Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 244, of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. This question was sent by John. And he wrote:
I improvise at every service. I often improvise before the start of Solemn Mass (generally an improvised prelude on the first hymn) and always at the Offertory - during the censing of the altar. The only times I do not improvise at the Offertory are during the seasons of Advent and Lent. On Palm Sunday, I improvise on Stations of the Cross at the evening service. [On Maundy Thursday, the organ is silent after the solemn procession until the Gloria at the Easter Vigil.]
V: So, Ausra, this seems to be a comment about when to improvise during a service, right?
A: Yes, yes.
V: Or when to play the organ. Because, yes, you can play repertoire, you don’t have to improvise.
A: True, true.
V: But you can. So John improvises quite often, right? At every service. Why do you think on seasons on Advent and Lent, it’s not really appropriate to improvise for the offertory?
A: Well, because in general, Catholic Church does not allow or does not recommend to use pure instrumental music during mass, at Advent and at Lent. And of course during the Holy Week, starting from Maundy Thursday, the organ is shut down until the Easter Sunday, or Easter Vigil.
V: I think that this tradition is still alive in some places, even in Lithuania, in smaller churches. But it’s not really, I think, required to keep silent, and not to play anything instrumental.
A: Well, you can play instrumental but it can be only accompaniment of the human voice. So usually during Advent and Lent in Catholic Churches you sing more, than at other times.
V: Do you think that it would be a problem if one would improvise during that time?
A: I think it might be a problem in some churches with some conservative congregation and priests.
V: Mmm-hmm. So then, of course, communicate better, if you want to do that during Lent and Advent in a conversation congregation.
A: And I remember those times while working inside Catholic Churches, and I remember that Advent and Lent was, and especially Lent, because it’s longer than Advent, was a real challenge for organists because in Lithuania often an organist has to sing himself. So he’s sort of like double man, both organist and cantor. And all these seven weeks before Easter when you have to play and sing yourself at the same time, is just, you know, exhausting.
V: Yes, and today, if anybody asks me to play for the service in church, I would generally improvise. And I would only sing Sanctus part and Agnes Dei part because they have to be sung. Sometimes Kyria too.
A: And Psalm of course, yes.
V: Psalm, Alleluia too, yes. But not Introit and Offertory and Communion hymns. I would improvise during that time. And people in our congregation at St. Johns Church, they start to appreciate it. And at the last time when I played it, it was on June 24, when the feast of St. John the Baptist was. I was invited to play there and improvised all the time. And at the end I played the fiery Sortie or a postlude you know. And people started applauding like crazy afterwards.
A: So it means that there is need for organ music.
V: Right. Because at that church we only work as university organist, not church organist, and we generally don’t play at services, unless they ask us in advance, in addition to other things. So they have they have their own ensembles maybe, guitars and synthesizers, but they don’t use pipe organ too often.
A: Yes, interesting.
V: So that’s of course the case with many Catholic Churches.
A: True, but you know, I find it’s sort of peculiar because like this for example; law of Advent and Lent, not having instrumental music, is sort of very puritan like, yes?
A: But on the other hand, you have so many Catholic Churches have, you know, pop music sounding all the time during mass. And guitars playing and people almost dancing near the altar. And I think it’s sort of a big controversy, in my opinion.
V: Yeah, liturgically speaking, it’s nonsense.
A: I know. I know. Because if you want to be conservative in everything, then you have to be conservative and consistent about everything. So I don’t know how this sort of strict rules apply to modern pop music.
V: They don’t think about that relationship, about this dichotomy too often, I think. They play and sing what is pleasing to their ears, right? Especially for the youth. They think that if they play a lot of pop music, then more youth would come to the church. That’s their argument. And if you would play traditional hymns, let’s say, and accompany those hymns with pipe organs and play organ music in addition to that, of course people will leave the church.
A: Yes. Gregorian chant might kill you. I’m just joking, but…
V: But then, don’t you attract the wrong kind of people to the church?
A: That’s right. If the music is the only thing that attracts you, then it’s probably not your place in that church.
V: On the other hand, we would probably go to the church which has high quality musical tradition, right?
A: True, true. That’s a hard thing to find in Lithuania, in Catholic Church.
V: Yes. But when we travel, for example to other countries, it’a always a pleasure to go to a church where is a high standard of music.
A: But you know, in America in Catholic Churches, in some of that we attended, the music was very bad, actually.
V: In protestant churches, it’s much better tradition.
A: True. True. That’s true. Anglicans and you know, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists.
V: Right. So I think for everyone is different, you know, their tastes, and everything. Those young people also deserve to have their own music in church somewhere. But not necessarily in the main service, you know. Maybe you have to have youth service, someplace in the morning or in the evening. That could be a solution, don’t you think?
A: Yes, it could be.
V: And leave the main service, the main mass for the choir and organ. That’s for catholics.
A: That’s right.
V: For other denominations it’s also different. So guys, don’t be afraid to improvise at the service. Of course, don’t go crazy on Advent and Lent, at least at first, when you,,,
A: Unless you want that you would get kicked out of the church and lose your position.
V: Right, but if you are improvising just let’s say once during the service, during the postlude, let’s say, or a prelude, when just people are gathering or leaving, they are not really paying attention actually, to the music. Then they are talking and communicating with each other and greeting and chatting, then you are free to do what you want. That’s a big relief, don’t you think, Ausra?
A: Yes. That’s a good way to learn to improvise publicly.
V: Without too much stress.
A: True. True..
V: Okay, guys. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Please send us more of questions. We love helping you grow. 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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