Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 310, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by C.K. And C.K. writes:
C.K. Hi Vidas,
1. My dream is to become a competent, versatile and creative church organist.
V: And the obstacles toward this dream are,
C.K. 2. Modulation skill; improvisation technique; setting registration.
Regards, C K
V: Uh-huh. So, C.K., basically wants to play in church, very creatively and confidently. And in a varied fashion. But he struggles with modulating, improvising and registration.
A: So this goes to shows that he needs to deepen his music theory knowledge. And the last one, setting registration. I think it’s the problem of probably understanding the organ itself and maybe what fits what.
V: Yes. If you were to start answering this question, I think starting talking about the last one would be the easiest starting point, right?
A: Yes, I would think so.
V: Registration. Let’s imagine, Ausra, you are summoned to St. John’s church today because we’re recording it on Sunday, to play for a mass, right? In the Catholic mass, we have a number of hymns to sing sometimes. Although I usually play organ music improvised, but other people do sing hymns. If you were to play hymns, what would you think about when setting the registration?
A: Well, I would be thinking how many people are attending church; are they all singing hymns or am I singing solo. And I would make up registration accordingly.
V: Would you use all manuals in that organ, or just one?
A: What, for hymn accompanying?
V: Yeah. For one hymn for example.
A: Well, you could use one, but it would be nice to use two, or three especially if you don’t want to change the stops in the middle of the, during verse.
V: If the hymn has three stanzas, you could easily play on one, two and three.
A: Yes, and do them in different volume.
V: Or even if you have four stanzas, you could play one, two, three and one again.
A: That’s right.
V: Basically jumping from manual to manual is a good way to change colors, because when playing on the second manual, you could change the first manual also, a little bit. With one hand you could still play and with another you could draw one or two stops.
A: Yes. That’s when you are playing mechanical organ but if you have electric organ or something with piston system then it’s much easier.
A: You just push a button, that’s it.
V: I think for C.K. to understand registration of hymns and accompanying them in the liturgy, the starting point probably needs to be, to use principle chorus, right?
A: That’s right.
V: If the congregation is big you could play with mixtures. If it’s not big you could play actually 8’, 4’ and 2’ or just 8’ and 4’. 8’ and 4’ would be enough for a small congregation probably. Don’t you think?
A: That’s right.
V: What about 16’ in the manuals? That would be nice too.
A: Yes. You could add that too.
V: If you have mixtures, right?
V: Probably not before. Do you think that he would need to have pedals too?
A: Definitely, for accompany congregational singing too. Definitely need pedals.
V: Mmm-mmm. So Principles, 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture, before Mixture you could have a fifth, 2 2/3, and 16’ principle, if it’s a big organ. Flute, if it’s a smaller instrument. And similar things in the pedals, I suppose; 16’, 8’, even 4’, right? And if you have Mixture in the pedals, you might add the Posaune in the bass, like a 16’ reed in the pedals.
A: Yes, it’s nice. I like Posaune.
A: It’s my favorite reed stop.
V: It’s so low and rumbling, and very scary to listen to.
A: But I like it more than the trumpet 8’.
V: It gives gravity.
A: True. But in order to play the Posaune in the pedal you need to make sure you will not do a mistake in the pedal line. Otherwise everybody will notice them.
V: You might have some things in common with Johann Adam Reincken. Because remember in Katharinen Kirche, in Hamburg, he advocated and added 32’ Posaune in the pedals.
V: For more gravity. Or was it the Principle, I don’t know, but,,,
A: Maybe not the Posaune.
V: But it was definitely 32’ stop. Because he wanted more gravitas as he wrote, as he said maybe. So that’s suggestions about registration. Would do you think should go first; modulation, or improvisation when you are developing your techniques?
A: I think modulation.
V: Modulation, right?
A: And even I will go a little bit back. Before modulation you have to be able to play cadence very well, cadences and sequences. Then after these two steps, then modulations come. Because modulation skill is a little bit more advanced skill than playing sequence or playing cadences.
V: Would C.K. and other people benefit from your Youtube channel?
A: Yes. You could try to play some of my sequences and cadences and some modulations too.
V: Mmm-hmm. That was really helpful that you did.
A: Because when you play sequences you get acquainted with various keys very well. Then it doesn’t matter for you if you are playing in C Major or in C# Major. I mean you feel equally well in each key. And after that you can start to modulate from one key to another key.
V: I have a question, Ausra.
V: How did you feel about making those videos? At the time? It was like a couple of years ago, probably.
A: Yes. Well? I felt, interesting.
V: Interesting or interested?
A: Because usually that’s what my students do for me. I sit and listen and count the mistakes and make suggestions for them. And briefly sequences, cadences and modulations for me. And at that time I felt like a student myself. I had to play and also to talk at the same time.
V: Do any of your students ever told you about, that they watched your videos?
A: No. I don’t think they are interested in harmony.
V: Uh-huh. But you could say them, ‘oh, guys, if you struggle with cadences and sequences and modulations, watch my Youtube channel’.
V: Some of them might, you know.
A: Some of them also might. Some of them might not.
A: So but, it was for me, I don’t know, a hundred time easier for myself to play it, than to listen they playing. Because it’s quite annoying when we are playing very slowly and making mistakes over and over again, and come unprepared.
V: I think our Secrets of Organ Playing students would play better. Because they have motivation, at least.
A: It’s very important.
A: To have motivation.
V: Do you have motivation to continue making those videos in the future?
A: Yes, but probably not this year. I have too many,,,
V: Too many classes to teach.
V: Plus you additionally, have harmony classes with National Association of Organists.
A: That’s right.
V: I bet they will find them useful too. Okay, so guys, keep listening to our conversations, keep looking forward to new installments, and maybe, when Ausra is less busy, she can also create something new for you in terms of harmony too. And in terms of improvisation for C.K., if he wants to play in church, I think the most helpful thing to do would be improvising hymn introductions first. Right Ausra?
V: In variety of ways. Could be simply re-harmonizing the hymn, or playing in two parts without the middle parts, tenor and alto. Could be a fuguette, taking the first phrase and treating it fugally, in three or four parts.
A: Could be toccata.
A: Yes. Playing like melody in the bass.
A: Hymn melody for example. Toccata based on a hymn tune.
V: But that’s for probably postlude, more.
V: It’s very useful to impress your congregation.
A: And do some fast figurations with hands. I think it would sound nice.
V: So guys, if you feel that your congregation doesn’t support you enough or doesn’t clap after, doesn’t applaud after your playing churches, church service, just play a toccata, hymn improvisation based on toccata figuration, and we can personally guarantee that you will get some applause after that.
A: Yes. Usually people like loud and fast.
V: Right. And please, write after you do, write your feedback, how it was, and how congregation reacted. It’s really interesting to discuss that, and maybe you will get a lesson or two from that in the future, for your future performances too.
V: Okay. Please keep sending us 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 289 of Secrets of Organ Playing podcast. This question was sent by Osei. And he wants to become a great organist and a composer, but he struggles with fingering. That’s sort of a short question that he sent.
A: But I find it very controversial, don’t you?
V: Yes. If you want to become a great composer and organist, I think your challenges should be bigger than fingering.
A: I think so, too. Because if you are still struggling with fingering, it means that you are at the very beginning level--don’t you think so?
V: Uh-huh, yes. I read it like, if he solved the fingering problem, then he would become a great organist and a composer. Which is obviously...not enough.
A: Yes, because I think fingering is only one small part of performance.
V: Mhm. What about pedaling, right?
A: True. True, and all other things, you know; and if you want to become a composer, you need to know theory very well, too. To be able to analyze pieces.
V: Let’s talk a little bit about fingering, right?
A: Mhm, mhm.
V: How to solve this fingering problem, if he doesn’t use our fingering and pedaling scores.
A: Well, when making your own fingering, you need to know what piece you are working on, and the style it is written in--if it’s a Baroque piece, or if it’s a Romantic piece, or if it’s a modern piece. And you finger it accordingly. And we have talked about those basic principles of fingering many times already.
V: Mhm. And since Osei wasn’t listening, we can repeat that again, right? So, let’s say, for Baroque fingering, what you must avoid is playing with finger substitutions, glissandos, things like that. Avoid using thumb whenever possible, right? If it’s maybe…
A: On the black keys--on the upper keys.
V: Yes. If it’s a chromatic music, especially from the 18th century, then avoiding the thumb is not really possible most of the time. I guess using those 3 main fingers--2, 3, and 4--are very important in early music, right? In both hands. What about, let’s say, modern music, or legato style music?
A: Well, you can use finger substitution, and glissandos…
V: But not always, right?
A: Not always. It depends on what the articulation needs. If you have to play legato, then yes--you will use all those techniques.
V: If you play frequently scales and arpeggios, you can figure out most of the modern fingering, too, without any glissandos and substitutions.
A: True, true.
V: But substitutions and glissandos come in handy when you are playing more than one voice in one hand.
A: And that very often happens in the 19th century and later music.
V: Right. Is it ok to use the same finger in some of the middle voices, when it’s not possible to play legato?
A: Well, yes--you have to do that quite often.
V: Mhm. Basically you lift up a little bit; and since the audience will still hear the upper voice and the bottom voice, it’s not a big deal.
A: Well, actually, sometimes it’s even possible to connect--to play legato--2 notes with your thumb.
V: Ah yes. Thumb glissandos, yes.
A: That’s right.
V: So that’s basically the main principles of playing with the modern music with efficient fingering, right? What about his dream of becoming a great organist and a composer? Can we help him a little bit? What would be the first step?
A: Well, of course to practice a lot.
V: Sit down on the organ bench as often as he can, maybe every day, right?
A: Sure. If you want to become a great organist, you have to practice every day.
V: How long--for how long?
A: Well, at least 2, or even 3 or 4 hours.
V: Let’s say 4 hours. For a great organist, you have to practice for 4 hours. 2 hours in the morning, 2 hours in the afternoon. With breaks, of course; don’t hurt yourself. Don’t hurt your back. And you have to walk around, drink a glass of water, and stretch every 30 min or so. But since Osei has a lofty goal to become a great organist and a composer, I think pushing yourself a little bit more and playing 4 hours a day is doable.
A: Yes; and about becoming a composer, too, I think it’s important to understand that composition is probably the highest level of all musical creativity. I would say that improvisation might be a little bit higher…
V: Higher, yes, I was going for that. Why higher, Ausra?
A: Because then you are composing right on the spot.
V: Oh, thank you. You’re sort of developing further the great idea…
A: But so, you know, to become a composer, you need to understand music theory, music harmony, musical analysis very well, too; you need to have...to know different musical styles; you have to know a little bit of musical history, too. And then, after studying other composers’ styles, other musical styles, you need to develop your own style.
V: Mhm. Does it come naturally or do you have to force yourself?
A: Well...I think both ways. For some it might come naturally, but for some I think…
V: Do you think Bach...Let’s talk about Bach. Do you think when he was creating music in the 18th century, would he think, “Oh, how can I become original?”
A: Well, I think each great composer started by studying other composers’ works.
V: Copying them!
A: Yes, copying them. Like Bach, for example, when he lived with his brother, at night in secret he would write pieces by Johann Pachelbel.
V: Right. And at first his compositions were similar to Pachelbel’s.
A: Sure. And then, remember that story when he went on foot throughout Germany to Lübeck listen to Buxtehude and to Reincken in Hamburg. So obviously he was learning from them as well.
V: Mhm. And when he was living in those parts, he learned from them, in Nuremberg.
A: True. And since you can find all those Italian and French influences in his music (and obviously German influence--various German influences, because Pachelbel lived in once part of Germany where music was so much different from, let’s say, Northern Germany), so he studied all those influences, and you can find all of them in his music. Of course, he sort of remade them: reworked them, recycled them, and used them in his own unique way. And of course, you also need to mention that he knew stile antico very well.
V: Which is Renaissance style.
A: Which is Renaissance, so obviously he knew works, probably, by such great masters as Palestrina.
A: And di Lasso.
V: And let’s say, Frescobaldi.
A: True, true.
V: Mhm. Yes. You know, you mentioned a great idea, that he combined several ideas into one style--German, Italian, French--and made it his own, this combination that we know as a mature Bach style. As a mature Baroque style, even, right? So, a person like Osei could first copy some music of his favorite composers, study them, get curious about them, analyze them, and maybe create something really similar that these composers did at first. But once he gets better at that--once it becomes boring--he could combine a few elements into one piece, a few stylistic elements into one composition. That’s how we become original, right? Not copying one, but stealing from many composers.
A: That’s right. And since Bach lived in the 18th century, and we live in the 21st century, we have much more things to study from, because the music history is already much richer and longer compared to the 18th century.
V: Uh-huh, so we have so much material that the old masters didn’t have before.
A: That’s right.
V: That’s great. And this is such a lofty goal, right? To become a great composer and organist? Do you think that Osei could start composing right away, even if he doesn’t know so much about organ history or music theory, harmony, other composers’ stylistic elements? Could he do that today?
A: Well, I wouldn’t do that, if I would be him.
A: Well...Would you?
V: It’s not forbidden to start composing, right? It wouldn’t be great; and he has to, so to say, fail a lot at first, right? And a little bit later, he will find out a few breakthroughs. And that’s okay, right? You have to start small. That’s what I would do.
A: Well, you know, the scary thing for me is that there are many many young people nowadays who imagine that they are great composers already.
A: But they cannot themselves either play nor understand music. And I don’t know how they compose. Probably they are just using digital software.
A: To help them to do it. And I wouldn’t want to play a piece written by such a composer.
A: Because in order for me to take a composition of somebody and to play it, I need to respect that composer.
V: Mhm. That’s a great idea, because we can compare composing to writing. And there are so many writers who create novels, and a lot of novels are not good. Simply bad writing. So the first rule in writing, probably, is “Write a book you want to read yourself.” Right? If you are not reading that book yourself, if you wouldn’t recommend it to anybody else, that kind of style, then it’s not a good book. So with composition, probably, it’s the same. You have to compose music you want to play yourself.
A: True. And in order to do that, you need to be able to play the instrument.
A: And if you are writing for organ, you need to know about it.
V: Mhm. So, becoming a great organist and composer--actually, it’s connected, right? It’s two sides of one coin. You cannot become a great organist if you’re not actually creating; and you can’t create well if you’re not playing the instrument, if you’re not, basically, familiar with the vast variety of organ repertoire which came before. Right? So tell, Ausra, your final advice to Osei?
A: Well, so just you know, keep going, and keep motivating yourself.
A: And have a little goal for every day…
A: ...Knowing that it will finally lead you to becoming a great organist and composer.
V: And my advice would be, probably, start small and have the goal of becoming a bad composer first. Right? Create bad music first, but lots of it; and then little by little, if you create lots, maybe a thousand compositions that are bad, maybe one or two will be good, you know? And then in 20 years, you’ll become a great composer.
A: Well, yes, for some composers it was enough to make one excellent piece that they would be remembered for forever.
V: Right. So it’s a long life, and hopefully you can create something new every day. And it doesn’t have to be perfect, right? Because perfection is the killer of creativity. 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.
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Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 194, of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. This question was sent by Terry and writes:
I just retired as a physician (December) but I would like to be a substitute organist in a couple of years. I have advanced intermediate or so piano skills and love Bach. I have been self teaching myself organ for the past three months and I am blessed to have an Allen organ in my basement (purchased from local church no longer using) and your tips on organ practice are great. I just joined your group. I can practice 2-3 or more hours most days so my only barrier is daily commitment. So far so good. I am already practicing the Widor Toccata, and of course the pedals are the biggest challenge, but it is SO much fun. I am looking for a teacher (scarce in Petoskey, Mi) but you are (thankfully) it for now. Blessings, Terry
V: So, um, Terry is playing Widor Toccata, and also he hopes to be a substitute organist in a couple of years, right? So...
A: And that’s a great goal.
V: Yes, it is. I think, you know, it’s a great solution when you are retired to take part time job as an organist in charge, because playing organ, you know, sort of your makes your aging slower because of coordination and all that music sight-reading and I think it’s a great solution.
V: Plus you need a hobby right? Whether you are in early days or middle age, or if you are a retired person, you need an activity which you could enjoy and do regardless of any goals, regardless of actual results. You would enjoy the process itself. Don’t you think, Ausra?
A: Yes, it’s true. But it’s also very nice you know, to have a goal.
V: Like he wants to become a substitute organist, right?
V: So that’s, that’s a result; he wants to have that result in a couple of years. So basically in order to do that he has to, maybe, you know, get familiar with quite, quite a few of organ pieces, playable for church.
A: Yes, that’s true. Widor’s toccata is great, but you know, because organists that, you know, play services, we have to know a little bit about liturgy and to select repertoire appropriate for liturgy. So of course to know the hymns very well, because if you know the congregation better he will be a substitute organist to sing and definitely I think he definitely will sing. So he will have to accompany hymns as well as to do his solo pieces. And because he said that the pedals is biggest challenge, and I assume it will be for everybody since you know he has a good piano background.
A: So I would suggest for him maybe you know to focus more on pedal technique.
V: Right. Play pedal scales and arpeggios maybe?
A: Yes. And of course the other thing would be you know, coordination. How you coordinate you know, between your feet and your hand.
V: I see. So when you say coordination, meaning playing separate melodies for right hand, left hand or right hand and pedals, left hand and pedals, right?
A: Yes. Yes.
V: Uh huh. Why is it so important in church?
A: Well, because you know, in church, especially if you are accompanying congregational singing you must play with pedals.
V: And your left hand has to play something different than the pedals.
V: Mmm, mmm.
V: Usually tenor line.
A: Yes and usually for those people who are right-handed, left hand and pedals give most of the trouble. If you are left-handed then just the opposite, right hand and pedals. Meaning that sometimes when you are beginning at the organ, beginning organist is hard for you to coordinate what your left hand and feet are doing. For example you know, if your pedal line goes up, you want to play up with your left hand; you want to double everything that you are playing with your left hand with your pedal too.
V: I see. Do you remember those days when you were an organist at the Holy Cross church?
A: Yes, I remember that.
V: That was in early days of your career, right?
V: Were you comfortable in playing pedals hymns with pedals?
A: No, it was hard for me. But I...
V: Did you sight read them or practice at home?
A: Well I practice them at home, of course.
V: I see. So...
A: Not at home because I didn’t have the organ at that time.
V: Mmm, hmm.
A: But I practice at the music academy of music or in our church.
V: Mmm, hmm. Each hymn like a separate organ piece?
A: Yes. That’s true and remember those times we had also sing ourselves, to lead congregational singing.
V: Right. In most of the Catholic churches in Lithuania, and I suspect in Poland too, they have a tradition that organist himself or herself has to sing.
A: I know and you know, organist even goes downstairs and sings the psalm, or sings the psalm from the organ bench with the microphone. So it’s sort of, most organist in Lithuania are sort of organists slash,,,
A: Cantors. Yes. So it’s really challenging. Sometimes it’s even more important that you know, organist could sing well.
V: And the same person has to sometimes direct the choir too.
V: With, with one hand or one foot, or...
A: (Laughs) not with one foot probably, but you know, with one hand or with your head.
V: Right. Do you think that a lot of organists can direct with their ears, moving ear muscles?
A: (Laughs). I don’t think so.
V: That would be a nice skill to have, though.
A: Yes. You could try to develop it.
V: I imagine, I could imagine what would be, the basic,,,
A: And you would put it on the Youtube, I bet you would get rich overnight.
V: Oh, sensation. Excellent. Maybe I will devote, my, my summer for this project.
V: Would you like me to teach you?
A: No, (laughs) thank you!
A: I’m not the rabbit and I have such a long ears. I cannot move them.
V: Maybe we could consult a neighbors rabbit, how he does, right?
A: Yes. That’s a great idea.
V: Okay guys. I hope you, you are getting fun in this, this discussion. We’re now going to go to our neighbors and interview our guest rabbit, how he directs choir with his ears. And maybe we could tell you later how it went. Okay?
A: Sure, yes.
V: Alright, but you don’t forget to practice, because 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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