Vidas: Let’s start Episode 88 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Today’s question was sent by Daniel. He writes:
“Hi Vidas. In my church in Watertown, SD, I have 2 organists, whom I don't think ever got trained to be church organists. I can tell that very easily, because their way of playing hymns sound tired and funeral-like. They have been with my church for a long time, longer than me. I got really tired of listening to them playing hymns. So, what I do is sometimes I go to another church as a guest musician to play music there. And sometimes when that church has no need for me, I attend the contemporary service. In order to understand what I am saying, you and Ausra may need to sometime come to my church and listen to those organists. They also don't play background music during prayer time, which as a result the prayer time sounds empty and meaningless. There were several people, including me, who complained about one of the organists. Have you and Ausra encountered such organists in your area?”
What do you think, Ausra?
Ausra: Oh, yes.
Vidas: What’s the situation with church organists in Lithuania, in general?
Ausra: Well, now it’s maybe changing a little bit, but in most churches--in most, almost all churches--we don’t have professional church organists playing for church services. So you can find all kinds of variety in the church.
Vidas: Because, of course, the Lithuanian Academy of Music now has graduates--I don’t know how many, 40, 50, maybe 80 graduates, over decades, right? And a lot of them stay in Vilnius and work in churches here in this area.
Ausra: But actually, only a few work in churches, out of them.
Vidas: So in general, in the capital, the situation is much better than in the provinces, right?
Ausra: Yes. But in the provinces, in smaller towns we encountered, there are sometimes music teachers from high schools--that play organ in church services; so you can find all kinds of funny things--I hear all kinds of funny things.
Vidas: And we have to be fair: there is a number of people who are good organists, even when they are amateurs.
Vidas: Never trained professionally--they try to improve over time. There is a number of those. But they’re not in the majority, I would say.
Vidas: What’s the funniest thing you heard them play?
Ausra: Well there was this nun in Tytuvenai and it was Easter time, and Catholics have these long answers of Alleluia around Easter time.
Vidas: At the end of the mass.
Ausra: At the end of the mass, yes. And it was so funny, when she tried with one finger to play that answer on the organ and to sing it...and it was out of tune, with wrong notes, and big pauses in the middle of it...it was just so funny!
Vidas: So, in Latin it would be “Deo gratias, alleluia.” And the pries sings “Ite missa est,” I think--
Vidas: The priest adds “Alleluia” in singing, in chanting; and the organist, or the choir, has to respond with Deo gratias.
Ausra: To respond, yes.
Vidas: Usually in Lithuanian, of course: “Go, the mass is ended,” basically, it translates, “alleluia.” And they respond, “Thanks be to the Lord, alleluia.”
Vidas: And she was completely lost.
Ausra: I know, and it was so hilariously funny--I think it’s not nice to laugh out loud in church, but that’s what I did in my mind!
Vidas: Another joke we always like to tell is that--I think somebody told us that it’s apparently a real thing--that some village organists play white keys on weekdays, and black keys on Sundays and festivities.
Vidas: Can you imagine what this sounds like?
Vidas: It’s a real thing sometimes. So basically what they think is, “Oh, black keys are more advanced, so basically I reserve them for festivities and Sundays; and regular weekdays I will play just white notes!”
Ausra: And I think that’s quite normal, because if you cannot make a living from playing organ in your town, and you have to do other jobs as well (and maybe a few more jobs in order to keep yourself and your family afloat), you cannot spend much time practicing organ and improving yourself; so that’s just too bad, that’s all you have. But definitely, there are awkward choices of repertoire, while listening to the organ in church; poor technique; very slow tempos; and there was in the question a remark about silence during prayer time--
Ausra: No background music. So, in our situation in Lithuania, very often the priest requires having complete silence for prayer time, and does not allow any music to sound in that moment. So...I don’t know if that’s the situation in that case, but that’s what we have in Lithuania.
Vidas: Yeah, sometimes Catholics like to contemplate and meditate in complete silence. But...remember you played in Holy Cross church once, where your priest was willing to hear some meditative chants, maybe hymns, towards the end of prayer time
Ausra: Yes, I remember that.
Vidas: Did you sing something or play solo music?
Ausra: I think I sang something.
Vidas: Uh-huh. Adoration.
Vidas: Mhm. Okay, so guys, I think the situation is always different in different parts of the world. And I would say that if we went, as Daniel says, to his church in South Dakota, that would be really interesting to hear. By the way, we would definitely go to Vermilion, right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s an excellent museum. So if you are close to that area, definitely go to visit it.
Vidas: If you are basically in any kind of part of the Midwest, and you have some time--several hours drive--or go to South Dakota, Vermilion is a small town in the middle of the winter time. It was very snowy and cold. But they have...What do they have? Tell us!
Ausra: Well, that music instrument museum, it’s just outstanding. It’s one of the best in the world. You can see a variety of harpsichords, organs, string instruments--they have a hold there where you can see 5 Stradivarius!
Ausra Yes, violins. And guitars.
Vidas: And organs, and clavichords, and harpsichords
Ausra: Yes, it’s just amazing.
Vidas: From all ages.
Ausra: Wind instruments, as well. So it’s just an amazing collection of musical instruments. And actually, I think we went on Friday, if I remember correctly, and they have lunch recitals on Friday--“Brown Bag Lunch Recitals,” so you can just pick up and take your lunch in a brown bag, and eat it during the recital. It’s very fun.
Vidas: Did we eat something during the music or later?
Ausra: I don’t remember now, maybe we ate something.
Vidas: Excellent. That was a great time. Our professors from UNL from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, George Ritchie and Quentin Faulkner, drove us--took us with the van, I think--from the university, took the entire organ studio--
Ausra: I think we had two cars.
Vidas: Two cars; basically a field trip to the music instrument museum. And the importance of this museum can be described in just one sentence: Imagine that the Smithsonian Museum wanted to buy the entire collection and transfer it to Washington! But Vermilion didn’t let it, right? The local people wanted to have it right there, and said, “If you want to visit those instruments, you have to come to Vermilion.”
Ausra: That’s a nice thing. I don’t think everything must be concentrated, in capitals or in the largest cities.
Vidas: So I hope Daniel has visited this entire fantastic museum many times, and has sat in the Brown Bag Lunch Recitals; and if not, maybe he can do that in the future. And hopefully the organists are better than in his church, and can play not only white keys but also black keys--on weekdays as well!
Vidas: Wonderful, guys. Please send us more of your questions; we love 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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