AVA221: My improvisation is very simple, but I learned a lot, having forced myself to stick within the FGAC theme
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 221 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. This question was sent by Ron. He writes:
I signed up for Steemit 15 days ago; they verified my email but haven’t sent me a password yet, so I couldn’t get into the contest site to upload on Dsound.
Anyway, for what it’s worth, here is my recording. It is very simple, but I learned a lot, having forced myself to stick within the FGAC theme. A very interesting exercise. I actually did another one, for 6 minutes, and made no note mistakes (!) but didn’t want to force anyone to listen to something that long.
What I tried to do with this one was
1) stick to the notes
2) keep fair time
3) allow myself to play with resolution and not
4) allow my fingers to play fairly disciplined, and then more-or-less spasmodically—which gave me a feel for that “other” side of playing and what we fear to do…
Anyway, you don’t have to listen to this or upload it—but you can if you would like; the site won’t let me yet. I do intend to enter these contests, I haven’t “forced” myself to do anything quite like this an a long time! I especially wanted to let you know that I did a recording, and that it was a big step forward for me.
I appreciate what you are doing! You and Ausra are going to have WAY too much to do in your 100s, heh, heh.
A: That’s a sweet letter.
V: Ausra we hope that Steemit will facilitate registration process for new users and send passwords quicker, right?
A: Yes, we hope so because now it’s quite annoying when you have to wait for a password for a week or even longer.
V: For longer. He wrote that he signed up for Steemit 15 days ago.
A: Wow, that’s more than two weeks.
V: And some people never get their passwords with this system but I heard that a new hard fork is coming when the registrations will be automatic so maybe then it will be all easy to sign up and fast.
A: Let’s hope for it.
V: Because all those benefits that Steemit platform provides it’s all for nothing if legitimate users cannot sign up.
A: True, true.
V: They will never come back.
A: That’s true. So, what is your impression about his improvisation.
V: We listened to it, yes, just a moment ago. First, let me congratulate Ron for being brave and submitting his playing. It feels like he hasn’t been doing this for many years, right. He’s just experimenting and finding for himself what is possible.
V: I think the theme, four notes, F, G, A, and C is simple enough for anyone, even a beginner, really, who never ever played the organ experiment with those pitches in any order, in any rhythm, in any octave, in any meter, in any texture and registration. And even form you can mix up things to do interesting stuff back and forth, right Ausra?
A: True, yes. That’s quite a nice motive you know to improvise.
V: Um-hmm. And this week, for week second, I also chose four pitches but they are different. D, E, F#, and G#. Like lydian, lydian tetrachord.
A: I think this improvisation will sound more modal.
V: The first week with F, G, A, and C is like pentatonic almost.
A: That’s why it sounds so calm and down. It has no tension.
V: No tension, exactly. I think Ron did a good job of doing this for the first time and the second week even if he doesn’t enter the competition if he records himself and let’s say sent this recording to us or uploads it online for anyone to listen he will discover something new about himself, about this music, and about this instrument that he is playing probably at home.
A: Yes, sure and you know you could use like more varied dynamics you know because varied can be really from the pianissimo to fortissimo and try to explore different registrations, and you know to play not only one octave but keep range varied from the lowest notes to the highest notes.
V: Let me tell everyone a little secret how it’s so easy to make a fantastic improvisation on those four pitches. I will tell you the secret in a moment and you will think how didn’t you think about this before. And once you apply my tips in your next improvisation you will not reach level 2 but you will reach level 10 I think right away.
A: Wow, tell us about it.
V: (Laughs). I’m curious myself now.
A: I know. It sounds so unrealistic so.
V: It is.
A: I’m wondering what you are talking about.
V: For everyone it will be different because everyone’s passions is different. For example take you favorite organ piece that you are practicing right now. It could be, I don’t know, Orgelbuchlein chorale prelude by Bach, or some romantic work, or some fugal work. Any type of composition that you enjoy today playing. And you know the intricate textures and details well enough. OK? And then second step would be to analyze a little bit what is happening in terms of texture, rhythm, dynamics, registration, where the melody goes up or goes down, what does the pedals do, OK? So that composer, let’s pretend the composer was Bach and he created chorale prelude from Orgelbuchlein. And he does all kinds of wonderful things and the theme is in the soprano perhaps or in the alto sometimes. It doesn’t matter. What matters is you now know the secrets behind this composition well enough so you put the music in front of you just like you would be playing it on the organ, but instead of playing this piece you’re using only four pitches, right? Either F, G, A, C like in Ron’s case or D, E, F#, G# like for week 2. Imagine that. But you are keeping your model intact. Your basically doing everything that your master did three centuries ago but with four pitches, you know? You could do that on paper first of all. Just write down similar things you know to see if this works well enough. But if you are brave enough you can actually play it. Four pitches is not too much in both hands and pedals and in various octaves. And because Bach made the music interesting enough you could also do interesting stuff too keeping similar procedures. What do you think about it?
A: Very interesting. Now I’m working you know I’m repeating the Chorale in B Minor No. 2 by Cesar Franck and I’m thinking how it would work with it.
V: B Minor, OK.
A: Because it has that you know sort of not passacaglia theme but something similar to passacaglia style a little bit.
V: You keep everything similar, not the same though but similar in your own imagination. But you only use those thematic pitches.
A: But what to do with those modulations, no? Because like Franck used so many of them, and sudden changes of the keys to extreme you know to foreign keys, and enharmonic modulations.
V: Let me ask you this question. If Franck wrote everything in one key, just in one B Minor key with two sharps right? And he only used what, seven notes, not four notes but seven notes. Do you think this music would be absolutely boring? Not really, right?
A: Oh yes, but somehow it’s hard to imagine Franck not using modulations.
V: No, no, no. Of course he will use modulations and of course it’s normal. But, if we just omit those modulations and key changes for a second in our mind there are plenty of other musical elements which are being varied at the same time as modulations. Rhythms are changing, right? Perhaps texture is changing, dynamics are changing too, registration is changing too. So those four at least things could be used as in Franck’s model but with your own theme.
A: Yes, could be very interesting.
V: Yeah, and it could be done not only with Franck but with Buxtehude, with Sweelinck, with Tournemire you could you know open any score that you like and experiment with what you can extract out of that score and make it your own. And of course if you are you know more experienced with this you can add a second section with another set of four pitches and then a third section where you come back to the first set of four pitches then you will have ABA form.
A: Yes, with a nice simple few parts piece.
V: Maybe it’s not for that contest, not for this competition but it’s a principle that you could easily follow. Anyone can do this actually just I’m especially certain that now if Ron is listening to this and taking this tip seriously his next improvisation will be in level 10 and not in level 2.
A: That’s true. And I think it’s very nice to take a set of like four notes and to improvise something for the church especially when you don’t have much time to prepare for it. You know and to learn some difficult organ music. I think it would work quite well for communion, let’s say.
V: Exactly, like a meditation.
V: By the way, here is Ron's entry for the contest the following week. Listen to it here. Thank you guys. I really hope this was useful, don’t you think Ausra?
A: Let’s hope for it.
V: And let us know if this helped and please send us your recordings maybe next time we could listen to it and discuss your feedback as well with your questions. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember when you practice and share your art…
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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