[Listen to the audio version of this conversation here]
A: What about originality in organ improvisation?
V: Good question. I think a lot of people start with copying others, in any medium--in visual arts, in poetry, if you write a poem, right? If you read a lot of poems by other poets, you fall in love with them, and you create something similar. So with improvisation it’s kind of the same: you try to copy the style of your favorite composers. And a lot of people try to imitate Bach, which is probably one of the last texts we should do, because he is so advanced! It’s better to imitate some of his students, right--or masters before Bach, if you want to imitate anyone at all. And I think this stage is good, because it allows us to learn the basics of compositional technique, or improvisation. I don’t feel there is much difference between improvisation and composition. Composition is just written down, on paper or with the computer, and improvisation is the same composition but performed at the same time as it is being created.
A: But don’t you think that written compositions are more elaborate and, you know...better in some ways?
V: It depends on how far you have advanced in expressing your ideas. If you can come up with new ideas fast enough, it would be advanced, right? Many people can play double fugues, or triple canons.
V: Yes. And it seems like a supernatural skill to people who are, for example, not musicians at all; or, look, nonmusicians even marvel that you are playing with pedals. Right?
A: Haha. But I don’t think nonmusicians can appreciate a double fugue very well. I think only a musician can do it. Because if you don’t know it’s a double fugue, then why would it matter?
V: Okay, maybe I went to far with this. Maybe other musicians, right?
A: Yes, I think other musicians, yes.
V: Who have never created before, but only played double fugues themselves. Right? Let’s say organists who played double fugues by Bach, and heard some organist improvise a double fugue. And it is possible, but it takes probably tens of thousands of hours of practice to do this. And I’m just wondering if there is a point of mastering that isolated technique--this is a technique, double fugue or canon or imitative technique--what matters is that you create something. For people who want to do this, this is the way to do this. And for others, they feel that it limits their expression. They don’t want to imitate any other style that they know before; they probably want to express their own unique (or not so unique, haha, maybe) musical ideas, right? Invent in the moment--whatever comes out. What do you think?
A: Very interesting. Fascinating subject, actually.
A: Because there can be so many ways, you know, and so many ideas, how to go about something like this. Do you think sometimes it would be good to just compose some compositions first?
V: Both ways. You can compose and improvise, and vice versa, right? It feeds off each other, right? We have talked about it before, I think. And it feeds your performance as well. It’s like a very good symbiosis--creativity and performance.
A: Don’t you think that some improvisers could just compose a composition, write it down, and then learn it by heart, and to play, and then say it’s improvisation?
V: Yes...but why? Why would they do this, if they could improvise a second composition maybe 5 minutes later?
A: Well, I’m talking about not-so-advanced improvisers.
A: Just, you know, beginners.
V: I know. We’ve all been there. It’s a beginning stage: we are afraid of making mistakes when we improvise, so we write it down, and memorize. Or even, not write down, but maybe repeat, repeat, repeat, the same thing over and over, until we memorize it. I did that myself, and you can listen to it on YouTube, a few improvisations of my own from earlier times. And I’m not ashamed of putting them out there for people, because this is probably how other people might start. Not all of them, but some, definitely, who love to imitate other styles. I loved imitating Bach and Krebs, for example, at that time. And now I do something different. This is just evolution, I think.
A: Evolution! I like this word.
V: So, what did you do differently, Ausra, ten years ago, that you’re doing differently now? You surely also evolved!
A: Hahahaha! Or I devolved, maybe! That’s also a possibility!
V: Or revolved! Evolution or revolution!
A: Yes. I think my life moved me in a different direction, a little bit--more in the music theory field.
V: This is good, for your intellectual mind.
A: Well yes, I guess it is.
V: Before that, for example--before you were moved into the music theory world--were you able to analyze your pieces so well as you can do today?
A: I was able to analyze, but probably not as deep as I can do now.
V: Because you’re teaching others.
A: True. But basically, while in these years of teaching music theory, I’ve lost the ability to speak, basically, because all I do is...I’m trying to teach others with as few words as possible. Because I realized if you tell your students too many words, they will not remember those. And it is quite a hard thing to do, to teach a new subject in only a few words.
V: Do you sometimes encourage your students to teach less-advanced students in their class?
A: Sure. I think that’s a very good way to learn.
V: Their friends?
A: Yes. And some people are just very natural about teaching others, and sometimes they find better ways and better words to explain things.
V: So, you’re a teacher, right? You have students to teach who are less advanced than you. Do you feel that you’re a student yourself, today, even though you have practiced for many many decades?
A: Well, yes, in a way because I still can find new things.
V: And you can learn from either people who are more advanced than you, or music which was composed before.
A: True, true, true. Especially from music.
V: Or instruments.
A: Yes. Because in studying compositions, you can see how those rules that you teach others apply to reality.
V: Mhm. And do you feel that you have your colleagues who are on your own level?
A: Well, you know, too bad that some of them are still...haven’t left the classroom, and they just stick very strictly to the theory books…
A: And don’t try to look beyond the horizon to real examples of musical pieces.
V: But you’ve got me!
A: I know.
V: So, if I can say, we’re colleagues at this, too, right?
V: So you have students, you have teachers, and you have colleagues, right? Like friends.
V: So people who are more advanced than you, who are equal to you, and less advanced than you. And all three levels are very important to probably any person.
A: True, true.
V: Right? So, as a closing idea, would you encourage our listeners to go out and seek out those people around themselves?
A: Sure, of course. Because it’s very important to have somebody whom you can teach, or help. Help, I would say--yes, that’s a nicer word, probably. And then, it’s always good to have somebody whom you can learn from, too.
A: So it goes both ways, I think.
V: And people who are equal to you.
A: True, true, true.
V: On the same level. Who can basically support each other.
A: Yes, you can support and you can share your ideas.
V: Thank you guys; this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Please send us more of your questions; you see how far we can go from the original question to the ending of this conversation! But we do hope it was useful to you, and inspiring, at least in some way. And please write more of your feedback and experiences; we would love helping you grow and discussing that on the show. 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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