy Cross Church in Vilnius, yes.
Vidas: What did you do there?
Ausra: Well, there was not so much to do, because the priest did not let me put some electric device, you know, a heater, to keep me not as cold--to keep me warmer; so I just had to dress up very warmly. But it wouldn’t help so much, after sitting and playing for a longer time. So that’s a real struggle. But one thing that could help: bring with you warm tea, or hot tea, or some hot drink…
Vidas: That’s a great suggestion. I kind of neglected this and thought about only clothes and blankets; but you know, warm beverages are great.
Ausra: Yes, and you know, special gloves are very good, too, where you cut off the finger part of the gloves--
Ausra: Fingertips, yes. And to play with them. That’s also a possibility.
Vidas: You could do this yourself, or you could buy these specially prepared gloves without fingertips.
Ausra: Yes, and another thing I found useful during wintertime while practicing at church--you don’t wear organ shoes at that time.
Ausra: Because you can get your toes frozen, actually. Because the organ shoe is so tight, and your toes cannot move well enough in those shoes; so you can freeze them very easily. And that’s what I experienced myself many years ago, in Anyksciai in the northern part of Lithuania at the large English Romantic organ when I was playing an organ recital in January, I think.
Vidas: And you had your organ shoes?
Vidas: And thin socks?
Ausra: Well, the socks were okay; but of course you cannot add like, woolen socks in the organ shoes. Unless you would get, maybe 2 sizes bigger shoes!
Vidas: So, your shoes should be quite wide, then.
Vidas: To be able to fit thick socks.
Ausra: But you know, women’s organ shoes are usually very narrow.
Ausra: So it’s better not to use them.
Vidas: Mhm. Just learn, and adjust, and be prepared to play with your regular shoes. Not necessarily street shoes, because in wintertime…
Ausra: Or just use woolen socks. That’s a possibility, too.
Vidas: Woolen socks, exactly! Yeah.
Ausra: That’s the best possibility.
Vidas: In winter.
Ausra: In winter, yes.
Vidas: If you use some kind of other shoes, please wipe your feet on a special carpet so that your pedals will not be, you know…
Vidas: Yes, your pedals will get muddy otherwise.
Ausra: Especially in wintertime, when we have so much salt and sand on the streets in Lithuania.
Vidas: Mhm. But today, I guess, you can also bring some electric heaters, fans...
Ausra: Yes, I think that’s also the best solution, too.
Vidas: Where to put them?
Ausra: And remember, when I was playing Clavierübung Part III (that was my last doctoral recital at Lincoln), I played in the Cornerstone Chapel, which has also no heat--or at least, it’s very...not enough heat, because I think there it was like 10°C in the room. Plus 10.
Vidas: Plus 10, in the room?
Ausra: Yes (not minus 10!), in the room. So it was quite, quite cold. So I had a heater, and it was standing next to me, actually, in the organ loft. So it helped me a lot.
Vidas: Now we don’t have this problem so much in our church, because the university keeps the heating during the winter.
Ausra: But still it gets pretty cool--not now, not in November, for example, but I think in December, January, February, it will be cold.
Vidas: If you play there for hours…
Vidas: Without moving, then it gets cold. You have to, I think, take frequent breaks, in general, right? Stretch and walk, basically, and drink some tea from a thermos.
Ausra: Yes. But yes, I would not suggest for you to practice for long hours, if it’s really cold in the room. It’s not good for you.
Vidas: So maybe a majority of your practice could be done at home, on the table or on a piano if you have one.
Ausra: And the most frustrating thing is when you have to play a recital during wintertime, and you sit down on the organ bench, and you have to start playing--and you just feel that you cannot move your fingers! I’ve had this feeling so many times, and I just hate it.
Vidas: The last time I felt very cold was a few years ago, when I first played an hour-long improvisation recital on the occasion of inaugurating the newly-restored Romantic organ in Mosedis. And this is in a northern part of Lithuania, next to the Latvian border. And it wasn’t winter, but it was cold. So what I had, I had those--
Ausra: It was late fall, I believe.
Vidas: Late fall. Like today (we’re recording in November). So I had those gloves without fingertips, and they helped me a lot, actually. I had to practice a little bit ahead of time, on different organs, to get used to the feeling of playing with gloves; but finally, it helped so much that I wasn’t really cold, playing. But the trick is to get a pair of gloves that are a little bit tight. They have to fit very very tight, maybe one size smaller than normal, or two sizes smaller. They would stretch, of course; they should be very thin gloves, and they should stretch like a pair of socks, basically--that feeling should be on your palm. But it helps a lot. Wonderful, guys. Experiment in the winter; please keep yourself warm, and drink a lot of hot beverages.
Ausra: But don’t drink alcohol.
Ausra: Actually, some Lithuanian organists do that…
Vidas: Yes, yes.
Ausra: Yes, as we travel through Lithuania, sometimes we could find many alcohol bottles, empty, inside of the organ. So don’t do that.
Vidas: Yes. Because it’s a tricky feeling, right? Yes, you will feel warmer, but just for a brief time.
Ausra: Yes, and then it will be even colder, I would say.
Vidas: Mhm. And please keep sending us your questions; we love helping you grow. This was Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
PS African Savannah (Organ Improvisation). This improvisation reminds me of the vast plains in Africa, full of wild life. One word describes it all - freedom.
#AskVidasAndAusra 113: When I listened to him this week, there were practically no difference in eighth notes and quarter notes
Yesterday while I waited for the students of Unda Maris organ studio to gather, I had some time in the church and decided to record 4 of my improvisations. I hope you'll enjoy them:
4. Lizard Basilisk
If you like them and would not want to miss anything we post in the future, feel free to follow to our new channel on Musicoin, a platform which treats musicians fairly.
And now let's go on the podcast for today.
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 113 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. You can listen to the audio version here.
Today’s question was sent by Martin. He writes:
I really enjoy your podcasts and postings. I have a question for you. Presently I have a new student (8th grade) who indicated an interest in playing the organ. He has a piano background, and when I asked him to show me some of the materials he is currently studying with another teacher on the piano, it appeared to be significantly less advanced than some of the pieces he played for me by memory. I gave him one selection to prepare for me with minimal pedal and asked him to prepare only the parts he would play on the manual.
When I listened to it this week, there were practically no difference in eighth notes and quarter notes. He told me that he that he felt he was a very poor sight-reader and learned by ear and by writing in the note names.
I'm wondering if he has actually learned to make a connection between what is written on the page and what he plays. I feel badly because he actually plays quite musically from memory, but it has to take him an inordinate amount of time. I asked his parents, and they feel his reading level in other material is good.
I assigned a c major scale and arpeggio in separate hands for next week and told him that we would start with some basic sight reading in that key for next week (treble clef only). This would include clapping of basic rhythms and then transferring to the keyboard.
Does this sound like a reasonable approach to lay the foundation for actual music reading? If you don't answer this, it is fine. I know you are both quite busy. Martin
So Ausra, this situation is quite depressing for this teacher, right?
Ausra: Yes, it might be very hard to have a student like this. And I guess that probably his student got his early musical training based maybe on the Suzuki method. I’m guessing so; I’m not 100% sure, but that’s my best guess.
Ausra: Because the Suzuki method is based on learning how to play by ear, actually; you don’t read a music score…
Vidas: Until later.
Ausra: Until later. Until, actually, much later. And this method was developed in Japan by a violinist--you know, Suzuki. And it works for violin fairly well, because they have only 1 line. And I have heard violinists after many years, who were trained as Suzuki players when they were very small; and the advantage of this system was that you can start to play music very early, in that case. And they start teaching you when you are at the age of like 3 years old--which would be probably impossible, if you wanted to make your student sight-read music at that early age, from a music score.
Vidas: Mhm. Yeah.
Ausra: But what I also have heard--and that’s a disadvantage of this system--is that although they develop perfect pitch by playing by ear all the time, they actually never learn to read music very well.
Ausra: And they always struggle with that, even later on when they are adults. So, what do you, Vidas, think about this problem?
Vidas: First of all, about the Suzuki method: yes, Shinichi Suzuki developed this system in hope of helping children to learn like they would be learning their mother tongue. Because when they learn to speak their native tongue, they don’t learn to read first, right? They want to imitate first what their parents say--separate words, phrases. So the small kids also watch their peers and brothers and sisters play, let’s say, violin, or other instruments; observe them for a month, or two or three, or even half a year; until they are so motivated to pick up an instrument themselves and try it out, by ear without ever looking at a score. But as Ausra says, it’s a great system for developing perfect pitch; but if you’re not very very hard working, then reading music is a problem later on. Only those extremely hardworking students can be proficient in reading music as well, using this Suzuki system. So if Hubertus has a student in 8th grade--who knows if he was trained in Suzuki or not, but--apparently, he is a poor sightreader.
Ausra: Yes, and I remember when you know, way back, many years back, I was working at one school, and teaching first and second and third graders piano. I also noticed that for some students, it’s much easier to look at my fingers when I’m playing, and then to mechanically memorize what keys I’m pressing--and not look at the score. That was also one of the cases I had. This was also frustrating, actually, because I think that reading music from the score should come first. Of course, the progress then will be slower, probably, than learning other methods; but it will be definite, and finally it will lead you to more success.
Vidas: Especially if you are an 8th grader.
Ausra: Yes. So I would suggest, for Martin with this particular student, don’t let him play like this, not using the score. He must look at the score all the time until he will be able to play it correctly, with right rhythms (not to play like he says, eighth notes like quarter notes)...
Ausra: And only then, after he is comfortable enough while playing from the music score, let him play from memory or by ear.
Vidas: I have a proposition for Martin. It will be a little bit of extra work for the student, but in the end it will be much more beneficial. What about assigning sight-reading exercises or short pieces for your student at home, and asking him to record his playing and send the mp3 recordings to you--to the teacher? It would be like extra care and extra support from you. You don’t have to create them, but you just have to know that he has prepared something new for him. And he cannot really avoid playing from the sheet music this way--let’s say one page per day, or something. A short piece; maybe just one single line, LH, RH alone. What do you think about that, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, I think that would be very beneficial.
Vidas: Because a student will not be willing to do this on his own, obviously, because it’s difficult and he has to force himself. So that would be like an additional level of support from the teacher. And also, when he comes to you on a weekly basis, to the lesson, how about spending the majority of the lesson time on sight-reading?
Ausra: I think at the beginning it would be great. Because that’s what he needs in order to be a better player, a better musician.
Vidas: Yes. So, assign him a collection of music; maybe...I don’t know, whatever you like at that level, and assign one page per day of something or one piece per day, and see if he can focus on recording his assignments and sending the mp3s to you.
Ausra: Yes. And I don’t think he will be very happy at the beginning with this new assignment; but you know, looking into the future, I think he will be thankful to you.
Vidas: True. And guys, if you yourselves struggle with sight-reading at the level that you miss quarter notes and mix them with eighth notes and they all sound the same and you feel the need to write down the note names above or below the notes, then you can do the same thing. Force yourself to record, and it will be like an accountability system for you.
Ausra: That’s what some of my students do, in solfège with exercises in C clefs, where we have to play one voice on the piano and to sing another voice; and we have like 2 different C clefs, like for example, tenor and alto, or tenor and soprano; so they just write in the note names! And it just makes me furious!
Vidas: Yes. It’s not clef reading at all.
Ausra: Yes, it’s cheating, actually!
Vidas: It defeats the purpose. Okay, so don’t cheat, guys. I think you want to succeed in this for the long-term. And remember that the first few weeks will feel like hell, but later on will be purgatory, right?
Ausra: Yes, and then…
Vidas: And then later, heaven!
Ausra: Yes, that’s right!
Vidas: And on this optimistic note, we leave you to your practice. Because when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
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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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