Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 198 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Austin, and he writes:
I am just with 4 years of experience but I have only played mainly four part hymns and Handel works. Currently I transcribed Handel's Dettingen Te Deum into solfa notation for my choir and am just learning the organ part because that's the book we wish to perform this year. After that, safe learning pieces such as For unto us, O thou that tallest, And the gloria all by Handel. I want to study Bach works, most especially the ones without pedal part because over here pipe organ is not easily accessible. I have an organ tutor but no way of practicing from it. So I need your advice on how to go about it. Over here Bach works are not popularly studied it's just mainly Handel, few Mozarts, Henry Purcell etc., most especially chorus works.
Interesting situation, Ausra.
V: That Handel is more popular than Bach!
A: Sounds like English tradition to me.
V: Hmm, could be, could be. Especially choir tradition, right?
A: Yes. And Handel also worked in England almost all his life.
V: Mhmm. So he probably struggles with finding a way of practicing from an organ tutor--from a method book.
A: Yes, and also finding an organ with a pedal, as I understood, too.
V: I see. Hmm...If you didn’t have pedals, Ausra, in your situation at church, let’s say, right? What would you do? Would you just play on the piano keyboard, or something else?
A: Well, yes, I would play on the piano keyboard. But maybe I would just draw myself a pedalboard, and practice imaginary pedals.
A: It depends on the situation in life; for everybody it’s different. But in that case, I probably would just select manual pieces.
V: Yeah. For now, like chorale partitas by maybe Pachelbel, maybe Krebs, right?
A: Yes, there are many collections of wonderful keyboard music without pedal. All the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, 2 volumes of it. That collection doesn’t have any pedals. Most of the pieces by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck have no pedals--most of them, not all.
V: Mhm. You know, people seem to hesitate to practice on paper pedals, right? It’s very easy: you just print out a few sheets with real-size pedals printed on them, and then you cut out the borders, right? And then glue those sheets together with tape. And then you have an imaginary pedalboard, as Ausra said. And then you can put it on the floor next to the keyboard that you’re playing. Or if you don’t have a keyboard, you could just work on the table.
A: But as I understood, you know, Austin has a keyboard, but it doesn’t have pedal.
V: And people who don’t use this paper method say that they don’t know if they’re hitting the right pedals, if they’re not making mistakes right? Because those pedals are not sounding. To which I would reply: it doesn’t matter. What matters is your effort; what matters is your muscle movement.
A: Yes, because your coordination still works that way.
A: If you are playing that, then when you get to the real instrument, you will see that it’s not as hard as you thought it would be.
V: Because you still will hit approximate distances, you know? If you’re hitting middle C, you will not be hitting some middle G, you know--tenor G, a fifth higher. Because you will have a feeling where this middle C is. So maybe you will hit B or D next to it, but it’s still very close, right? So...We did an experiment, I think at the beginning of our Unda Maris studio. In the first lessons there were maybe 10 people in the rehearsal, and only 1 organ; so I brought paper pedals and paper manuals, and we put them in the balcony. And I think 1 person played the organ, and everybody else played the same exercise together in the same rhythm. And I was conducting those 10 people, I think, like a choir. But only 1 person made a sound. And everybody else played on the paper. And then, after a few rounds of playing that exercise, I asked a random person who had never ever played a real organ before to play this particular exercise with pedals on the real organ! Guess what happened, Ausra?
A: He could do it?
V: She could do it! (It was our friend Erika.) And she almost didn’t make a mistake! Maybe once. But it was like a miracle, right?
A: Yes. So this is a good way to practice, if you don’t have a real organ and a real pedal.
A: Because you never know when the situation in your life will change. Maybe you will get access to a real instrument.
V: Of course. This is a temporary solution. Or maybe when you are traveling, right? Never skip an organ practice just because you don’t have access to an instrument. Carry those simple sheets with you all the time, and you can adjust to the situation. Or, if you don’t have paper pedals, you can still pound those imaginary pedals with your feet on the floor, right?
V: In approximate spaces. Then you can have inner hearing how the piece is sounding. Maybe you could improve your pitch this way.
V: Could a person like Austin sing the bass part?
A: Yes, this is a solution, too.
A: And a good one.
V: Remember, we lived in the summer cottage for a few months, and we didn’t have pedals at all...
V: Just the piano. So, my voice is low, and I would play the piano parts--the manual parts--on the piano; and I would sing the bass part and play with my feet on the floor. That’s it. That’s how I prepared for many recitals!
V: Excellent. How else could we inspire people today? ...He wrote that he transcribed Handel’s “Dettingen Te Deum.” That’s very nice practice, transcribing choral and orchestral works, don’t you think, Ausra?
A: Yes, it is.
V: Yeah, especially if you have a choir, right? If you have a group of people who would be interested in singing it. Sometimes you have to adjust the scoring, maybe if you have 2 voices--maybe women’s voices and the men’s parts--maybe you could then select soprano and the bass only.
V: From the given score. What if you have only 1 voice, Ausra? What would you do then? I mean a single-voice choir where everybody sings just 1 line--cannot hold separate voice parts.
A: Well, then, you could just write out an accompaniment, in 4-voice harmony.
V: Mhmm, based on that original.
V: And people could probably sing soprano line most of the time.
A: Yes, yes, definitely.
V: Whatever’s the melody.
A: Sure. That way the piece would be the most recognizable.
V: What about if you have a 3-part choir? What would you do?
A: Well, I think it would work well.
V: Without which part? Tenor or alto?
A: Well...good question. You could do either way.
V: Or you could adjust the middle voice so that you sometimes play alto and sometimes tenor, depending on whether or not the chord is complete.
V: What do you mean, the chord is complete? What does it take to make a chord complete?
A: You have to have the root…
V: Yes, like in C Major, C.
A: Yes. And if it’s a triad chord, you have to have E and G, and then C repeated.
V: Right. So at least 3 notes should be sounding.
A: Sure. But you could do either C, E--if you have only 3 voices--you could do either C, E, G, or C, E, C, and omit G.
V: Omit the fifth.
V: Because the third is what matters.
A: Yes, what matters. Because the third from the bass shows us if it’s a major or a minor chord. And this is the most important.
V: Good idea. I hope Austin and other people can apply that in their practice, and their transcriptions, and make the life of their choir more interesting!
V: They will appreciate their efforts, for sure. Thank you so much, guys, for listening and applying our tips in your practice. We love helping you grow, so please send us more of your questions. 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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