Vidas: Let’s start now Episode 68 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Peter, and he says that his main challenge is old age and lack of practice. To be more specific, he writes:
“I would be interested in any techniques to promote a more flexible heel - the kind of thing you need when playing trills (even slow ones) with one foot.
Also can you explain why, after 40 years or more, I can still hit the wrong pedal note? (This must mean that, after all this time, I am still not sure of where each pedal is on the pedalboard. I don't have this trouble with fingers on keys. If I make mistakes there, it is nearly always because I mis-read the note, or failed to read the note at all, because I was looking somewhere else on the score.)”
Old age and lack of practice--but also, Peter struggles with playing wrong notes in the pedals, right, Ausra?
Ausra: That’s probably because he does not use the pedal preparation technique. That’s my guess.
Vidas: Obviously. We can guarantee. We can guarantee it, because otherwise he would write about this. If he would apply pedal preparation technique himself, he would say, “I’m using pedal preparation, but still making mistakes in the pedals.” So that would be a different sort of question, different angle.
Ausra: I know. And about playing trills in the pedal with one foot, using heel and toe?
Vidas: Do you know this specific example? I know just from my memory, “B. A. C. H.” by Liszt: at the end of that piece, there is a passage with one foot--or even octaves, heels with octaves, both feet should be playing trills, I think, there.
Ausra: Well, yes, but there are very few pieces that require you to do it; but if you have a piece like this, I would say the only suggestion would be to get different shoes, because your heel must be higher, for places like this. Then you won’t have so much trouble moving your ankle.
Vidas: Flexibility of the ankle. How do you develop flexibility of the ankle? It’s very simple: you play pedal scales and arpeggios.
Ausra: That’s true.
Vidas: That’s how Marcel Dupré in the early 20th century developed his perfect pedal technique over, I think one summer when he was a boy; and he had injured his wrist, so he couldn’t play with his hands for some time. But he didn’t stop practicing! He himself wrote: he “played the pedals with vengeance!” So that’s how he became a virtuoso on the pedals.
So guys, we have exactly such a training, right? Organ Pedal Virtuoso Master Course. And people who finish it--it’s exactly, I think, twelve weeks long--people who finish it say that after that, their technique advances not to the next level, but to the level after the next! Like a jump--it’s just like jump starting your pedal technique, and making a huge leap over time.
Vidas: It’s not easy, right, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, it takes time.
Vidas: It’s not easy to play pedal scales.
Ausra: No, it’s not easy.
Vidas: Do you like those scales and arpeggio yourself?
Ausra: No. I don’t like them!
Vidas: I don’t, too. But I know that they’re like your...healthy food, like carrots or BROCCOLI. Do you like broccoli?
Ausra: I like, actually, broccoli.
Vidas: Oh, so you are different than me...But people who don’t like broccoli, but still understand the benefit of eating broccoli, they have to force themselves, a little bit, over a number of weeks, to get used to the taste of broccoli.
So, the same with pedal scales. And if Peter would practice pedal scales and arpeggios--especially from our course, because they’re all with complete pedaling, with exact pedaling that would allow a perfect legato technique to develop.
And that’s absolutely different than if you would play Baroque pieces, with alternate toes. We use this course specifically for Romantic and modern pedal technique, not for early pedal technique. And especially it would be helpful to develop ankle flexibility. That’s the key and secret to perfect pedal technique, right Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, that’s true.
Vidas: How else could we help Peter? He says old age…
Ausra: Well, he cannot, definitely, become younger, but he could make himself feel younger by exercising regularly.
Vidas: Um, let’s start with walking, right? A lot of people who haven’t exercised up until now, I think, would be hesitant to start it, right? To develop a new habit is very difficult, especially at this age, when you are over 60, right? But...everybody walks. For some time, for some minutes during the day, they walk. So the easiest form of exercise we’ve found--and very enjoyable--you could take a walk! In the park, in the woods, or along the river, right?
Ausra: Yes, and if you are too lazy to do that, so just get a dog. And then you will have to walk with your dog every day at least twice.
Vidas: Exactly. That’s required. How many steps do you need to take in one day, to stay in good shape?
Ausra: Ten thousand.
Vidas: Ten thousand steps daily. And how long does it take for you to do that, Ausra? Have you measured?
Ausra: Well, I haven’t, but I think you had…
Vidas: They have apps like that on the smartphone now, so you can measure your steps and be calculating time. And to me, it’s like 100 minutes. Of simply walking.
Ausra: So, almost and hour and a half.
Vidas: That’s one side. How can you stay active and in good shape besides walking? Can you do some form of stretching?
Ausra: Yes, you can do yoga, Pilates...and other kinds of exercises.
Vidas: We found that Pilates is especially good for organists because it develops your inner muscles--your core, basically, right?
Vidas: Especially helpful for when you have to sit for many hours at the bench. And for people who are struggling with back problems--there are a lot of them, among organists--the system that Joseph Pilates developed in the early 20th century is especially beneficial to them. And then Peter will not feel so old, right?
Ausra: Yes. You can sort of stop your age.
Vidas: Exactly. And drink plenty of water, guys, this could be extremely important. You have to drink maybe 8 cups of water a day....But not in one sitting, right?
Ausra: Haha, yes, definitely not! Now we sound like medical doctors, not like musicians...hahaha!
Vidas: No! You always have to consult your physician, right, when we talk about those physical things! Maybe there is a person who cannot really drink too much water--
Ausra: I know, yes.
Vidas: Who maybe has kidney problems...
Ausra: Or heart problems, too.
Vidas: Or with physical exercise. Maybe walking is not good for somebody who has, maybe, knee problems, right? Maybe swimming…
Ausra: Yes, swimming is excellent, if you have joint problems.
Vidas: But only you know your own condition, and your doctor would prescribe a specific form of exercise, an activity you could enjoy.
Ausra: We just simply suggest to you the things that we are doing ourselves, that work for us.
Vidas: Exactly. So please consult your physician--that’s imperative. But in general, being more active, taking frequent breaks between practice sessions, like every 25 minutes or so, is extremely helpful; and doing some kind of stretching never hurts, in my mind.
Vidas: Good, guys. Please send us more of your questions. This is fun, and we should do it more often! So, you could subscribe to our blog at www.organduo.lt if you haven’t done so already, and simply reply to our messages that you will get to your email inbox with advice and tips about organ playing, and send us more questions this way. And we would love helping you grow as an organist. Okay, 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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