Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 191, of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. This question was sent by Eddy; And he wrote quite a lengthy commentary, about dry acoustics and organ performance, and he asks us to give, you know, our opinion, so we decided to answer this question and discuss this idea about acoustics and organ performance on the podcast, right, Ausra?
V: So let me read it first. He writes:
Dry acoustics (little, if any reverberation with full audience capacity) pose challenging interpretational problems to the performer.
Most of the great organ works were composed for highly reverberant rooms such as cathedrals ranging from 3 to even 10 seconds and more. In these rooms the music is allowed to 'breathe' naturally leaving mesmerizing and long-lasting memories/impact; it is also technical-wise much easier to perform in these buildings. However, when performing in dry acoustics like most churches and even some Cathedrals in South Africa, the organist is confronted with major problems in getting across the music of the composer in a convincing, natural and coherent manner. Some 'rescue' methods to resort to may include:
♪ Shortening rests considerably at phrase-ends in order to counteract 'dead' / 'dry' breathing gabs and preventing the music to fall apart;
♪ Lengthening note values at the end of phrases to prevent the same as above;
♪ Changing / altering the music text not only to achieve a better overall musical realization (for instance, to achieve a better legato when needed), but also to ease very difficult passages technically that would otherwise be almost impossible to execute convincingly and which would be far easier to perform in live-acoustics allowing to move the hands/fingers and feet over the keyboards and pedals with more ease) (needless to say the original notation and intentions of the composer must at all times be respected with the highest integrity by the performer);
♪ Phrasing voice parts unevenly at the end of phrases, in other words, not cutting voices at the end of phrases simultaneously as required by the composer's score, but taking-off voices parts /hands/feet after another resulting in a much more natural and coherence way without dry/sec gaps in the sound and musical flow.
I do not have the time here to illustrate the observations above with examples from the organ literature (I might have more time later...?); in any case, these suggestions are much easier to demonstrate than to explain in writing ...
V: So, what do you think, Ausra, about Eddy’s ideas?
A: Well, yes we have very interesting and it might be useful, you know, for some organists, but you know, I would have to disagree that playing in live acoustics, or big acoustics is easier.
V: It depends on who is playing, right?
A: I know. It depends on the complete room, on the complete organ, and what you are playing actually.
V: And if Eddy is really experienced in playing at large cathedrals let’s say, with reverberant rooms, then it comes really natural to him.
A: True, but, but you know, you need to play well in either room. Either with acoustics or without acoustics. Because if you will do something technically incorrect, you know, everybody will hear it, in either way, in any circumstance. It doesn’t mean you know, that that if you are playing in a reverberant room, and you will play something incorrectly, nobody will hear it; everybody will hear it, and it will sound even worse.
A: Because the acoustics you know, will expand it.
V: Amplify it?
A: Yes, amplify it.
V: Let’s say you hit the wrong note,,,
A: I know.
V: And it will last for three or ten seconds.
A: I know, it will last much longer so everybody will be able to hear it.
V: And remember. Uh huh, you’re right, here. But probably what do he wrote about large acoustics, is remember we had a short like small studio organ at the Academy of Music in Vilnius, in 316 Auditorium, Neo- Baroque style with fourteen stops I believe, two manuals. And it’s really tricky to play this organ because it’s really no reverberation and everything you play is so on the face, on the notes.
A: Well, I believe it had twelve stops.
A: If i remember correctly, and a couple of..
V: You know what I had in my imagination is a couple of reeds.
A: It doesn’t have reeds, though.
A: Well, yes, i remember that time, you know, playing that room; it was very tricky. Very hard, actually.
V: Mmm, hmm. So that’s what probably Eddy is referring to.
A: Because you felt like you know, playing on, on the ice.
V: Very slippery.
V: Maybe the keys are not pure wooden keys but you know, plastic keys.
V: Mmm, hmm. Exactly, so shortening rests in drier acoustics.
A: And you know, I think this question just explains you know, one thing, that you need to adjust each time when you play on different instrument in the different room. And that either dry acoustic or live acoustic has it’s, it’s way to approach the instrument and to approach the music.
V: It’s kind of similar, that you have to approach you music every time, freshly, with with fresh pair of ears. It’s like unfamiliar environment, and also unfamiliar piece. You have to prepare, pretend you are playing ahead in this piece, you know for the first time.
A: And of course if you are playing in a dry room, you probably have to play faster. You probably will have to articulate less, talking about Baroque fugue, for example. And of course, it will be different you know, you cannot maybe play, do as much rubato as you would do in the large acoustics.
V: And at the end of the phrases would be shorter.
A: But you know, when of course it would be also, you know positive things in playing in the dry acoustics; you will not have to worry about things will get you know, messy.
V: Mmm, hmm.
A: And, I would say that the dry acoustic is especially, not especially good, but easier to play with other musicians. For example to play duets, not necessarily organ duets, but like chamber music.
V: You’re right.
A: To play with soloists like other voice, you know, especially like flute or violin.
V: Because every part will be audible.
A: Sure. And it would be easier to communicate while not having live acoustics.
V: Mmm, hmm. For beginners, do you think large acoustics pose larger problems, or dry acoustics?
A: I think that large acoustics, because we are not used to it. Because many, you know, come to organ after practicing piano for some years, and it’s more like playing piano that way, you know, when you play dry acoustics. And large acoustics is so different. So I think it challenges more the young performer.
V: You’re right, Ausra. Because, because not too many people start out in large cathedrals, their organ journey.
A: I know. I know let’s say two seconds reverberation is not the same as ten seconds of reverberation.
V: Have you played ten seconds? Remember?
A: Yes, I had it. And you?
V: We both played, actually, in Detroit.
V: I think it was like more of ten seconds.
A: Yes, and it was very nice. What did you play?
V: I played, i believe suite by Durufle, yeah. Maybe not entire suite but a couple of movements.
A: I think two movements. And I played Liszt’s Prelude and Fugue on BACH.
V: Do you remember any feelings, any experience?
A: Well, actually, I think it went quite well, and I remember it was a nice experience. I enjoyed it actually, a lot.
V: And we can tell you stories about maybe twelve seconds reverberation, after our trip to London, St. Paul’s Cathedral this summer.
A: Yes, but you know, there are sometimes things that you are thinking you will go and you will find reverberation and after you know, going to that particular organ you will realize that there is no reverberation or almost no reverberation, even if you play historical organ. As for example we did in September, last September in Poland.
V: Uh, huh. The old Hildebrand organ from 1717, I believe. In the village of Paslek.
V: Mmm, mmm. So you have to adjust, and that’s the beauty of it, right?
A: I know. You never know, so just be ready to face challenges.
V: Exactly! You are continuing the old tradition that comes back from, from the time of Estampie and Robertsbridge Codex, and even earlier that was not written out. So maybe from the time hydraulis too, Ctesibios, engineer from Alexandria who created the first hydraulic organ, started out this tradition and we’re diligently carrying it into the next millennium or even further.
A: Yes. But what about, about you know, if you could choose, would you choose reverberant room, or no acoustics?
V: I would choose reverberant room.
A: Yes. It’s much nicer. I think it gives sort of liveliness to the organ.
A: And sort of you know, increase the mystery.
V: Mmm, hmm. If you’re listener, I would always imagine I’m underneath a swimming pool, you know, submerged maybe twenty feet, and listening to the music of the water and fish and, you know, and things like that. It’s really fun. Of course I didn’t include in my calculations the water pressure, but, but who cares?
A: That’s right.
V: What about you, when you are listening to reverberant room music, and sitting in the middle of the dome, let’s say. What do you feel?
A: I feel, well, actually, I enjoy it a lot. And I feel sorry for churches that has no acoustics, and I think, you know, ‘what could you do, in order to, to make it better?’
V: Oh, alright! You could eliminate all the cushions.
A: Yes, and all the carpets (laughs). And you know, maybe just, you know, destroy some windows, and make solid walls.
V: Majority of churches won’t do that right?
A: I know.
V: But some, a little bit of minority will.
A: I wish that you know, architects, especially nowadays would think more about acoustics than building you know, their houses and, and churches especially.
V: I think you are asking too much from architects because sometimes they even don’t plan the room for the organ.
A: I know, and it’s just too bad.
V: Good, guys. Um, thank you guys for listening. We hope this was useful to you. Ed, this question was really thought provoking. And please send us more questions like that. We love helping you grow. 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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