Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 406 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Jay, and he writes:
Hymns for church service on Sunday. Trying to get to the point where I know the music well enough, to recover quickly if (or when) I mess up.
V: Jay is on the team who transcribe our podcast conversations, and I asked him what he was working on today, or struggling with today. So, Jay is probably struggling with knowing the music well enough not to mess up, or recover quickly, too. Is this important, Ausra?
A: Of course it is if you are playing at church and accompanying a congregation, then yes, it’s very important.
V: So, if the person is playing a hymn at church, how well should they know this hymn, in your opinion? Imagine yourself, for example, being on the organ bench. How well should you know it or how well should you sight read it, too?
A: Well, I wouldn’t suggest for anybody that is not advanced enough to sightread during the actual service. You need to prepare in advance. And then, I would suggest that a beginner organists would get prepared for each service and learn all the hymns in advance.
V: If you are a really beginner, sometimes it’s not enough time to play all of the hymns.
A: True, but then you need to do something. Maybe skip the pedals. I did that way back in my life. And another thing you could do if you want to have pedals, you could omit the alto and tenor voices, and just play melody and pedal. That’s also an option. Another option, and I think this would be the easiest way, just take up the melody, and play it only with your hands in octaves. That’s also a possibility. But anyway, any of these ways that I mention now are better compared to if you would play all the written notes and do many many mistakes or stop somewhere.
V: Or play…..
A: ...in an unsteady tempo.
V: Exactly. Because, you’re leading the congregation, and the congregation doesn’t care if you know the music or not. They just keep singing, and you have to be maybe one millisecond ahead of them, too.
A: That’s right. True.
V: Have you been in the situation, Ausra, when an organist drags, and for example, the tempo slows down?
A: Yes, I have had an experience like this.
V: Why does this happen sometimes?
A: There might be various reasons. Well, one of the ways might be that maybe the organist is very, very old, and wants to play in a slow tempi. That sometimes happens with people with age, that you slow things down. But, there might be various reasons, actually. He or she might not listen to what the congregation is doing downstairs, or maybe her or his technique is not advanced enough to play up to tempo.
V: Or maybe they are listening to the congregation too much!
A: Yes, and then, because the congregation wants to slow things down, and if the organist listens too much to the congregation and cannot keep his or her steady tempo, then the tempo might slow down, too.
V: It’s like playing with an orchestra, too. And if you are a soloist, you have to lead the orchestra, too, especially in episodes when you are playing solo, and then after you and orchestra comes in. You have to keep the tempo steady, and try not to slow down at the end.
A: True. And this also might happen when you have so many people singing that the organ cannot be heard, too. I had that experience once in my lifetime, when I was playing at Grace Lutheran Church in Lincoln on the Christmas Eve service. There were so many people downstairs, and everybody was singing so loud that even though I played Organo Pleno, I could not hear a single note from the organ.
V: Right. So, I hope Jay and others will have plenty of time to prepare for Sunday services, and to know the music well enough to recover quickly from the mistakes.
A: And luckily, after some time, hymns start to repeat themselves. So, I guess you will get used to your hymnal, and I think with time, you will know some of the hymns by heart, so it will be much easier then.
V: Thanks guys, this was Vidas,
A: And Ausra!
V: Please keep sending your wonderful questions; we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen!
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When you improvise, often your mistakes and the wrong notes throw you off balance. They make it difficult for you to keep your composure and focus and keep going as if nothing has happened. The feeling of being upset about mistakes produces even more mistakes in the course of the performance.
What if we turned this around? What if your mistakes where not mistakes but intentional "decorations" which propel you to go forward with your improvisation?
Remember this rule: if you repeat your "mistake" several times, it becomes intentional and they are no longer mistakes.
In this video (where I improvised a suite of 6 pieces for the group of French tourists) there are a number of "mistakes" which became intentional part of the piece. I "disguised" them by repeating an excerpt of the melody, or a chord progression or a rhythm which didn't seem to work well at first.
As you watch this video, pay attention especially at what's happening around 18:05, 20:17, 31:00 and you will see that these mistakes can be incorporated into the piece. Some people will not even notice them.
Try this trick today when you sit down on the organ bench and play for 10 minutes without resting.
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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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