Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 389, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. Today, I would like to read a comment from Jeremy and Alan in the conversation, and then Dianne later on joined, and Laurie, and Danielle. All of those students are from our Total Organist group. And let’s start with Jeremy. Jeremy writes:
Jeremy: Concentrating during preludes and postlude. My congregation (and minister) tend to see this time as social opportunities rather than as part of the service. This morning the minister decided to discuss his week with the lector, who us seated two feet behind me. I opened the swell box at opportune (and musical!) moments until he decided to move on. Petty of me. How do you all focus when that is going on around you?
V: Alan replied:
Alan: I have a different problem with concentration: I don't have much trouble when there is activity around and I don't feel as though people are paying that much attention, such as during postludes. But during introits, anthems, even hymn introductions, I often lose concentration, get panicky, make mistakes. It's my lifelong struggle with performance anxiety; wIthout question my biggest challenge.
V: I wrote, my comment here:
The best medicine is to immerse yourself in such situations more often so that this anxiety could be controlled. Dianne added:
Dianne: Alan, I am exactly the same way. The problem is that I now only get to sub on the organ a couple times a year, so I don't get too much practice at controlling my performance anxiety there. But, even when I started out on the digital keyboard at my current church, I would become anxious with offertories and hymn introductions. After 3 years, I am much better! It really is true - practice and opportunity is the answer to most performance problems…
V: Laurie added:
Laurie: I have a pretty good congregation, and the pastor would never talk during a prelude. But, sometimes if there are a lot of noisy people, I like to lift my hands and feet off the organ at a phrase break and pause a brief moment. The silence catches their attention, and for a moment, they quiet down....until I start to play again and then they start to talk again. It's very difficult, and I don't envy your position.
V: And Danielle writes:
Danielle: This situation has an element of a philosophical problem... are we playing a concert or playing a worship service? This is not an either/or easy question and will have a different answer depending on the denominations or liturgical traditions we are employed by!
I do agree the ending of a service would ideally be more reflective for each worshipper and having a postlude supports this goal. Maybe than getting into a situation where you might be labeled passive aggressive for making pointed crescendos, you could have a direct conversation with the minister.
And if this does not work, perhaps channel your energy into preparing these pieces for a recital and just work on improvisation for your postludes...if they are not listening, that gives you more freedom to explore and push yourself so it’s interesting for you.
Good luck to everyone with this situation
V: And Jeremy later added himself:
Jeremy: I have come to accept that the majority of the congregation doesn't listen to the preludes and postludes I prepare. I have taken on the philosophy that this my contribution to an otherwise sophomoric service (in my opinion, the church I play for is moving towards a simple theology based on contemporary cultural references—the sermon two weeks ago referenced World of Warcraft). It is the distraction of the minister speaking loudly two feet away from me that is the problem. It is distracting me from trying to pay attention to what I have prepared. I am not the Music Minister at the church and have mentioned it to him. No changes however, and thus the passive aggressive organ playing I did last week.
V: That’s a long story, but Alan added:
Alan: I like to remind myself that nobody came to listen to me play the organ; they came for the fellowship and to worship. This helps me with my performance anxiety, and also reduces tensions around some of the situational things I need to deal with. For example, I am so single-threaded that it is difficult to avoid making mistakes when people talk to me, which often happens at the end of service because the console is right there at the front of the pews. Concentration can be a challenge, but I envy Jeremy his lack of (or control over) performance anxiety. Maybe I'll try hypnosis.
V: So, that’s a lot of ideas, Ausra.
A: Yes, it’s like a…
V: What comes to mind?
A: It’s like a podcast in itself, I think. You could let it be published just like that.
A: But I think we all experience this annoying feeling that we prepare beautiful music for prelude and to postlude and nobody…
V: Organist is generally just tolerated.
A: Sure. And I don’t think we really need to get upset about it. I think that nowadays it’s very important for people to socialize. And for somebody, the only place where we can talk and communicate and socialize with others is the church. So that’s what people do.
A: They come to church to talk, to interact with each other, and not so much probably to listen to organ music, or to what minister has to say during the sermon.
V: Lucky for me, when I play the postlude at St. John’s church—and it happens very rarely of course, because I’m not a regular church organist, I’m just sometimes invited to substitute an ensemble when they cannot perform—so then I take advantage of the situation and play the organ all the time, except for singing Psalm, Hallelujah, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. Those parts that are really required to sing, I would play prelude, postlude, offertory and communion totally with my improvisations. And I’m very pleased that after the end of them, postlude, people applaud, almost, all the time.
A: That’s wonderful! It means that some of them really care about what you are playing. That’s a nice thing.
V: Maybe Jeremy and others who joined in this conversation, could try a trick—if they have a choir who is still listening to you, maybe, if they are listening to you, you could ask them to applaud to you afterwards. Like a reminder for others also to listen and to appreciate what you’re playing. A few times, not all the time but one, two, three times maybe, and then see what happens, if they stop.
A: Well, but not all these choir members might appreciate organist and organ music. I remember quite a few times, when we, for example, were playing recitals or making organ demonstrations in Lithuania…
A: And other local choir members of the church, and they would stay after mass upstairs in the balcony near the organ…
A: And we would have to perform, and they would talk and interact between themselves like we even didn’t exist and we didn’t perform at that moment, and it was just so horrible.
V: Mmm-hmm. Then maybe Jeremy could talk to the music director.
A: That’s a possibility too.
A: That might help, might not. You never now. But I think it’s worth trying.
V: And it that doesn’t help, I understand that Jeremy needs like a creative output in the church. He prepares for entire week and nobody cares and listens, right? That’s frustrating! Then, I suggest, somebody else suggested, right?, like playing a recital—separate event, once in a while. That’s a good combination. Or Jeremy and others who would like to have opportunity to regularly prepare in public and appear in public, could record their video and submit it to our Secrets of Organ Playing contest. I remember Laurie telling that, she is already improving in her organ playing, just because of that constant deadline every Monday. And this is I think, wonderful opportunity for people to express themselves if the church doesn’t appreciate, we will appreciate.
V: Our community will appreciate their Youtube performances.
A: And I think it will help for you also to improve your performance anxiety. I would say not improve but reduce your performance anxiety.
V: Mmm-hmm. Yes…
A: Then you will be doing that regularly…
V: Yes, because...
A: Recording yourself...
A: Admitting your recording.
V: When you know that somebody is recording you or even just your smart phone is recording you, you know that you cannot stop—it’s a one time performance, and no matter what, you finish. You could play like several takes and choose the best one, of course. But each take is still you do your best in each take. And in general it’s a very good practice for controlling your nerves.
A: That’s right.
V: Thank you guys. We hope this was useful to you. Please send us more wonderful questions that you come up with. And your struggles, and dreams are very important to us. And remember, when you practice...
A: Miracles happen!
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 115 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here.
And today’s question was sent by Neil. He writes:
“My challenge is with concentration - practicing a voluntary is one thing but when playing the piece at the end of the service I feel under pressure and can make mistakes even though the run-through before the service went OK.”
So, a lot of people struggle with this, right? Focus, concentration…
Ausra: Yes, I think so. But you know, since he writes that before the service, when he practiced, he could play the same piece okay, I think it might be not only concentration but also performance anxiety.
Vidas: I see. Do you mean that when playing before the service, he can play without many mistakes because he’s less nervous? Or the prelude or voluntary might be easier than the toccata at the end? What do you think?
Ausra: Hmm, well, that’s a good question. I’m just thinking that maybe he gets tired after playing an entire service; and I don’t know what the tradition is at his church, but maybe people stay to listen to the postlude...
Ausra: And maybe the postlude is a more virtuosic piece than the prelude. I’m not sure, exactly; but yes, everybody, or many of us, have concentration problems.
Vidas: I kind of feel that he might be not only tired, but feeling the end of playing, the end of the service, right? And his job is almost done, and his mind is almost relaxed, therefore. It’s like playing the last piece of the recital, or the last page of the piece: sometimes we make stupid mistakes!
Ausra: Yes, that’s true. Sometimes, you know, after playing a hard spot, you just think, “Oh, I played that so well!” and then the mistake comes.
Vidas: Remember the legendary organist…
Ausra: Marilyn Mason?
Ausra: Yes, I thought about her, too!
Vidas: What did she say?
Ausra: Well, she would say that your recital is not over until you are in the parking lot, next to your car. So...meaning that you have to keep your concentration until the very end. Because even after you release your final chord, if you will not be careful, you might hit the note or something...
Vidas: Or pedals!
Ausra: Or pedals, yes! That happens!
Vidas: Or, when climbing off the organ bench, you would press the extreme high or low keys with your hand!
Ausra: Yes, because of course, if you have a cancel button then you can solve that problem, just press cancel.
Ausra: But if it’s a mechanical organ, and you forgot to take off some stops, then yes, that’s a possibility.
Vidas: Yeah, because on a mechanical organ, if you play very loudly, and want to reduce the registration suddenly, you have to do all those mechanical changes by hand; and some people don’t do this right away because it’s very noisy.
Ausra: That’s right; for example, in our church at St. John’s.
Vidas: Mhm. So yeah. Did you, Ausra, have this experience yourself when playing a church service? Towards the end, you would make mistakes, or get more nervous than before?
Ausra: Actually, no. It’s easier for me to play the end of a recital or service.
Vidas: Because nobody listens to it?
Ausra: Well, no, not because of that. For me, the hardest part is probably the first 10 minutes of performing.
Vidas: Mhm. Like in any basketball match, right? Both teams are very nervous, and both testing the ground, and seeing who is stronger, right? But afterwards, they kind of get in the flow.
Ausra: I know. It’s like this for different types of people. Some can be very excited at the beginning, and do things energetically, and then they lose the energy very soon.
Ausra: And then for some, it’s very hard to begin to do a work, but after beginning they can just keep going forever. And I think I belong to these latter ones. For me, it’s hardest to start.
Vidas: What about me? What do you think--which group do I belong in?
Ausra: I don’t know, you should decide for yourself!
Vidas: Because sometimes, I kind of feel that I also move very slowly at the beginning, but then go very long with excitement. But other times, I get excited very fast, and my focus switches, too, also, before I reach the end of the project!
Ausra: Yes, but you know, going back to Neil’s problem, I would suggest that for every postlude he was going to play, he would find himself some sort of…(not a big) assignment. He would assign himself some sort of new thing to do in that. I don’t know, maybe just think in his mind, “Tenor voice.” Or you know, focus more on cadences. Or find something in his piece that would keep his concentration going on.
Vidas: Mhm. And take his mind off that pressure.
Ausra: Yes, yes. And just think about that particular thing that he has to do in his piece.
Vidas: I usually tend to advise people to focus their gaze, their eyes on the current measure. That keeps them really focused throughout the piece; as the measures keep flowing, also your mind keeps flowing, your gaze keeps coming along. But then, you don’t pay attention to any outside things, like choir members walking or talking, outside of the organ, right? Would that help, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, could be. And I’m thinking that concentration is probably one of the biggest problems for everybody.
Vidas: Because of course, technology and this instant gratification culture in our society rewards people with a very short attention span--right? Ads everywhere click and change every few seconds, and stimuli on the web are also constantly switching and changing; and everything is so colorful and bright. So yeah, we get confused, and focus is not a strong thing for us.
Ausra: Well, yes, and because we are talking about postludes, I believe that all kinds of movement is going on during the postlude. Because some people are probably listening, but some are maybe already leaving the church, and moving, and I don’t know what about choir members, if they are also listening to your postlude or they are also talking, chatting…
Vidas: Yeah, chatting, definitely. I think that part of the service is really…
Ausra: The noisiest, probably, yes.
Vidas: The noisiest, nobody’s really paying attention, everybody’s cheering that it’s over, and they want to interact with each other, right? Because they didn’t see each other for a week!
Ausra: That’s right.
Vidas: And suddenly, organ music distracts them from interacting, in this case.
Vidas: But the organist has to stay out of this, right?
Vidas: You have to keep going until the very end.
Ausra: Yes, that’s why you need to play your postlude on organo pleno registration. Just play it loud.
Vidas: So that they could not really chat loudly enough?
Ausra: Yes. Make them listen to you!
Vidas: Like thunder from above, right?
Vidas: Like God’s voice. Excellent. Ausra, do you think that people could strengthen their concentration somehow, over time? Are there any exercises?
Ausra: Yes, I think so.
Vidas: What helps, to you?
Ausra: Meditation, probably. But of course, not everybody can meditate.
Vidas: You don’t have to call it meditation, right?
Ausra: Yes, just…
Vidas: It’s breathing!
Ausra: Yes. Or you know, yoga helps for some people.
Ausra: And I realized that yoga for me is actually torture.
Ausra: Because you have to concentrate, you have to breathe. But I think it might help
Vidas: In yoga, time passes so slowly…
Ausra: I know, I know. It’s just very hard--I find it very hard.
Ausra: I like more dynamic exercises. But I think this thing could help. And also other intellectual games.
Vidas: Will you have to focus for a longer time?
Ausra: Yes, like maybe sudoku. Or I don’t know, doing crisscross.
Vidas: Or reading. Even reading from long books, right? Not from newspapers and magazines with flashing pictures, but real books: novels, fiction writing, where you have to sit for a longer time with one work and immerse yourself in another life, in another world. That helps, right?
Vidas: Okay guys. What would be your last advice, Ausra, for Neil?
Ausra: Well, for Neil and everybody else, and even for myself, I think that working on concentration is a lifelong goal. So eventually you will succeed; I hope so. And that’s what I wish for you all. And for myself, too.
Vidas: And enjoy this process, right? Because the results are far away. Excellent. This was Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
PS Organ improvisation "The Wolf And The Tailor" based on my favorite childhood's Lithuanian fairy-tale where the wolf threatens the tailor and the tailor cheats the wolf and cuts his tail off. Fun but cruel stuff.
(Audio + transcript) #AskVidasAndAusra 38 - Joblessness is holding back my concentration when I practice organ playing
Vidas: Today is the 38th episode of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. And today's question was sent by Parvoe. He writes, "Joblessness is holding back my concentration when I practice organ-playing." As I understand, Ausra, Parvoe is suffering, and struggling, to get a job, right?
Vidas: Imagine that organ-playing is his, or her, in this case, I don't know, hobby. Not full-time activity. If you want to do the hobby in your spare time, you have to have enough resources. If he or she doesn't have that, then I can understand that this idea of, "I can't find enough resources, and money, and job to support myself," is hurting anything that Parvoe does, right?
Vidas: Is it possible to dismiss those external thoughts when you play the organ?
Ausra: I think you could do that. Then the organ-playing would become as sort of a therapy to you, but actually I think it's very hard not to have a job. Not to have money, because if you don't feel actually secure, then all other stuff just simply disappears.
Vidas: Yeah, it's a foundation of our feelings. You have to have security of health, and basic provision. You have to have a roof above your head, basically, and you have to find something to eat every day. Maybe even support your family, if you have one. I can really understand the struggle that Parvoe is facing. The first advice literally is to ...
Ausra: To find a job.
Vidas: Job, or additional income stream.
Ausra: Yeah, sure. Yes.
Vidas: These days, job is just one of the options, obviously. If Parvoe is living in a country where finding jobs is difficult, then perhaps he or she could really benefit from freelancing. Doing freelance work. Maybe he has a skill, some skill that somebody else in the world needs. There is, you know Ausra, this www.freelancer.com.
Ausra: Yes, I know that.
Vidas: Platform where you could find jobs and even offer jobs to people, for example. If I, and you, need somebody to do some task for us, we could hire a person from another country, or from the same country, basically to do this for money. We would pay them, and they would submit a task and if we are satisfied we would release the payment, and everything would be a win-win situation for everyone involved. The vice-versa is true, the opposite. If, for example, I need extra income, I could search for projects to fulfill and to earn some extra money.
Ausra: That's a good possibility now.
Vidas: You don't even have to go outside your house. You could do this on your laptop. You don't have to have really advanced skills to do this. You don't have to be a coder or a programmer, IT Specialist. These are very well-paid skills. We know that. There are hundreds and thousands of projects where you even need to enter data. Some kind of word processing document. Or even search for terms online. Maybe translate something. Do you think, Ausra, that ordinary people could benefit from such a platform like www.freelancer.com?
Ausra: Yes, I think so. Yes. That's now another opportunity.
Vidas: Yes. Maybe additional income. Maybe you will find a job, but if you have spare time and you still lack the resources, and still feel insecure, maybe then check out www.freelancer.com. This is a really a global marketplace for jobs. You only need your PayPal account there and you will be paid in PayPal. I've done this, I hired somebody to do some task. It worked very well. The vice-versa is true too. Guys, I hope you understand that possibilities today are really endless when it comes to additional income streams. Then you will feel more secure about your hobbies, such as organ-playing.
Ausra: Yes, and then you can practice and feel better.
Vidas: With your concentration.
Vidas: So guys, we hope that this answer was useful to you. You maybe feel inspired to go ahead and look at www.freelancer.com as one of the possibilities. Please send us more questions. We love helping you grow as an organist.
And remember, when you practice-
Ausra: Miracles happen.
By Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene (get free updates of new posts here)
A few days ago Vidas and I went to practice to our church for our upcoming "Maria Zart" recital. It was a weird feeling - we started making mistakes in places we don't normally do, especially when playing together.
You know - like the chord we hit not exactly on time.or slowing down at the end wasn't satisfying enough.
We realized that this was due to lack of our focus when playing. We were preoccupied with our worries of yesterday or the fears of tomorrow.
On our way back home from church it dawned on us that other organists might sometimes also have a difficult time focusing their minds which results in less than optimum performance, especially in public.
In order to help people who are in a similar situation, when we got home we created a course about Focusing at the Organ Bench which you can check out here (50 % discount is valid until January 25).
Do you keep your phone's notifications on when you're practicing? Or perhaps a laptop with multiple tabs open sits nearby and you're tempted to constantly glance over it?
It's a great distraction to be somewhere else in your mind when you're playing the organ.
Maybe it was a stressful day for you at work and you're are trying to solve some difficult problem simultaneously. Maybe you're want to remember something you forgot about and you 'are thinking hard about it.
Maybe you're planning your next day or week or your next recital while playing a hymn harmonization. Or perhaps your're thinking so much about the past you cannot change. Maybe a car drive's by and you're starting to think about how your car needs to be taken to the mechanic for check up.
These things come and go as you practice, that's for sure. It's not a problem. The problem is to keep thinking about them while slipping from the present task - which is the present measure you're playing.
Don't blame yourself for doing it, though. Gently notice what you notice and return to the present measure.
It's exceedingly simple and yet exceedingly difficult task.
Our mind is very slippery - it doesn't like to stay on one thing for longer than a few moments.
But we can always train it to behave like a muscle.
And there's a trick - we can focus on our breath. On our deep and slow breathing.
The more we notice the present moment, the easier it's to relax and stop worrying.
Keeping deep focus in practice has a tremendous calming effect on us.
Watch a kid who is in deep concentration while playing with a toy or drawing.
That's what we're trying to do in organ practice as well.
It's a physical activity with a special state of mind.
Is it just me or do you also find it difficult to stay in the present moment while practicing? What helps you?
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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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