SOPP476: Playing in churches with very resonant acoustics which turned the music into a mere muddle of sound
Vidas: Hi, guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra
V: Let’s start episode 476, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by James. And he writes:
Forgive me emailing you again so soon, but I have recently been to two recitals by world—famous organists that were very disappointing. Reason? Playing in churches with very resonant acoustics which turned the music into a mere muddle of sound.
I played one of those organs today (see attached) similar acoustics and layout to St John's Vilnius (a loud final chord took 6 seconds to be inaudible), with an attached console in the west gallery.
Playing for my own enjoyment, I played at my normal speed and it sounded fine—the resonance wasn't so apparent in the gallery. But I know in the body of the church it would have sounded a mess.
Are there any simple rules for judging speed, legato etc in these circumstances?
Maybe this will be of interest to others.
PS am still working on "Memento" - a challenge, but the miracle WILL happen!
V: By the way, created a piece for the organ based on Gregorian Chant called ‘Memento Nostri Domine’. And dedicated to James—James Spanner.
A: Yeah, he’s working now on it.
V: Yes. He’s trying to master it.
A: Very nice.
V: So, his question is about playing in reverberant acoustics. Hard to deal with it.
A: Yeah. That’s a tricky question. And probably there is no one right answer. Because even when you have such acoustics in one church, and they do something about it, it might not work as well in another church. Because as James also noticed, that in different spots of the church, it may sound very different.
V: My rule of thumb is to play in such a way that I would always listen to the echo in the church—not how it sounds next to the organist but deep inside of the building, as if I would be a listener. And then naturally I would slow down probably, articulate more, when I have to breathe, or when playing earlier music with more detached articulation. But this detachment also has some limits. You cannot play too staccato, still, it would be comical or humoristic. So I don’t suppose it’s a good idea to shorten the notes by more than a half of it’s value. But in general, yes. Imagine yourself as a listener and think about how they feel and listen and hear.
A: And I think it all comes with an experience, because I may have told already this story. But there is a town in Northern Part of Lithuania called Biržai and it has quite a large three manual instrument and it pneumatical—pneumatical action. And I remember myself playing there many years back when I was a student at the Academy of Music, Lithuanian Academia of Music. And it was really hard for me to manage that acoustics and to play that organ because it seems like the sound came late, and instead of just relaxing and letting it go, I started to force that instrument. And the more I forced it the worse it got. And at that time I had no idea what I have to do. Of course we played the fairly difficult repertoire. Think we did some like Reger’s works and…
A: Franck’s works, and it was not a piece of cake because we didn’t have enough time to rehearse before and our teacher was sort of registering whose pieces during our recital.
A: Impromptu, yes. It was funny. But I had a really, really not a good feeling after it. And then we came back to that same organ many years later and I had no problems at all playing it. Because in those many years I had much of experience in various countries and various instruments with various programs and various situations.
A: And I don’t know what I did so much different but I guess I just had a better agreement with an instrument. That whatever you do, you don’t have to force it. Because if you will force it, it will become only worse. So I guess getting too much involved when you’re playing in the music, it’s sometimes not good when you are playing organ. Sometimes I envy piano performance that can to go into the music very deeply emotionally, get so much involved. You don’t do that with organ because if you will do that you will not be able to control everything. Here you need to play but at the same time to listen [to] yourself from the side, like a different person, like part of yourself is sitting at the organ bench and performing and another part of yourself is being downstairs and listening to what is happening.
V: Mmm-hmm. So true. I would just add that in such cases it’s best to let go, to let go control, because sometimes we want to be in charge of the instrument, of the music, of registration, and sometimes it’s good to immerse yourself in the flow and just keep going while enjoying it, not forcing it as Ausra says.
A: Well, and remember when last year we went to St. Paul's Cathedral to London to perform—I was really worrying about that acoustic because I knew that it’s twelve seconds long. We have never played an instrument with such a large acoustic. But strangely enough, that when I got to that organ bench, I could not feel that acoustics at all. It didn’t seem so long.
V: Part of that problem is selecting the repertoire thoughtfully. If we had played some really advanced polyphonic works, then it might have been a problem but we stayed out of that period, not by accident, but on purpose, because this was the music that was not created for such environment. And therefore we played more the romantic sounding music than classical music. And even if Baroque music from the Baroque period, we played arrangements from concertos. Which are polyphonic enough but more are moving in layers, not in separate voices, but more like in layers in three instruments at once. Like three oboes, right?
A: So if you have to play in a large acoustic don’t choose the Preludes and Fugue by J.S. Bach. Choose his trio sonata and you will be just fine.
A: Because in trio sonata you just three voices.
V: Oh, I didn’t mean trio sonatas.
A: (Laughs). Okay, okay. I’m just teasing you.
V: Ah, you are so, so, what’s the word? Sneaky!
A: I am. But of course if you will choose to play a fugue, let’s say Baroque fugue in a large acoustics and you will play it all legato, then of course you will get just a big mess. Especially if you will play it in a very fast tempo. Although if you won’t articulate you will get mess in anyway.
V: Right. Articulation does make a difference.
V: At St. Paul's Cathedral I played some improvisation as well during the rehearsal. And when you improvise, you try to adjust to the environment and instrument and seek out other colors of the organ and show them in a really appropriate way. Therefore, what did you think? Did I play that improvisation in a forced way? Something unnatural or was it convincing enough?
A: No, I think it was convincing enough. You are very good at improvising, as we well know.
V: Please praise me more.
A: Well, we shall see how your improvisation recital in the cathedral on Thursday will be.
V: You mean tomorrow?
A: Yes. I mean tomorrow.
V: Yes, I will be playing twenty-five minute long improvisation recital. It’s a short recital—lunchtime recital, but based on the biblical story about Jesus transfiguration. Okay. So, bottom line, guys is to experience as many instruments as you possibly can. As many different acoustical environments as you can. And then adjusting to the big acoustics will be a challenge, but not a big one.
A: And as James wrote that he listened to famous organists, yes, renowned organists. I can also tell from my experience from listening to other performers—not always a big name, brings a great performance. Because you have various situations like the person might be just sick, or not feel well, or don’t have that style approach of historical performance, and all those details that might not work.
V: Well, exactly. Maybe that organist is famous for some other area of repertoire.
V: And when put into another acoustical environment it could sound really weak.
A: Well and I have heard some of the performance that I know a renowned organist and sometimes they played really as a gods and sometimes they played really, really bad. So…
V: Maybe they’re not gods after all.
A: Yes, I guess so.
V: Okay guys. Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice…
A: Miracles happen!
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 285 of #Secrets of Organ Playing podcast. This question was sent by John, and he writes:
I’ve almost learnt In dulci jubilo by Bach, your training videos have been so helpful thank you! It seemed a really daunting piece to learn, but its coming together quicker than I expected, all the sight reading has helped me and your teaching has really helped me improve.
My question is how should I play this piece on smaller church organs in buildings that have flat acoustics. When I played my recital on St Johns organ in Vilnius, it was an incredible eye opening experience to play on a large mechanical organ in a huge acoustic. I came to realize how articulate legato suddenly made sense playing on an instrument closer to Bach’s time in a resonant acoustic.
When I listen to other professionals play this piece in large churches or cathedrals, I can hear some parts get lost in the blend of legato.
But when I play it in our church, I’m worried it sounds a bit too staccato and the gaps between the longer notes sounds a little disjointed.
Can you give some advice about playing Bach in flat acoustics? Should I try to play more legato? Did Bach ever use finger substitutions? Would I have to play it faster in flat acoustics?
So Ausra, what do you think?
A: Well, yes, you need to adjust articulation depending on the acoustics where you are playing in. But even if you are playing in dead acoustics, you don’t have to play Bach legato; that’s a basic rule. And of course, if you will play it staccato it sounds funny and unnatural.
V: Remember, Ausra, by the way, that I’ve been the one who would play early music works too detached in our student days.
A: Yes, I remember that.
V: Many people made fun of me!
A: Yes, I remember that. But as I told a few days ago in one of our podcasts: usually first of all, you play everything legato, then you play everything too detached, too staccato; and then finally you realize how it should be played, and you play in the right way.
V: Mhm. Do you think that John is progressing to the second stage?
A: Yes, I think so.
V: Where he’s playing too detached?
A: But anyway, you don’t have to play legato. To answer his question if Bach ever used finger substitutions...so, I think that he didn’t use finger substitutions, because obviously he didn’t play legato, so he didn’t need to use finger substitutions.
V: But we shouldn’t be 110% certain about that, because there are some very thick textures at the end of, let’s say, the 3rd Kyrie from Clavierubung by J.S. Bach.
A: Well I’ve played it, and I didn’t use finger substitutions. You don’t need it. But...well, and even if you would do it, very rarely, occasionally…
V: As an exception.
A: As an exception only, and not as a basic rule.
V: For example, if the top note is held throughout let’s say 4 measures, right, and beneath that you have three or four other notes in chordal texture, changing...what do you do? Sometimes with this top note you sometimes have to change from 4 to 5.
A: Well, yes, there are places like this.
V: That’s what I’m talking about.
A: But what John I think meant about finger substitutions wasn’t about places like this. And another thing that he writes, that he heard some recording of, you know, a cathedral’s organ, where he could hear the blend of legato. Well, that’s an acoustical trick, because I’m pretty sure that organist didn’t play legato.
V: Depending on where the microphones are positioned, right?
V: And depending on what kind of an organist is playing, too. You would hear different sounds. Of course, an organist might play legato. There are probably hundreds of people who still play legato--
A: But if you would play legato in a large acoustics Bach’s music, then you wouldn't hear a legato, but you would hear a mess!
A: And if you hear legato, it meant that the organist articulated.
V: Right. So when you listen to the recording, try to see if you hear the beginning and ending of each note. Or just the beginning. If the beginning and ending are blended, then it’s a little bit too much--too legato. But if it’s almost together, then it’s okay.
A: Yes. And as you know, about tempo, that’s right, as John mentioned himself: in a dry acoustic, you need to play faster.
A: That’s obvious. You need to do it, because otherwise, if you will play too staccato and in a slow tempo, everybody will get bored.
V: Mhm, right. John later asked another question about speeding up the tempo--how to get better at playing at a faster tempo. But maybe we could talk about that in later podcast episode.
A: Sure, sure.
V: Thank you guys, this was Vidas!
A: And Ausra.
V: Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
AVA202: How can an existing church with a wonderful Rieger organ but dry absorbent acoustics be improved either by mechanical means or electronic reverberations systems?
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 202 of Ask Vidas and Ausra podcast. This question was sent by Eddie and he wrote:
How can an existing church with a wonderful Rieger organ but dry absorbent acoustics be improved either by mechanical means or electronic reverberations systems? Any experience of this?
It's in St Georges Anglican Church Parktown Johannesburg. Really a superb two manual organ but the room is quite dead and sec - I imagine early-reflection panels on the side walls and perhaps even in the roof/ceiling (or both) OR otherwise Electronic Reverberation system could be considered!
Building is 'n shoe-shaped designs by a famous SA church architect Sir Herbert Baker!
V: Ausra, I asked our friend and organ builder Gene Bedient to get a perspective on this and here is what he wrote: “As far as general acoustical suggestions hard surfaces, remove carpet, hard floor, irregular surfaces to diffuse sound efficiently, avoid flimsy wall panels such as thin drywall. Such panels absorb low frequency.” So were not really experts on acoustics, right Ausra?
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: But Gene probably knows quite a bit more than we because he built many wonderful organs in different acoustical environments throughout his career. And not every church, not every building has reverberant acoustics.
A: That’s for sure, yes.
V: Especially in the U. S. So in the case of Eddie’s in South Africa situation I think if they could really remove carpet, right, those things?
V: Cushions, exactly. What else? Umm in general avoid any cloth right?
V: That would strengthen the reverberation a little bit maybe one second or two seconds.
A: But still I don’t think you can do something significant in this kind of situation.
V: But then Eddie mentioned he imagines electronic reverberation system could be considered. Imagine that. I don’t have any experience with this. Do you?
A: No, I have neither but I wouldn’t do it because it sounds so bizarre. If the organ is pneumatical or mechanical then adding stuff like this you know I don’t think would work. It might make situation even worse.
V: And electronic reverberation system solution might be expensive too.
V: Because I understand finances are important right here.
A: Look at the bright side of this thing you know you can do repertoire that would not work maybe in large acoustics. Do more chamber music, ensemble music. That works quite well you know. And in church like this you know I don’t know if organ is upstairs or downstairs.
V: He doesn’t say.
A: But then we have no church with large acoustics and we have for example settings the choir has to be downstairs for example or the soloist has to be downstairs and the organist is upstairs you can never you know play together. But if the acoustic is dry you can easily do arrangements like this when soloist or choir sings from downstairs and you play upstairs and it still works quite well.
V: And then of course organist has to adjust his articulation.
A: Yes, you don’t have to articulate so much you know do a little bit more less space between the notes. So of course you have to play at a faster tempo too.
V: For a lot of people it’s easier to play in dry acoustics than in reverberant ones.
A: Yes, that’s true. Because it’s more like at piano you know, playing piano that way.
V: What you play is what you hear.
V: Um-hmm. It seems like it would be quite expensive remodeling of the building if you want to improve acoustics significantly.
A: Because I think that acoustics is such a thing you have to think about before building a building.
V: I know.
A: Unfortunately that not so many architects now considering acoustics in general. Not only in churches but concert halls a well. Like we have this Siemens arena, so called is Vilnius which holds how many people? A big crowd actually.
V: Ten thousand,maybe fifteen thousand.
A: I think the one in Kaunas holds fifteen thousand people. But this one in Vilnius holds ten thousand people and it’s used for all kinds of different activities for sports, for basketball, and sometimes it holds concerts as well and acoustic is just horrible.
V: And Vilnius University is planning to have a special concert next year there with classical music as well so we don’t know what kind of acoustical environment it will be.
A: I don’t know about this organ in Johannesburg, maybe some mikes would help if you amplify the organ, I’m not sure you know. You really need to consult a sound engineer.
V: And Gene in our correspondence gave a few contacts to Eddie to contact his acquaintances in this area. So maybe Eddie can find some help further.
A: True. But you know even if you will be able to make your acoustics better if you will have a good crowd of people coming to the service you might lose that too. Because with each additional person you know coming to the church the acoustic is diminished greatly.
V: Remember what’s happening during diploma graduation ceremonies at University of Vilnius where we play. If for example in empty room it’s like five or more seconds of reverberation with full organ but then when three hundred or more people come and pack into the building it’s completely dry.
A: Yes, it’s dry and organ sounds much softer than it would be in an empty church. So you need always to keep that in mind.
V: Yeah and play louder if you want softer registrations actually. Good. We hope this discussion was at least in part helpful to you but you really need to get some expert advice on this I think.
A: So I think the best advice would be for a future generation would be before building a church think about acoustics because that’s what should come first and then just worry about what kind of instrument you will put in that church.
A: Building is the most important.
V: And then when you play in such environment the beauty is that you can adjust your playing technique everywhere you go in every different acoustical environment. And at first when you just start playing in public and you have tried maybe just a few organs it’s really strange and uncomfortable to change your articulation, right Ausra?
A: That’s true.
V: Somehow if you are for example taught in a dry acoustical environment and then going to a cathedral then you are playing legato or more or less legato and it’s completely frustrating to adjust right away and vice versa, the opposite is true. If you are used to spacious rooms and good acoustics then going to a concert hall like this would be quite strange.
A: So I guess the most important thing is you know to consider all these possibilities and to know what might you know be waiting for you so be ready in advance.
V: And when you play listen to what the audience is hearing right? To the echo.
V: If it’s even there this echo. Sometimes you don’t have echoes. But still if there is no echo you know it’s a dry room.
A: I know and you know it’s a different feeling because I remember playing in the states in several you know churches where basically you hold the last chord and before even you know releasing the keys it seems the sound already disappeared. So acoustic is so dry, it’s not dry dry but it even eats your sound.
V: Like black hole.
A: I know, it’s a funny feeling. Not a very nice feeling but you get used to it as well.
V: Right. So the more you travel the more experience you will have and the less time you will need to adjust I think.
V: But in Eddie’s case I think there isn’t any possibility to do an acoustical environment of the cathedral out of let’s say supermarket acoustic.
V: Maybe a little bit. One or two seconds reverberation that would probably be the best he can hope for.
A: That’s actually two seconds, that’s a nice acoustic. I would consider that a nice acoustic just a we had at Grace Lutheran Church in Lincoln, NE.
A: It was nice.
V: And again it’s nice when you practice alone but when the big festivities in the church full packed with people then this disappears completely.
V: What can you do?
A: Well you know then peoples voices fill out the church. It works well as well .
V: Thanks guys this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 191, of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. This question was sent by Eddy; And he wrote quite a lengthy commentary, about dry acoustics and organ performance, and he asks us to give, you know, our opinion, so we decided to answer this question and discuss this idea about acoustics and organ performance on the podcast, right, Ausra?
V: So let me read it first. He writes:
Dry acoustics (little, if any reverberation with full audience capacity) pose challenging interpretational problems to the performer.
Most of the great organ works were composed for highly reverberant rooms such as cathedrals ranging from 3 to even 10 seconds and more. In these rooms the music is allowed to 'breathe' naturally leaving mesmerizing and long-lasting memories/impact; it is also technical-wise much easier to perform in these buildings. However, when performing in dry acoustics like most churches and even some Cathedrals in South Africa, the organist is confronted with major problems in getting across the music of the composer in a convincing, natural and coherent manner. Some 'rescue' methods to resort to may include:
♪ Shortening rests considerably at phrase-ends in order to counteract 'dead' / 'dry' breathing gabs and preventing the music to fall apart;
♪ Lengthening note values at the end of phrases to prevent the same as above;
♪ Changing / altering the music text not only to achieve a better overall musical realization (for instance, to achieve a better legato when needed), but also to ease very difficult passages technically that would otherwise be almost impossible to execute convincingly and which would be far easier to perform in live-acoustics allowing to move the hands/fingers and feet over the keyboards and pedals with more ease) (needless to say the original notation and intentions of the composer must at all times be respected with the highest integrity by the performer);
♪ Phrasing voice parts unevenly at the end of phrases, in other words, not cutting voices at the end of phrases simultaneously as required by the composer's score, but taking-off voices parts /hands/feet after another resulting in a much more natural and coherence way without dry/sec gaps in the sound and musical flow.
I do not have the time here to illustrate the observations above with examples from the organ literature (I might have more time later...?); in any case, these suggestions are much easier to demonstrate than to explain in writing ...
V: So, what do you think, Ausra, about Eddy’s ideas?
A: Well, yes we have very interesting and it might be useful, you know, for some organists, but you know, I would have to disagree that playing in live acoustics, or big acoustics is easier.
V: It depends on who is playing, right?
A: I know. It depends on the complete room, on the complete organ, and what you are playing actually.
V: And if Eddy is really experienced in playing at large cathedrals let’s say, with reverberant rooms, then it comes really natural to him.
A: True, but, but you know, you need to play well in either room. Either with acoustics or without acoustics. Because if you will do something technically incorrect, you know, everybody will hear it, in either way, in any circumstance. It doesn’t mean you know, that that if you are playing in a reverberant room, and you will play something incorrectly, nobody will hear it; everybody will hear it, and it will sound even worse.
A: Because the acoustics you know, will expand it.
V: Amplify it?
A: Yes, amplify it.
V: Let’s say you hit the wrong note,,,
A: I know.
V: And it will last for three or ten seconds.
A: I know, it will last much longer so everybody will be able to hear it.
V: And remember. Uh huh, you’re right, here. But probably what do he wrote about large acoustics, is remember we had a short like small studio organ at the Academy of Music in Vilnius, in 316 Auditorium, Neo- Baroque style with fourteen stops I believe, two manuals. And it’s really tricky to play this organ because it’s really no reverberation and everything you play is so on the face, on the notes.
A: Well, I believe it had twelve stops.
A: If i remember correctly, and a couple of..
V: You know what I had in my imagination is a couple of reeds.
A: It doesn’t have reeds, though.
A: Well, yes, i remember that time, you know, playing that room; it was very tricky. Very hard, actually.
V: Mmm, hmm. So that’s what probably Eddy is referring to.
A: Because you felt like you know, playing on, on the ice.
V: Very slippery.
V: Maybe the keys are not pure wooden keys but you know, plastic keys.
V: Mmm, hmm. Exactly, so shortening rests in drier acoustics.
A: And you know, I think this question just explains you know, one thing, that you need to adjust each time when you play on different instrument in the different room. And that either dry acoustic or live acoustic has it’s, it’s way to approach the instrument and to approach the music.
V: It’s kind of similar, that you have to approach you music every time, freshly, with with fresh pair of ears. It’s like unfamiliar environment, and also unfamiliar piece. You have to prepare, pretend you are playing ahead in this piece, you know for the first time.
A: And of course if you are playing in a dry room, you probably have to play faster. You probably will have to articulate less, talking about Baroque fugue, for example. And of course, it will be different you know, you cannot maybe play, do as much rubato as you would do in the large acoustics.
V: And at the end of the phrases would be shorter.
A: But you know, when of course it would be also, you know positive things in playing in the dry acoustics; you will not have to worry about things will get you know, messy.
V: Mmm, hmm.
A: And, I would say that the dry acoustic is especially, not especially good, but easier to play with other musicians. For example to play duets, not necessarily organ duets, but like chamber music.
V: You’re right.
A: To play with soloists like other voice, you know, especially like flute or violin.
V: Because every part will be audible.
A: Sure. And it would be easier to communicate while not having live acoustics.
V: Mmm, hmm. For beginners, do you think large acoustics pose larger problems, or dry acoustics?
A: I think that large acoustics, because we are not used to it. Because many, you know, come to organ after practicing piano for some years, and it’s more like playing piano that way, you know, when you play dry acoustics. And large acoustics is so different. So I think it challenges more the young performer.
V: You’re right, Ausra. Because, because not too many people start out in large cathedrals, their organ journey.
A: I know. I know let’s say two seconds reverberation is not the same as ten seconds of reverberation.
V: Have you played ten seconds? Remember?
A: Yes, I had it. And you?
V: We both played, actually, in Detroit.
V: I think it was like more of ten seconds.
A: Yes, and it was very nice. What did you play?
V: I played, i believe suite by Durufle, yeah. Maybe not entire suite but a couple of movements.
A: I think two movements. And I played Liszt’s Prelude and Fugue on BACH.
V: Do you remember any feelings, any experience?
A: Well, actually, I think it went quite well, and I remember it was a nice experience. I enjoyed it actually, a lot.
V: And we can tell you stories about maybe twelve seconds reverberation, after our trip to London, St. Paul’s Cathedral this summer.
A: Yes, but you know, there are sometimes things that you are thinking you will go and you will find reverberation and after you know, going to that particular organ you will realize that there is no reverberation or almost no reverberation, even if you play historical organ. As for example we did in September, last September in Poland.
V: Uh, huh. The old Hildebrand organ from 1717, I believe. In the village of Paslek.
V: Mmm, mmm. So you have to adjust, and that’s the beauty of it, right?
A: I know. You never know, so just be ready to face challenges.
V: Exactly! You are continuing the old tradition that comes back from, from the time of Estampie and Robertsbridge Codex, and even earlier that was not written out. So maybe from the time hydraulis too, Ctesibios, engineer from Alexandria who created the first hydraulic organ, started out this tradition and we’re diligently carrying it into the next millennium or even further.
A: Yes. But what about, about you know, if you could choose, would you choose reverberant room, or no acoustics?
V: I would choose reverberant room.
A: Yes. It’s much nicer. I think it gives sort of liveliness to the organ.
A: And sort of you know, increase the mystery.
V: Mmm, hmm. If you’re listener, I would always imagine I’m underneath a swimming pool, you know, submerged maybe twenty feet, and listening to the music of the water and fish and, you know, and things like that. It’s really fun. Of course I didn’t include in my calculations the water pressure, but, but who cares?
A: That’s right.
V: What about you, when you are listening to reverberant room music, and sitting in the middle of the dome, let’s say. What do you feel?
A: I feel, well, actually, I enjoy it a lot. And I feel sorry for churches that has no acoustics, and I think, you know, ‘what could you do, in order to, to make it better?’
V: Oh, alright! You could eliminate all the cushions.
A: Yes, and all the carpets (laughs). And you know, maybe just, you know, destroy some windows, and make solid walls.
V: Majority of churches won’t do that right?
A: I know.
V: But some, a little bit of minority will.
A: I wish that you know, architects, especially nowadays would think more about acoustics than building you know, their houses and, and churches especially.
V: I think you are asking too much from architects because sometimes they even don’t plan the room for the organ.
A: I know, and it’s just too bad.
V: Good, guys. Um, thank you guys for listening. We hope this was useful to you. Ed, this question was really thought provoking. And please send us more questions like that. We love helping you grow. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember, when you practice…
A: Miracles happen!
By Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene (get free updates of new posts here)
Yesterday I went to practice to the church Bach's Eb major Prelude and Fugue, BWV 552.
The biggest challenge for me was to adapt to the huge acoustics.
It was the first time I played it in a space with such a long reverberation.
In the past, I performed BWV 552 only in dry and relatively dry buildings: the Cornerstone chapel and Grace Lutheran church in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Playing it for the first time at St. John's church in Vilnius for me was a surprise because I had to adapt my articulation and tempo.
It seems everything must be played slower and more detached in such a space.
Despite all these challenges, though, this piece is one of the biggest dreams for any organist.
Many organists are aware how large acoustics can affect their performance. The larger the acoustics, the slower we need to play in order that the piece might sound convincing to the listeners. Is it always the case?
You see, this is true with Toccatas and other loud or dramatic pieces like opening movements of the symphonies or sonatas or polyphonic compositions like fugues. The large reverberation of the room makes the understanding of the polyphony, harmonic plan and modulations much more difficult. That's why it's best to take a slower tempo, articulate more, and emphasize a little exaggerated phrasing.
However, playing very fast in huge acoustics probably is acceptable not in loud pieces, like Toccatas but softer, playful compositions, such as Scherzos - registered with flute stops and their combinations. When the organ doesn't sound loud and the space in the room is huge, the music seems to flow and can be perceived much more clearly.
If you ever have chance to play a large organ in the room with cathedral acoustics, experiment with the flute stops - take a 4' flute on each of the manual and improvise in a very fast tempo something melodic with a single voice while changing manuals and playing short pedal staccato notes with soft 16' and 8' stops.
If you use suitable modes or harmonies, large reverberation won't be a problem. In fact, you will be pleasantly surprised at what kind of mysterious atmosphere this type of registration creates. The same can be done with any combination of 8' and 4' flutes.
Today's sight-reading piece is Entree de Procession by Edouard Batiste (1820-1876), a French Romantic organist and composer who won the famous composition competition Prix de Rome in 1840. He was an organist at St. Eustache church in Paris where he performed the organ part at the premiere of the Te Deum by Hector Berlioz in 1855 (conducted by the composer).
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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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