AVA176: I Was Greatly Embarrassed As The Congregation Continued With The Fourth Verse A Cappella!
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 176, of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. And this question was sent by Alan. He writes:
Vidas and Ausra,
I enjoyed this podcast. I think the best piece of advice for me was: “…you will not get a medal for playing advanced music.” I have to remember that playing the organ is sort of like driving a car, in that you have to know your limits. Otherwise you could end up losing control, which can sound pretty bad in the case of a pipe organ.
I had a different experience this past Sunday when I was playing at a local Uniting church: I was bringing the last hymn to conclusion, and wondered why the minister was soldiering on at full tempo instead of following my ritardando. I was then greatly embarrassed as the congregation continued with the fourth verse a cappella! I quickly switched registrations and backed off the swell pedal, and gently brought the organ back in for the second half of the verse. Nobody was fooled though.
V: Oh, remember Ausra, sometimes that happens, right? When, when the minister or a priest sings along and doesn’t listen to the organist at all, and has his own tempo, and the congregation also follows the priest or the minister and then the organist is left behind, or uh, or actually, maybe he sometimes speeds up and nobody listens, right?
V: Did this happen to you?
A: Well, maybe not so much as you know the organ would be silent, but, but, yes, sure, I had some, some stories like this.
V: In America or in here Vilnius?
A: Well, both places. Actually not so much in Lithuania because the congregation doesn’t like, you know, to sing so much in Lithuania. Although in Lithuania, usually you know, elder women like to, to slow down the tempo.
V: To drag.
A: Yes, to drag.
V: This is because perhaps the churches are big and the reverberation is also vast, and sounds travel slower this way.
A: Well, and they just like to sing in a very slow tempo.
V: Without any energy, right?
A: And to do much vibrato on each note. So just imagine that you know, the quarter note becomes like a whole note. It’s unbearable.
V: I think that was actually the case when in Germany, they introduced, um, congregational singing, back at the beginning of Reformation. Not at the exact beginning but maybe a century afterwards. And they tend to sing the chorales very, very slowly.
V: Did you hear about that?
A: Yes, I heard about that.
A: But that’s why, you know, the German organs have those huge pedals towers. Actually having the loud, eh, bass, held to you know, to, to, to, to regulate congregational singing. So I think it’s crucial, that you know, you would add enough of, of sound in the pedal part.
V: Would that help Alan too?
A: I hope so. I think he needs to play organ very loud in that case, you know, his pastor cannot, you know, dictate his own tempo while singing hymns.
V: Or make him sick, maybe ill, not sick, is the word. Maybe he can overpower him this way too, if the pastor had a cold or something.
A: Well, don’t be so cruel. I think making the registration louder will work just fine.
V: Sometimes loud registrations are a pain for people with hearing aids, right?
A; Mmmm, that’s true.
V: So it’s a slippery road, balancing, uh, registrations and power level of the organ and congregational singing, and elderly ladies too.
A: That’s true. So you know, it would probably be a good idea to discuss this with the pastor. Ideas with minister, ideas, about you know, singing congregational songs together and you know, about who is responsible for what. Because I think ministers should be responsible for liturgy, for making sermons, and I think organists should be responsible for making music. So while leading the congregational hymns, I think ministers should be listening to the organ. That’s my opinion.
V: Do you think that would work, discussing this with his minister?
A: It depends on what kind of character he is.
V: Because if he was, if he had enough tolerance, then he would have understood this already, right? That he had to follow organists lead. But if you bring up this issue to him and say, ‘dear pastor, or minister, please sing according to my wishes’, um, then, then he might perceive it as a threat.
A: Well then, there is one more thing he can to, just to play loud.
V: That’s not a bad solution though.
V: Because organ has to lead, and everybody else has to follow. But according to the text, sometimes registration can be softer too.
V: Alright, so we hope that Alan can experiment at least in making the tempos according to his wishes, but sometimes it’s dangerous to keep his own tempo, right, without any regard to the congregation.
A: Well, what you will have to do when you are accompanying hymns, you have to sing along. And I’m not meaning that you need to sing loud, you know, all the time, but at least in your mind, you, you need to sing, and you take breaths. That way you will know how to face and how it’s comfortable for sing for others. That way you know your tempo will be natural, as it should be. Because, I mean, if you will not, you know, consider the text, if you will not try to sing yourself and just take tempo whatever you want, it might not work. It might be awkward and unnatural.
V: It might be too fast.
A: Yes. So singing together you know, is always a good idea.
V: In Lithuania, organists tend to sing and play at the same time.
V: And in Poland, I heard too.
V: But in western countries, let’s say, organists have to play, and, and congregation or choir has to sing. Mmmm, so, experiment, experiment, experiment, and, choose what works best in the long run, right?
V: And avoid probably conflicts.
A: Sure. Sure. It’s better to get along well with, you know, everybody, especially with clergy since they write, you know, your check, most of the time.
V: There is another option; to play more unfamiliar hymns that the pastor or minister wouldn’t know.
A: Again, it depends on, you know, who selects the hymns for service.
V: Ah, yeah.
A: Because sometimes, it’s minister, who you know, picks hymns. Sometimes it’s organist or music director. So you never know.
V: You could, or Howard could write, compose his own hymn and then nobody would know. And then everybody would listen to him, and follow him, without singing, um…
A: Probably the hymns would wholly unfamiliar. Nobody will sing it.
V: Then you will need to do a congregational rehearsal.
V: Right? But it’s a good question sometimes to introduce a new hymn, unfamiliar, from the hymnal or from the hymn supplement, or, or even yes, to compose your own. I mean, you’re also creative, right, and you have the right to create whatever you want. Of course it doesn’t mean that everybody will love what you create.
V: But it doesn’t hurt trying, and learning from your mistakes, if there are any, and um, benefiting all, everybody. Excellent! Thank you guys for, for these questions. We love discussing them on the show. So please send us more of them. And um, now, we would love to go and practice, because if we just talk about practicing, it’s, it kind of defeats the purpose, right Ausra?
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: So, this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And 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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