Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 295 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Anne, and she writes:
I started working on Bach Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532. The opening pedal run is not hard except that I am a short person. The benches I sit and practice on are not adjustable so I have to sit close to the edge of the seat to be able to use the pedal board.
In order to do this pedal run using only toes - I have to adjust myself as I go up the scale because my legs are not long enough. Somehow I will have to figure out how to do the adjusting and also have my hands ready to play the opening chords at the end of the run. Should be an interesting few weeks until i get this figured out!
V: Ausra, do you have long legs?
A: No, I don’t have them.
V: So, maybe you could recommend some tricks for Anne, in this case.
A: Well, you know, as she mentioned herself, sitting on the edge of the organ bench is one of the things. Another, I think, when you are playing baroque music, you need to get sort of the feeling that you are walking on the pedalboard.
A: Yes. It means that you don’t add so much weight on your tush, but more on your hips.
A: I don’t know if it’s any clearer.
V: I see. So when you sit on the end of the bench, your legs weigh more, and have more strength, right, to depress the pedals. But you’re meaning something different.
A: Well, not so much that your legs have more weight, but that you put your weight of your body on your hips.
V: Ok, so maybe Anne can try that, too.
A: But, if she would try to play that in a passaggio with the heel, I think she would be in even more trouble.
V: Right, because it extends very high…
A: Because it’s easier to reach things with your toes, not with your heels on the pedalboard when you have short legs.
V: What if she played one octave lower?
A: Well, that’s a possibility, too, but I don’t know how good it would sound. But still, you have to reach the low D, which is also the problem. But, you know, the other thing, if the bench is nonadjustable, you cannot regulate its height, maybe you need to put it closer to the keyboards. That’s also a possibility to sort of extend your legs.
V: What about to extend your heels like high heels? Use shoes with higher heels?
A: And what’s that for? You are playing only using your toes?
V: Oh, exactly. That’s a stupid suggestion.
A: I know. And of course there are shoes with the platforms,
V: Platforms, yes.
A: But I wouldn’t want to play with those.
A: Because that way, you would just lose your contact with the feel of the pedalboard at all. So, basically, put your bench closer to the keyboards, and sit on the edge of it, and try to put more weight on your hips, not on your tush.
V: And, sometimes, when the organ console is movable, you could actually, underneath the console, put some wooden bricks.
A: That’s an easy thing to do, you know, but we are talking just an opposite.
V: Not under the bench, but underneath the console, to make the pedals higher.
A: Is it possible?
V: If it’s movable. Not always, yeah. But…
A: I highly doubt it….this possibility…
V: I’ve seen people do that. In America.
A: Interesting. I have never seen it.
V: So, if the bench is not adjustable, you can maybe adjust the organ.
A: Yes, but in the future, maybe you would want to select another piece by J. S. Bach, because he wrote so many preludes and fugues where the range in the pedalboard doesn’t go to the extremes. Maybe, it would make your life easier.
V: Or maybe it goes to the extreme, but maybe not as fast in a 16th note run!
A: And not the opening, right at the beginning. I remember myself playing this D major prelude and fugue. I think it was a disaster.
V: At that time, when she plays the opening passaggio, she could hold herself a little bit with her hands on the bench.
A: That’s what some organists do. I wouldn’t suggest that, because then you have to jump to the keyboard, and it might be an unsuccessful thing to do, because you have too little time to prepare.
V: What about holding your hands on the sides of the keyboard?
A: I have seen that, too, but I also wouldn’t suggest it.
V: It looks very unnatural.
A: Unless it’s completely necessary.
V: I had a similar situation in Liepāja a couple of weeks ago, when I played my improvisation recital about David and Goliath, in Latvia, and the fourth manual there is very deep and far away, so when you play the fourth manual and the pedal, you almost are slipping from the bench. Actually slipping! If you are playing with one foot, it’s ok. You can place the another foot someplace forward and make yourself more comfortable, or if you’re playing without the pedals, then it’s ok, but when you are playing from the score and there is music written down in a certain way, you cannot change the music, and I think I suggest not to use the fourth manual and the pedals in that case. But in my case, I was free to adjust my music, so sometimes, when I was slipping, I was just playing with one hand and pedals and adjusting with my other hand touching the bench.
A: Fascinating, but now let’s go to Anne’s case. Another thing that she might do and that might work, at least for the opening of this piece, she might sit just a little bit more not in the center, but more on the right side—Just a slight bit. Maybe just a couple inches. And I think that might help, too.
V: To reach those two upper notes.
A: Sure. Yes.
V: C sharp and D.
A: That’s right.
V: Yes, we hope people can experiment with different bench positions, different body positions, and maybe sometimes, if anything doesn’t work, maybe choose another piece. But, I think Anne will figure it out. What do you think? Based on our feedback….
A: Well, I hope so.
V: If she was determined in her letter.
A: Do you think it would be a big sin to use heels from time to time in a passaggio like this?
V: If it helps, no. I don’t believe in such a sin, you know? Because, everybody is different. The physique is different. Because, as you say, playing with heels is sometimes even more difficult when the bench is not adjustable. Right? Although, we’ll find out. Maybe Anne will write her experience in a few weeks, too. 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.
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Are you struggling in playing pedal scales? I know those heels and toes in alternations might be confusing. And sometimes people in my Pedal Virtuoso Master Course need a little visualization. So here's a video I made on how to play the D major scale with your feet over one octave which I hope you will find useful..
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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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