Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 165 of Ask Vidas and Ausra podcast. This question was sent in by David.
“In the US, we are taught to play pedal using both feet, including toes and heels on both feet. Would I be correct in thinking that in most of Europe, most of the pedaling is done only with toes?”
A: Well it does not depend on the country that you are in. Either US or Europe. It depends on what style of music you are playing. If you are talking about baroque music or you’re talking about romantic and modern music.
V: In Lithuania for example, there are plenty of organists that would play early music with heels and toes.
A: But it just means that they don’t have a sense of good style.
V: And they haven’t tried historical instruments. Just as in the U.S. there are plenty of organists who can play early music with toes only.
A: That’s true.
V: Because they have that experience.
A: And they have many replicas too. Wonderful instruments built by great American organ builders.
V: So, we highly recommend wherever you live in the world to travel a little bit around your area and see if you could explore historical instruments because even organs build at the beginning of the 19th century a lot of times they have the baroque layout and baroque type of pedalboard and for those reasons you would not be able to play with heels successfully on those instruments.
A: Yes, and for example imagine if you are studying a piece for example by J. S. Bach and your playing it on a generic instrument, of course you could use both heels and toes but think maybe someday you will get a chance to travel and to play it on a historical instrument so it would be better if you would learn it right away in the right manner and use only your toes. And, for example if you are working on a romantic piece it means that you know that if you will get a chance to play on 17th or 18th century instrument you will not play that particular piece because it will not fit for that instrument.
V: Ausra, should we say the right manner or something different?
A: I don’t know.
V: Because when we say the right manner we imply that some people play incorrectly or the wrong manner. What is right and wrong here? Can we decide?
A: You know, it’s basically how would you defer what is Ketchup and what is tomato sauce. Are they same or are they different.
V: In some people’s minds they are the same.
A: But we are different.
A: We are different in the way we are made up. Their taste is different. Although there is one ingredient in common that’s tomatoes. But that’s about it.
A: And you know if you are making Italian pizza you probably wouldn’t put the Ketchup on it.
V: But if you don’t know the tradition you would put the Ketchup and you would say “Oh, what a lovely pizza.”
A: Well, yes but would it be stylistically correct? I don’t know. It’s up to you to decide.
V: Remember the first time we tried to eat pizza. That was right after independence I believe because in Soviet times nobody made pizza in Lithuania. And, the first pizzas we ordered from public restaurants there were imitations of pizza, right?
A: And they were made with Ketchup, actually.
V: Maybe we could say not the correct manner or the wrong manner here but maybe let’s use the term “historically informed performance practice.”
A: OK, I’m sorry. I did not want to offend anybody.
V: I didn’t mean you offended. No, no. Just to clarify that we don’t know all the answers here. And nobody knows actually. But it would be better to say “historically informed performance practice” because then a person can choose whether he likes it or not.
A: Well you know I’m talking from my experience because you know I studied six years in the Lithuanian Academy of Music and I was taught some things good and some things not very good. But historically I don’t think that way of playing music was correct way or right way. And then I went to study abroad, I traveled quite a lot, I tried historical instruments, I tried replicas, I know I worked with Dr. Ruiter-Feenstra, and George Ritchie and of course I took many master classes with people like Harold Vogel, Bill Porter, Hans Davidsson, and I could go on and on naming them all, Olivier Latry and you know it sort of broadened my perspective. And I’ve re-learned to play the organ. I’m trying to do everything historically right.
V: Historically informed way.
A: Informed way, yes. Because if you sit down at a historical instrument and you would just apply what I have learned at the Lithuanian Academy of Music I would be screwed up. I could not play anything. I could not register right. I could not play pedals right. Especially if I would sit and play the pedal clavichord. That wouldn’t work at all if I tried to use modern fingering and modern pedaling. So, since have these two sides of my life I can compare it very well. So I think the later way what I learned was the correct way. At least for me. I would never go to that alt habit.
V: You know Ausra, it’s very well to say for you, easy to say right? Because it changed your mind. But what about a person who sees a video on YouTube played by let’s say Cameron Carpenter right? He’s a fantastic virtuoso organist. Right? But he doesn’t necessarily play in the historically informed manner, right? But people love how he plays, how he presents organ music and his showmanship, right? So we definitely are not criticizing him here. But, an organist who sees Cameron for example thinks this is the correct way, right? But then Vidas and Ausra tells them no, no, no, you should read about historically informed performance practice, right? And then he says look at this video. If the master Cameron Carpenter plays right how can you say it is not correct?
A: Well, go to Europe and try some historical instruments. That’s what I would suggest for them to do. We will speak for themselves and then we don’t have to argue. Because no, while going to the States I wouldn’t think I will find a society of organists so historically well informed. And I was actually amazed about it because before going to the United States that’s what I thought. That you know that Americans play organ fast and loud. That was my personal opinion.
V: And you changed that opinion.
A: I changed that opinion, yes. Of course there are still many organists that play fast and loud but there are many others that are real scholars. That can see a difference between Tomato Sauce and Ketchup.
V: And the best part of this is people who know the early style and later style which is for example, being taught in the Richard Stauffer Organ Method book. They can adapt and play romantic pieces just beautifully on the romantic or modern instruments. And the early music just beautifully on the modern instruments too but using early technique. Right?
V: So if you know more stylistically informed performance practices you can choose from them. You don’t necessarily have to use them but you have to understand why there are and how they change the style that you like.
A: And I think the true artist know to show the best qualities of the organ and not of yourself.
A: Because I think organs are standing for so many centuries already, some of the older historical instruments and though even when we will die they will still keep standing.
V: On this optimistic note, we have to finish here. Please guys send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And Ausra and I are hoping that this was useful to you. In at least raising the questions right? Not necessarily we have all the answers but we could elevate a discussion and tell us what you think. Send us your opinion. This was Vidas…
A: And Ausra.
V: Remember when you practice…
A: 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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