First, the news: If you would like to learn the famous Toccata from Suite Gothique by Leon Boellmann, I have prepared this PDF score with complete fingering and pedaling which will be helpful in your practice process.
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And now let's go on to the podcast conversation for today.
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 82 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Today’s question was sent by Peter, and he writes, “Dear Vidas and Ausra, I recently learned a new and ugly concept: Convenience rubato. Meaning slowing down, when it gets difficult.
It hit me by my heart, because it is, what I do during rehearsal. But how do I avoid it during a performance e.g. a service (especially during preludes or postludes, since the hymns normally stick to the the tempo)? Thanks for your continuous work teaching and inspiring me. Regards, Peter.’
Remember, we also had a similar experience while playing piano. One of our former professors said, “Oh, when it gets difficult, just expand the tempo and slow down!”
Ausra: Yes, I remember that! It was funny.
Vidas: Of course, he didn’t mean we should do this all the time, but he tried to make us feel better about difficult spots, basically.
Vidas: Did you, for example--while working, remember, with our organ studio, Unda Maris people--did you ever hear somebody slow down when it gets difficult?
Ausra: Oh, definitely. There are some students that change tempo--like in the two beginning opening lines, they change tempo a few times!
Vidas: Or speed up when it gets easier.
Ausra: Yes. And that’s especially obvious in fugues, because one subject enters alone, and it’s easy to play it, so you can take a fast tempo. And then, each subsequent subject would just slow down the tempo a little bit; and finally maybe after a few lines you establish the right tempo. It just means that you have to pick your opening tempo according to the hardest spot of the piece, from the beginning.
Vidas: The densest texture.
Vidas: Just look at your piece of music that you’re currently playing, and find the spot which has the most difficult rhythmic values--maybe syncopations, maybe four or five parts--and then try to play all the parts together. If you cannot really play at the concert tempo without mistakes, all parts together, at that spot, slow down until you can. And that’s your current practice tempo, basically.
Ausra: And I think what creates this problem that you cannot keep a steady tempo in the hard spots and just slow down--It’s very hard for us to push ourselves, for example, while practicing, to start to work on those hard spots first, and then only after practicing those hard spots, to play everything right from the beginning until the end. Because, that’s what kids do at school. They always try to play from the beginning to the end. And in that case, you will never be comfortable with those really hard spots, because they need your additional attention--extra practice.
Vidas: Or kids even do other things, like playing pieces which are easy...
Ausra: That’s true.
Vidas: And not practicing pieces which are difficult at all, for some time, until it is too late.
Ausra: Because always, if you don’t keep a steady tempo, it means that you either have some technical difficulties in some spots, or you are not listening to what you are playing. But I think in this case, this is the first scenario: you still have trouble playing some difficult spots.
Vidas: Would recording yourself help?
Ausra: Yes, that would help, definitely.
Vidas: Because then you would find out how much your tempo fluctuates.
Vidas: And in which places. It’s pure math, I think. As Ausra mentioned, for example: fugues. And fugues sometimes have four voices--but not at the beginning. So at the beginning, you have just one voice, a single line. Then a second voice enters: you have two voices. Then three voices, and then four-voice texture; that’s the hardest part, perhaps. And there are several of them during the entire piece. So what happens? At the second entrance of the fugue, you have two voices. But you have not two problems here, but three: because you have to solve the first voice separately, second voice separately, and both voices together--that’s three problems. When you have three voices...you have seven problems! Right? Because each voice is separate, and then two-voice combinations are three, and plus additional three-part texture--all parts together. And when you have four parts, you have fifteen problems to solve! That’s why it is fifteen times harder to play the middle of the fugue than the beginning of the fugue--right, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, that’s true.
Vidas: So, I hope, guys, you can practice more of those combinations in difficult spots. Ausra, are there any other exercises that people could do, which would help them stick to the tempo? Or would just mastering the challenging parts help?
Ausra: You could exercise, but I think it’s good to master those hard spots in a specific piece of music, for keeping a steady tempo.
Vidas: Because like Peter writes, about hymns--it doesn’t happen with hymn playing, right? He sticks to the tempo in hymns, normally. But preludes and postludes give him more trouble. So normal organ music would be a good place to look at--
Vidas: And to practice difficult spots. Considerably more times than the easy spots.
Vidas: Okay guys, please send us more of your questions. We really enjoy helping you grow. And...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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