Vidas: Let’s start Episode 120 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. And this question was sent by Robert. He writes, “I never had a teacher or lessons. I have been doing this on my own.” Self-taught organist, right Ausra?
Vidas: Is that a bad thing?
Ausra: Well no, I don’t think so. We have cases like this in Lithuania--I think quite a lot. Not so much nowadays; but we had it before, I’m sure, especially in the Soviet times. When we had such a period, then it wouldn’t be possible to learn professionally to play organ, because organ was related to the church, and church was forbidden during the Soviet times. So many people just had to teach themselves to play.
Vidas: I remember you recently taught a harmony seminar for church musicians.
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: How many of them do you think were amateurs and self-taught musicians? Quite a few, probably?
Ausra: Quite a few, I guess, yes. That’s right.
Vidas: So today, when information is so abundant on the internet, it’s just a matter of perseverance and really, inner motivation to succeed, rather than lack of information on how to do this, right?
Ausra: Yes. And you know, the important thing is to know what you want from your playing. If you want to become, let’s say, a professional, skillful organ performer, for example, and make your living by performing organ, then probably you would have to have a teacher and to get some sort of formal education. But if you are doing this just to enjoy it, you know, for yourself, then I think it’s perfectly fine to just teach yourself. It might be just your hobby, you know?
Vidas: And today, online, when you can find so much great advice and information how to play the organ, it’s better, I think, to learn from online sources which are “information” than from secondary teachers or crappy pedagogues who don’t necessarily have the right experience and qualification and broad, global vision of how to do this, maybe. They have learned this decades ago, right?
Vidas: Stuck in a rut.
Vidas: And have been teaching this for decades without any progress at all.
Ausra: That’s true.
Vidas: So I think it’s better to immerse yourself in the ever-changing global landscape, and to seek out the best of information yourself--
Vidas: --Than to be stuck with one teacher whom you don’t really want to trust.
Ausra: Yes. And especially if you live in the States, for example, and you want to eventually play in church, you don’t even have to get a formal education--to get, like, a university degree; because AGO has this wonderful certificate program, where you can take tests/exams and get a certificate.
Vidas: A church service-playing certificate, it’s called, right?
Ausra: Yes, yes, yes.
Vidas: So it’s even open to AGO members from other countries, too.
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: If, let’s say, Robert lived in some upper area than North America, chances are there are organizations which offer certain certifications, too. Like in Europe, in the UK, there is also a similar system. Germany has the same thing. I don’t think Australia has one, but it might. Maybe Australia uses the British system; it might, I’m not sure; we have to ask our students about this particular thing. So, it’s not a bad thing to be self-taught nowadays.
Ausra: Yes, yes I think so.
Vidas: Great. So, never stop learning if you are alone, right? Because in our case, this organ-playing community around the globe, 89 countries and growing--they support each other. You know, from these questions we get every day, it seems like these things matter to people.
Ausra: Yes, that’s right. And it’s very nice, actually, that organ still interests so many people. That’s fascinating, because I strongly believe that it’s one of the best musical instruments.
Vidas: Because it can imitate an orchestra; it can imitate a choir; it can imitate human voice; basically, it has the broadest range of colors than any other instrument.
Ausra: Yes, and think about all that repertoire that you can play on the organ, starting from the Middle Ages, and playing also modern music. So, no other instrument--no one else--has such a broad variety of repertoire as organ does. That fascinates me all the time.
Vidas: Is that why you chose this instrument yourself, Ausra?
Ausra: Well, at the time when I chose it, I didn’t think so much about it as I do now. And it’s also, for me, the organ is also a very beautiful instrument, if you think about all those historical instruments that are preserved--basically they are just, as Kerala Snyder wrote in his famous book, “The Organ as a Mirror of Its Time,” that it sort of preserves the history: art history, and history in general. That fascinates me every time.
Vidas: Organ is generally thought to be a counterpart of the altar, right?
Vidas: In a similar style--opposing the altar, or supplementing the altar (if this organ was fit and designed for that particular space, not brought from other churches).
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: Wonderful. So, me too; I think I, too, share those sentiments for this grand instrument, because of its aesthetics, of its complexion and construction and--seven centuries of organ repertoire! It’s unbelievable. If you wanted to sight-read every piece of extant or surviving repertoire, I think you couldn’t do this in one lifetime.
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: Even while using free online material, which is, you know, freely available on the Internet.
Ausra: Yes, it would take you too much time. It’s impossible to do. That you can choose from such a variety--that’s an amazing thing.
Ausra: And also, you know, each country which has organs, it’s like a different story each time; because from one country to another, organs are so different.
Vidas: And it’s never boring, because in one month or one year, you can focus on one country or one period, and the next one you can do the complete opposite, right? Take the opposite direction--French, German, English, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese--you name it.
Ausra: Yes, and even if you don’t want to focus on repertoire, even just playing hymns, it’s such fun. Because they are also such nice musical pieces.
Vidas: It’s like a prayer for the organist, too.
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: I think people who are deeply religious could basically sing the hymns together with playing the harmony.
Vidas: Right? That would count as a prayer--or a double prayer, because as St. Augustine says, “Whoever sings, prays twice.”
Vidas: Yep. That makes sense, because it’s twice as powerful.
Ausra: Yes, it is.
Vidas: Wonderful, guys. So I hope even people who live in remote areas--in the countryside, in rural areas, in countries who are just developing, which have limited Internet access, maybe have expensive Internet connection--they still can Google some things, play from PDFs instead of watching videos, which is expensive yet in those countries--
Vidas: And never, ever give up on this idea of learning and practicing for a lifetime, because you will get closer and closer to perfection, right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s right. Step by step.
Vidas: Do you think that your teacher, George Ritchie, thought he ever attained perfection?
Ausra: I don’t think so. He’s so, so, so particular about details, and wants clean, nice playing--to polish it, to do it perfectly. So I think he, as any excellent musician, is very self-critical. And that’s how we develop ourselves, and perfect ourselves.
Vidas: Mhmm. I think you inherited this sense of striving for perfection also from George Ritchie, too.
Ausra: I hope so. I tried to take it from him!
Vidas: Good. So, I hope you guys will go and practice today, right? I’ve been playing in the morning and Ausra was teaching, so it’s Ausra’s time now to practice a little bit.
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: Which piece will you be playing?
Ausra: Well, I have to select repertoire for my next recital, so I probably will work on that. Maybe sightread some pieces by Bach.
Vidas: Wonderful. The upcoming recital for the Bach birthday--
Vidas: In March.
Ausra: Yes. March 21st.
Vidas: Yeah. So, we’ll go now and select repertoire and practice. I will enjoy listening to you practice; this is my favorite time of the day. And you guys, go ahead and practice, also, at least for 15 minutes--it still counts! If you’re tired or exhausted, never give up; just do a little bit of practice today before you hit the sack. You will thank yourself later, and tomorrow.
Ausra: Go ahead and practice!
Vidas: This was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
Another message went straight to our Love Letters folder. It was sent by our former professor Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra, an exceptional expert on early music, generous teacher and brilliant improviser and creator, in response to #AskVidasAndAusra 55:
Dear Vidas and Ausra,
The two of you are beautiful, generous, and brilliant! Thanks for making the world a better place.
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 61 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Adeniyi, who says that he has no organ mentor--that’s his challenge. And today we we’re going to try to help him out, right, Ausra?
Vidas: Can you practice organ and get better as an organist over time, if you have no teacher?
Ausra: I think actually that you can. Maybe the progress will not be as fast as if you will have an organ mentor, but still it’s possible to achieve progress.
Vidas: We have to make some difference between mentor and teacher, right?
Vidas: A mentor is a person who helps you without any financial reward/payment, and a teacher is, of course, a person who can do this for money. So as I understand, he might live in a country where there are neither teachers nor mentors at all--basically he’s on his own, right?
Ausra: Well but today the world is so global, and it’s so easy to get access to the best mentors, actually, and best teachers; you just have to get online. YouTube is full of excellent recordings; you can get all kinds of resource books. So that’s a big help. It’s not like twenty years ago.
Vidas: Even our little blog, www.organduo.lt, has thousands resources, right? And trainings, and coaching programs; and this blog is very extensive. I just looked--we started, when--at the end of 2011? So...And, we write every day.
Vidas: And that means that for more than 5 years in a row, we’ve published some kind of thing every day, written or audio or video. So that’s really thousands of great materials and useful exercises and advice and tips.. You just have to apply those tips in practice--that’s more important, right?
Ausra: I think nowadays it’s not hard to find information as it is hard to select which of that information is useful and is the best. To limit your resources. Because otherwise you can just spend all your time just researching things and not doing actual work.
Vidas: Do you think, Ausra, it’s better to randomly pick one training or resource and start applying it in your practice, or do you have to look deep at your needs first?
Ausra: I think first of all you need to find out what you really need, what is your biggest problem or your largest concern, and then choose.
Vidas: True. So Ausra, what’s the first step in order to discover your needs?
Ausra: Well, it depends on what your goal actually is.
Vidas: For example, if you want to play in church liturgical organ music. Obviously the first place to start would be the hymns.
Ausra: The hymns,the hymn playing, yes definitely; if you’re a church organist that’s the most important thing, for a beginner. Later on you can get more into the repertoire, and to increase your knowledge in stylistic details; but the hymn playing is sort of the cornerstone of church organist.
Vidas: And I’ve seen people progress through the ranks of organists just by playing hymns, because they can master the coordination between hands and feet at the basic level first with hymns, and then they can advance to the repertoire easily this way, too.
Vidas: And hymns are very fun to practice.
Ausra: They are! And they are very good for sight-reading; it’s a very excellent source.
Vidas: Exactly. If you, for example, choose 100 hymns and sight-read one hymn a day, in 100 days you will be a better sightreader.
Ausra: Definitely, yes.
Vidas: Great. So I guess, people should not despair if they have no teachers or mentors in their country available to them. They just have to look online: for example, start with our resources. And more important than a teacher is regular practice.
Ausra: Yes, definitely, because even the best mentor or teacher will not play instead of you--you will still have to do all these steps yourself, to take them and to practice everyday. Nobody else can do it.
Vidas: Have you had that experience in your teaching career, Ausra, where you had a student, and you give everything to that student, but they don’t do anything with that information?
Ausra: Yes, I’ve had such disappointments, that’s true. But I had one excellent example when I was teaching for two semesters, one person. And actually she had a pretty good foundation--she was not majoring in organ, she was minoring in organ. And the first semester she would never listen what I was telling her to do, she would never do it. And you could not reach any result, or any result that I was expecting, from her. But later on, she somehow started, to follow what I’m saying, and started to do those steps, taking those steps, and practicing in that way as I suggested her to do; and the result was just fantastic.
Vidas: So even though at first, she sort of, declined to apply your tips in her practice, later she started to trust you, more. So it’s important to trust your teacher if you have one. Because otherwise you’re wasting your time and your teacher’s time, too.
Ausra: Yes, definitely.
Vidas: Remember Ausra, sometimes people write to us messages that their current teacher tells them to do something differently than we advise, right? They have their own opinions, and the teacher is recommending to do one thing, and they are sort of hesitant to apply our tips in their practice because they trust their teacher first.
Ausra: Well that’s okay, everybody has to decide for themselves what to do. Just always listen to what you’re doing because you ear is the best advisor.
Vidas: And if you choose your teacher, please trust him or her and do what they tell you to do because otherwise, you’re not progressing into the right direction--and basically wasting your resources and your energy.
Vidas: Okay Ausra! I hope people will apply our tips in their practice--I hope people will trust our advice! And if, guys, you want more help, please subscribe to our blog at www.organduo.lt (if you haven’t done so already) and send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow as an organist. Okay, this was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
In order to achieve success in organ playing, you need to have some guidelines and someone who can help you to reach your goals. This is why having a good mentor, instructor, or a coach is vitally important if you are serious about playing organ. In this article, I will describe the ways how a mentor can help you advance in organ playing.
A good mentor is the one who has sufficient expertise, solid training, education, and experience in teaching others to play the organ. He or she would help you in many ways in becoming a better organist.
Typically in an organ lesson, you would just need to bring your clean organ score and a notebook. Your instructor would help you to write in all the fingering, pedaling, registration, articulation - all of these details. In addition, your instructor may even teach you how to mark all these details. He or she would write the step-by-step plan for your daily practice in order to master an organ piece.
All you need to do then is to follow your instructor's directions and you will inevitably succeed. A true instructor knows how to master the piece you will be playing because he or she has done so himself or herself many times. In fact, a real expert may have mastered a thousand or more pieces like the one you will be learning.
However, personal coaching is valid when you trust your instructor and when he or she is really good, of course. But of course one thing is even more important here - you have to have the inner motivation to succeed.
The thing is that your mentor cannot do the work for you. He or she cannot learn and master the piece for you. You have to do the work. Your instructor can show you the way to success but you have to take that road and travel yourself.
So you have to trust your instructor and try to do your best. The more precisely you follow your instructors directions, the faster will you progress in organ playing. If your instructor says to practice for 30 minutes every day and you only play your piece for 20 minutes 3 times a week, you know it won't work.
If your instructor tells you to practice every fragment of your piece until you get it right 3 times in a row and you only play your piece 3 times from the beginning until the end without correcting your mistakes, you know that your advancement will be much slower.
Sometimes there are situations when we feel lost, when we loose our focus and inner motivation to succeed and persevere. That's where our instructor or a mentor comes in. A good mentor will push you a little further each time and will help you to find your motivation.
As you can see, overcoming the obstacles in organ playing is not an easy task. However, all the difficulties may be overcome with the right way of practicing and trusting your mentor. The reward for your hard work will be that you can truly enjoy any piece you are learning and progress further in your journey towards perfecting your organ playing.
By the way, do you want to learn to play the King of Instruments - the pipe organ? If so, download my FREE video guide: "How to Master Any Organ Composition" in which I will show you my EXACT steps, techniques, and methods that I use to practice, learn and master any piece of organ music.
DON'T MISS A THING! FREE UPDATES BY EMAIL.
You have successfully joined our subscriber list.
Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
Our Hauptwerk Setup: