Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 205 of Ask Vidas and Ausra podcast. This question was sent by Petty. She writes:
I would like to offer my contribution as follows :
1. What is your dream for your organ playing?
To become a reasonably capable parish organist.
2. What are 3 most important things that are holding you back from
realizing your dream?
I would like to provide a brief background of myself to put my input into a better perspective :
I will be turning 50 in a few days' time and have just retired. I started
learning to play the piano since the age of 7 until my early thirties when I have to leave for a job overseas. I have since been playing the piano, not very often, as a leisure hobby, i.e. only with sparing technical
exercises. I have stood in as substitute organist a few times in 2016 and
2017 which sparked my interest in taking organ lessons, and this started last September. I practise in the church a few times a week and will practise on the piano other times - finger exercises and piano pieces. To me, the three most important issues in adapting to organ playing is :
a/ adapting to the different touch in organ playing - I have started seriously taking up technical exercises for the fingers again, but it has taken me a while to adapt to applying the right touch on the organ keyboard.
b/ overall physical "coordination" of the body - the relative distance
between the eyes/the score/the hands are quite different (farther off) from the piano (upright or grand). Proper posture and how to conduct movement would be essential or it could lead to unnecessary muscles fatigue, as I have experienced.
c/ muscle coordination - this follows from (b) above. There is no short of resources about correct posture in organ playing but I think it might be useful for beginners to be advised of how to, say, keep necks/shoulders/hips/thighs appropriately relaxed, during and after practice. Since there is a lot of matters requiring attention in learning a new instrument, the mind and body would possibly become tense at some point, particularly when playing with hands and feet together. Specific advice to keep the body properly relaxed would be useful.
Thanks for allowing me to share my experience.
V: So Ausra, that’s a nice goal and quite a few useful experiences that we have here, right?
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: Do you think that Petty is on the right track while listing those challenges? Adapting to different touch, physical coordination and muscle coordination. This is useful and important, right?
A: Yes, I think that these are difficulties that many beginners have to overcome.
V: As I was reading this question I thought about simply practicing before you get tired. Maybe taking a break before you even get fatigued. What do you think about that Ausra?
A: Yes, I think that’s a good idea because if you will do something bad with your muscles then you may recover very slowly so it’s better to take breaks more often.
V: So sometimes we get immersed in our organ playing and our track of passing of time is really difficult to remember right? And we get really focused on the music and we can practice for hours and hours but then it’s not good for the body.
A: Yes, that’s true and we have talked about it I think in a few of our conversations before. But I would like to remark about reading this question about how different hand motion is from playing piano compared to the organ. Because as Petty mentions that pianists usually make quite a lot of movement with the hand they use the wrists, they move the wrists and elbows and shoulders. So, you need to avoid these motions when you play the organ because these motions you know if you do too much of them it will not help you to get the right touch.
V: You are right and I think there is a letter from Bach’s day describing how he played, that someone who observed him play couldn’t actually notice any movements.
A: Yes, that’s what you do when you play organ you know. It’s not that you get tense and you know not move at all but you still keep relaxed you know your arms, your whole body keeps relaxed but you avoid all the unnecessary motions.
V: I think it’s really important to keep breathing and reminding yourself to breathe because we forget to breathe consciously and if we can remember this, entire problem of stiffness in our neck, or shoulders, or hands, or even feet will disappear because to breathe is to relax, to relax is to breathe.
A: That’s very important point that you are making Vidas and it’s actually very important because it not only will help you technically to play better and not to hurt you muscles but it also will help you to play more musically because breathing is often related to phrasing.
V: Mmm. So, I think the singing also helps to breathe right? Because you cannot sing forever without taking a breath. And you usually take a breath at the end of the phrase.
A: That’s true.
V: And breathing as we talked helps you to relax and then it’s more natural this way.
V: So let us recommend to sing some lines from her score, maybe inner voices, maybe the pedal part one octave higher or lower depending on her range and it would be really interesting if Petty could sing even soprano.
A: Yes and no. Another important thing would be that you actually need to work on your coordination and I think the best way to do it is to work in different combinations. Don’t try to play everything together and we have talked about it I think quite a few times but you know I still keep reminding people that this is the way you know to learn to coordinate your feet and your hands.
V: Sometimes people forget this step right? That they need to learn to play separate parts first. Because maybe it’s boring.
V: It’s rather boring. But I think it pays off in the end after a few weeks maybe of strenuous effort if you really stick to this plan of playing single voices, two part combinations, three part combinations and only then four part texture. Then something really clicks at the end and you are ready for a denser texture and you will not make too many mistakes this way.
A: Yes, that’s very good advice Vidas.
V: So guys, please continue practicing this way. The slower the better right Ausra?
A: Yes, that’s true. And actually the last thing that I would like to remind Petty and others that I keep constantly reminding myself since she you know comes to the organ after you know playing piano for many years. That in piano it is more important how you touch the key but not as important as how you release it. But in organ it is equally important in how you press the key and how you release it. So never forget it.
V: Um-hmm. You mean because the sound never fades in organ.
A: That’s right.
V: And you have to be really precise.
A: That’s right.
V: And calculate when exactly would like inner voices to get released.
A: Yes, that why it’s so hard you know to play the fixed texture on the organ to play for example a fugue, five voice fugue. It’s really hard because you need to be careful about each single line.
V: Or even two voices sometimes are complicated because you can focus on one voice or another voice but both of them together maybe some people are not ready.
A: Yes and working in combinations will help on this aspect too.
V: Right. Let me just add for the final advice to Petty and anyone else in a similar situation who want to become a decent church organist. Keep expanding their repertoire for preludes, offerings, communions, and postludes. Those four elements. Well maybe even wedding marches or fanfares something like that. But sometimes, yes you need that. Yes, and funeral pieces too. Keep adding one by one maybe one piece a month, maybe one piece every week. I don’t know how fast you can learn you know. And those pieces don’t have to be very advanced or long, right? A couple of pages and that’s it.
A: That’s right.
V: But remember to refresh your memory with old pieces with pieces that you played a month ago or a few months ago or a year ago because that’s how you expand your repertoire and you can play them in alternation, one week one set, another week a second set. Maybe you would need just maybe a handful of sets to keep variety in your playing and mix them together those sets of pieces, right?
V: So the people won’t be able to guess what will be next because that will become boring after a while.
A: That’s right.
V: You have to keep them always guessing what the organist will play next. Thank you guys, this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.