Vidas: Let’s start Episode 125 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. And this question was sent by Peter. He writes:
“My challenges are lack of time, and spending/wasting time on other things(!) i.e. lack of willpower. And I think I need to improve my sight-reading if I am going to improve my overall organ-playing. Also, I hate most 'modern' organ-music.
On this subject,it might be interesting if you could explain, in one of your blogs, what anybody 'sees' in sour-sounding, discordant 'modern' music. You know the kind I mean - where you are not sure if the player is making lots of wrong notes, or is this what it is supposed to sound like?
Many highly competent professionals like this kind of music, but why? One such person said to me, "It's probably more satisfying to play than to listen to." In that case, why play it to an audience? Another said, "Well, I like it, and I'm going to play what I like." (He meant in a recital.)
Is it any wonder that the organ is right at the bottom of the pile, in popularity, with the general public?
Where I live, if we get an audience of 40 to a recital, that's very good. Usually, it's 20 or under. The idea is dying on its feet and a lot of it has to do with the kind of music people play, as well as the way in which they play it. (There's another topic for discussion - how is it that some people can play all their pieces absolutely accurately, and the performance is dull and boring, and someone else plays with a few mistakes, but it's exciting and attractive? 'Music' certainly is fascinating, as a subject.)
I think you may agree with me that, the basic 'purpose' of music - any music - is to create emotion in the mind of the listener. But if that emotion is one of irritation, annoyance and unpleasantness, why would anyone want to repeat the experience? It makes no sense.”
It’s a complex question, right Ausra?
Ausra: Well, yes; a very broad one.
Vidas: In general, I think Peter struggles with modern music comprehension, probably, and discovering the beauty of it.
Ausra: Yes. That’s a tricky question to answer, because the term “modern music” is so broad. There are such different types of music in this “modern” organ music.
Vidas: There is no longer a mainstream.
Ausra: Yes, that’s right, so it’s very hard to describe. But I guess, you know, maybe modern music’s problem is probably too many dissonances.
Vidas: Dissonances which people don’t know how to handle in their mind
Vidas: They don’t know what they mean; they don’t feel the resolution of the dissonances. Or maybe composers don’t resolve them anymore.
Ausra: Yes. And of course, another trouble with modern music is that some of it actually just lost the form of it; and it’s very hard to listen, sometimes, to music which has no shape. Not like sonata form, where you have like 2 main subjects, and then another subject, and then you have all that exposition, and then you have the development of these themes, and then after that recapitulation comes back. Then you have a clear subject, and you can refer to it all the time. Even in a fugue. I don’t think very many listeners appreciate the fugue so much; but still, because you have a subject and it appears over and over again, it makes a fugue bearable to the listener.
Vidas: Haha. Good term--“making fugue bearable.” This could be a tagline of some music website or for one of our recitals.
Ausra: Well...Okay, and even listening to Bach’s Art of the Fugue, it’s hard work. Of course, you can appreciate such music the better you know it. So if you go to a concert where you know that modern music will be on the program, I suggest you do some research yourself, if you want to really appreciate it. Maybe find a score, or listen to a recording on YouTube, if that’s possible. Or at least maybe you will find a story of how that piece was written. Because sometimes, understanding what the composer felt at that particular moment of this particular composition may light it in another light, and you may understand it better.
Vidas: And sometimes it’s a problem of communication, right? Performers don’t make an effort to introduce the music to the audience, either in spoken form or in text, as program notes. So less-experienced concert goers don’t know what to think during such a dissonant performance.
Ausra: Yes. And I think another problem is that so much music is written already, that new composers, they try to do something differently. But actually, it’s hard to find something different, and do something differently; because as I said, 700 years of organ music, so...it’s very hard to find something new. So sometimes they want to make it as horrible as possible, to make it sound “new.”
Vidas: I think originality is a complex question. Everyone wants to be original, but everything was created before, right? We just repeat history in a new way, perhaps. So the best way to be original, actually, is to combine old things--several things, not one, but several things, in a new and unexpected way; and then you will be original.
Ausra: Well, and you know, composers did that time after time, in history, if you look back. It’s sort of, for example, like Romantic composers. They got inspiration not from the Classical music that was just before the Romantic period, but from the Baroque period. And what the Classicals did was, they found inspiration not in Baroque music but in Renaissance music--which was pre-Baroque. So...And they took some things of those old times, and put some new ideas into them. And it worked fairly nicely.
Vidas: And I think people like Peter could benefit from sightreading modern music more. Literally taking it apart, and looking at the scores, and seeing how it’s put together helps to appreciate it when you hear it. He wrote that somebody he knows said that it’s probably more pleasant to play it than to listen to it, right? So...which means that he needs to play it more, simply.
Vidas: And then he will be able to appreciate modern music more. I’m not saying he should go on a modern music diet…
Ausra: Oh, no! Definitely not!
Vidas: For the record. But just to include some pieces in your sightreading menu would be helpful.
Ausra: Yes. And another thing, I think, is that organists who perform only modern music are making a large mistake. I think they are losing audience, because if you want to play modern music, it’s okay, but you have to keep the right proportion. For example, if you are planning a recital, and it’s an hour long, I would suggest that your modern music wouldn’t take more than 10--well, at the most,15 minutes of your entire recital.
Ausra: And don’t play it at the beginning, because your audience will leave right away!
Vidas: You know, it’s another very complex question for people who choose to voluntarily play only modern music in their repertoire. For example, my friends James D. Hicks and Carson Cooman, they are known to perform only pieces that are created recently. James D. Hicks is playing (all over the world!) music from the Nordic countries, and Carson Cooman is a champion for avant garde music and modern music in general. So you could actually build a brand for yourself, of being the one who performs such music. And I don’t think that they worry about losing audience who don’t like such music, right? Because it’s simply not for them. Don’t you think, Ausra?
Ausra: Well, yes and no…
Vidas: It depends on your goals. If you want to please everyone, then of course, playing only modern music doesn’t help.
Ausra: But what about pleasing yourself? For example, I could not just play modern music.
Vidas: That’s why you don’t play modern music only.
Ausra: I know. Although, I like modern music, and I have played it quite a lot, actually.
Vidas: But then, imagine a situation where a person only plays music of dead composers--not only dead composers, but who lived a hundred years ago, two hundred years ago--three or four hundred years ago! If everybody would play this, then the advancement of organ art would be on a minimal scale. Probably creativity would be diminished, in general, in the organ world, because we would be repeating only museum-like performances!
Ausra: You know, I don’t think it would be a huge disadvantage for organ music if none of the new pieces would be written, starting from this day on, because there are so many masterpieces already that you wouldn’t be able to play all of them in your entire life, even if you would live for like 200 years.
Vidas: This is true. But what about for a composer, who feels the need to create something, to let it out into the world--what about them?
Ausra: Well, that’s a tricky question--you got me!
Vidas: So, what I meant is, everybody needs to be creative in some way, probably--to spend our days not only in consuming things, but also creating things. Performing music is one of the ways we consume music, and creating music (either in written form or in improvised form) is one of the creative endeavors. So, you could create, actually, stylistically old-fashioned music if you like it, right? It doesn’t diminish your creativity, if you like this particular style. But I think that people who create sooner or later become a little bit dissatisfied with repeating old styles. They want to create something which has never been created before.
Ausra: You know, nowadays there are so many composers that I think you will be lucky if after you compose a piece, somebody will actually perform it. You don’t get much chance of that, knowing how competitive this field is.
Vidas: Oh, this is another question probably too broad to answer today, but: in this global world, where everybody can create and everybody can share, and many people are doing this, so it’s getting more crowded every day, right--this global world of music? So then, the only way to get noticed, actually, is to stand out--to not follow where everybody else is going, but to lead, to do your own thing, to find your own voice.
Ausra: And what I could suggest to Peter is: for example, if he decides to play some modern organ music, choose that modern organ music which was composed by organist composers. Because they actually know how to treat the instrument well.
Ausra: Because I have seen many organ compositions that were not composed by organist composers, and they were just disasters, because you can find things that are impossible to play well on the organ, and it sounds bad. But organist composers, that’s another thing. They know how to treat the instrument well.
Vidas: What would be one composer you think would sound perhaps satisfactory enough for Peter, for starters?
Ausra: Petr Eben maybe?
Vidas: His music is not too challenging--not too dissonant?
Vidas: He is dissonant.
Ausra: He is dissonant, but he knows how to treat the organ.
Vidas: What about Charles Tournemire?
Ausra: Yes, Tournemire also.
Vidas: I’m sightreading every day now from his cycle, “L’Orgue Mystique”. And I find that some of his meditations are quite simple in structure and very modal, and therefore sound quite sweet. So, a lot of French composers also do that modal, sweet writing, which you might find helpful, too. Thank you guys, this was very interesting. 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.
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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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