Thank you for another great year
I would like to thank personally every reader of my blog, subscriber, and customer for one more great year that we had together. My 2013 report demonstrates what kind of a ride it was.
For New Year's Eve
In case you are wondering what to play on New Year's Eve (besides good old Bach's setting of Das alte Jahr vergangen ist, BWV 614), here is my simple and version in a PDF and MIDI format of this charming and melancholic-sounding tune.
Here the chorale melody is placed in the tenor voice played by the left hand and the outer two parts play a rhythmical figure with rests and eighth-notes in imitation.
You may remember how several days ago I shared with you a video with my improvisation on Lithuanian Christmas carol "Sveikas, Jėzau gimusis" which received a few requests for the sheet music because some people wanted to play this improvisation themselves.
Since I don't have a sheet music for this video (this was an improvisation), today I would like to give you at least a harmonization of this tune. It was created by the prominent Lithuanian composer, organist, pedagogue and choir conductor Juozas Naujalis (1869-1934).
I hope you will enjoy it and try your hand at transposing it to the five closely related keys of the A major scale (E major, C# minor, F# minor, B minor, and D major) and create a Coda at the end. You can even try to put the tune in the tenor voice for some verses (for this trick to work you have to switch the soprano with the tenor), if you want more variety.
Imagine you are a beginner at the organ. You love this instrument. You listen to your favorite organ music and watch many videos online and little by little you start to have the desire to learn to play the organ.
You manage to find a small organ for practice or perhaps you found a church where the organist agreed to let you practice for some 30 minutes a day when the organ is not being used.
You bought some scores of your favorite organ pieces and you are ready to start practicing. You even found a pair of shoes which look like they could work on the organ.
So one evening you sit down at your practice instrument, open an organ score, turn on the organ, pull out some stops and start playing...
If you really are a beginner, what you will discover right away is that you don't know what to do. Sure, you may know how to read music (anyone can figure out the notes in the treble and bass clefs easily). Even if you don't read music, you can go online and you will find hundreds of sites which can teach you how to do it in 30 minutes or less.
But the basic problem you have to face is that even if you know how to read music, real organ pieces are way out of your reach at the moment. Even Orgelbuchlein by Bach, even Chorale Preludes by Dupre and yes, even Menuets from the Notebook of Anna Magdalena Bach are too complex, if you never played an instrument before.
What you really need is an experienced organ teacher to show you what to play at the beginning. If you don't have an access to a teacher, you can learn to play the organ by yourself, but you need a systematic, step-by-step approach in your first attempts to play this instrument.
It's best to start with something really simple - with single voice exercises where your only task is to find the right key on the keyboard or pedalboard, press it and release it in the correct manner. The rhythm should be very straightforward with slow note values (whole notes).
And so you would practice this way, perhaps getting to know various keys with ascending number of accidentals. Little by little the rhythms begin to become more complex - half-notes, quarter-notes, eighth-notes and so on but you still have to play a single voice melodies for some time.
Only then you can start practicing exercises and pieces for two and three voices. As you can imagine, it's really difficult to find something suitable from the real organ repertoire. Sure, you can practice separate voices of a multi-voice composition but what about the rhythms? What about the systematic approach to keys?
Because of this complexity, a lot of people who start practicing the organ without the right guidance simply quit and say to themselves "No, it's not for me. I'll never be able to master this instrument if the beginning is so complicated." And sadly, they give up and move their interest to something else.
I din't just invent this hypothetical scenario in my head. Every day I receive tenths of emails and some of them are from beginners. What they ask me to create is a simple training program which they could use in case they don't have a teacher.
Also we have to remember that organ playing from an organist of today requires at least two very different playing techniques - early articulated manner of playing (for the Renaissance and Baroque music) and the legato style of playing (for Romantic and Modern organ pieces).
Keeping this in mind I finally managed to create a program like that which you can check out for yourself and see if this might be a great way to start the new year with my systematic step-by-step organ playing course for beginners which will help you build a solid foundation for your further organ playing efforts.
Sure, you can find some very good organ method books but the thing is, you will not get feedback from the them. On the other hand, with my program, you will get unlimited email support from me during the entire length of the course. If you get stuck or need help with anything - simply write me a note and I'll be here to help you out.
How will you start your new year?
This is a very exciting time: I'm opening registration to the new and long awaited Organ Playing Master Course for beginners.
A lot of people asked me to create it because the standard organ repertoire is really too difficult if you want to start learning to play the organ systematically.
As you can imagine, I have had many other requests lately and didn't have the opportunity to create this important course earlier.
But now finally all the preparation is done and you can check it out for yourself.
This is an excellent way to start the new year, open a new chapter in your life and advance in organ playing in my proven step-by-step manner.
This video is an example of how you can leverage your transposition skills to create a rather lengthy improvisation on any hymn tune you like. Specifically, this is a famous Christmas carol "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing".
The text of this hymn was written by Charles Wesley in 1739 who was the leader of the Methodist movement in England in the 18th century and is best known for more than 6000 hymns he wrote.
The original opening text was a little different: "Hark! how all the welkin rings / Glory to the King of Kings" but Wesley's co-worker George Whitefield changed it to the one we use today. The modern music of the hymn was adopted from Felix Mendelssohn's cantata that he wrote in 1840 to commemorate the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg (hence the name of the hymn tune - Mendelssohn).
At any rate, here is the tonal plan of this improvisation: F major, C major, A minor, D minor, G minor, B flat major, E flat major, A flat major, B flat minor, and F major (with Coda).
This straightforward plan leaves a powerful impression on the listener for several reasons - the fluency of performance, the tune is lovely and familiar and the key changes make the harmony quite colorful (especially when you change the major mode to the minor and vice versa). It works best if every verse is played on a different registration.
Blessed Christmas to you and your family!
Today I would like to share with you one more improvisation I played during my recent recital at my church. This one is on traditional Lithuanian Christmas Carol "Sveikas Jėzau gimusis".
This tune is heard at the end of every Christmas Mass in every Lithuanian church. It was created by the Lithuanian composer, organist, pedagogue and choir conductor Juozas Naujalis (1869-1934) who also left preludes, canons, fugues and other pieces in the Romantic style for organ.
If you know how to harmonize a hymn and transpose it to the five closely related keys of the major or minor scale, then you can create a similar improvisation yourself.
In fact, people love Christmas tunes so much that it's worth considering playing a special hymn improvisation and singing concert - sort of like hymn festival next year.
P.S. The two organ pipes that you see in the picture above were given to us in 2000 at the Gothenburg International Organ Academy (Sweden) and yes, there is some snow outside to create a special festive feeling...
Improvisation on Silent Night
With Christmas rapidly approaching I thought of sharing with you a video from my recent recital of improvisation of Advent hymns and Christmas carols. This is a 7 verse improvisation on Silent Night.
If you want to create a similar improvisation on any tune of your choice, here is the structure of this piece:
Verse 1: the Tonic key
Verse 2: the Dominant key
Verse 3: the Relative of the Dominant
Verse 4: the Relative key
Verse 5: the Relative of the Subdominant
Verse 6: the Subdominant key
Verse 7: Return to the home key
CODA (optional): modulation to the Subdominant key and a final cadence over a tonic pedal point. This creates a feeling of completion.
Choose a hymn, a chorale, or any kind of melody and try this simple approach for yourself. All you have to do is transpose your tune to these keys, choose a different registration for each verse and add a rhythmical figure for accompaniment based on chordal notes in the left hand part. This process is very simple but the beauty and impact of it is the fluency, different registrations, and change of keys for each verse.
Videos from Valencia, Spain
On December 9, 2013 I participated in a concert of Lithuanian music in Valencia, Spain at the Jesuit's church there in town. Today I would like to share with you two videos from my trip:
Video about the organ
Video of my Fantasia on the Themes by Ciurlionis (2013) for flute and organ (with the flutist Giedrius Gelgotas)
This concert was organized by the Lithuanian Consulate in Valencia as part of the cultural events on the occasion of Lithuania's presidency over the EU Council. We performed music of Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, a few of my compositions and a choir piece by Donatas Zakaras "Letters to Sophia" which is a very touching composition based on Ciurlionis' letters to his wife, Sophia.
A chorale fantasia can be described as an organ piece based on any preexisting melody, such as hymn, chorale or Gregorian chant tune in which each of the tune phrases are treated more than once in different voices using a wide variety of techniques. The fantasia can be contrasted with the chorale prelude in which the tune is played only once.
So what is the process for learning to improvise a chorale fantasia?
1. Take a hymn tune and create a two-part note-against-note counterpoint. The tune can be played in the top or the bottom voice. The most appropriate intervals for this step are major and minor thirds and sixths, perfect fifths and octaves. Avoid parallel fifths and octaves by using contrary motion between the voices as much as possible.
2. Harmonize a hymn tune in the treble clef only using the primary three-note chords and their inversions (the Tonic, the Subdominant, and the Dominant).
3. Harmonize a hymn tune in four parts (SATB) in the treble and the bass clef.
4. Enrich your harmonization with chords of the secondary three-note chords, their inversions, four-note chords, their inversions, tonicizations, and modulations.
5. Transpose your harmonizations into 5 closely related keys of the major or minor scale: the Dominant and its relative, the relative of the Tonic, the relative of the Subdominant and the Subdominant.
6. Repeat step 5 with the tune in the tenor (played with the solo registration on the different manual) and in the bass parts (with the reed in the pedals).
7. Repeat step 6 with the tune in half notes (the chords can change in quarter notes when appropriate).
8. Repeat step 7 adding non-chordal notes in eighth-notes, eighth-note triplets and sixteenth-notes.
9. Create a bicinium for two voices (the tune can be played in any of the voices with the solo registration).
10. Create a trio for three voices (the tune can be played in any of the voices with the solo registration).
11. Add imitative introduction and interludes in two and three voices between the chorale phrases. A single voice phrase can be used at the beginning.
12. Add diminutions in the voice that has the tune in four parts.
13. Add chordal echos for each of the chorale phrases.
14. Add melodic echos for each of the chorale phrases in three parts.
15. Add echo passages in sixteenth-notes for each of the chorale phrases in two parts.
16. Combine steps 9-14 to create a full-length fantasia.
So where to start?
Pick 10 hymn tunes that you like and practice step 1 on your instrument. Make sure you take a very slow tempo and don't advance to the next step with another set of 10 hymn tunes until you can play the current one at least 3 times in a row fluently.
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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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