More than half of the challenges people face when trying to play the organ concern the lack of time - too many things to do, too little time for organ practice. This is true across the board - for women and men, for youth and for the elderly. The fact that we don't have to go to work anymore when we retire doesn't necessarily mean we have more time, does it?
This is not exactly right. While in some cases the phrase "I don't have time to practice organ" really means this, often it means something entirely different: "organ practice is not my priority". In other words, lack of time means that during our days there certainly are instances when we know we should be doing what's important but we end up doing what's urgent. What's urgent for our inner dragons who want to stop us from finding that treasure, from discovering our true self, from fulfilling our mission (if organ playing is our mission in the first place).
Check your email
Prepare this report
Click this link
Watch more TV
Come to this meeting
Watch this video
Buy more stuff
Polish your car
Bake more cake
Clean your drawers
Nag this person
Fire back your defense
Eat this snack
We don't need more time for organ practice. We need more bravery to recognize when this urge is from our inner dragons and when from our true self.
Imagine your dream is to master the art of hymn playing but you often have the difficulty in spending the time to learn the hymns the right way. You know what's right but somehow you find yourself on the organ bench doing things which don't contribute to your goal.
Why is this so?
For the most people, it's because either they haven't formulated their mission strongly enough or they get distracted from their mission to do things that don't matter.
There is one medicine which works wonders (at least in my case). That's a deadline. Make sure you give yourself external or internal deadlines to hold yourself accountable.
For example, if you want to learn to play hymns on the organ, set up a date when you can play and sing hymns together with your friends or family. If you play at church, it could be as simple as preparing a certain number of hymns in a certain way for your next service.
What happens, if you fail to learn those hymns on time? You may disappoint your friends or family or your congregation with your boss, or your may fear that you won't reach your potential.
When the idea of not reaching your potential becomes more difficult to bear than the idea of sitting down on the bench and practicing the right things the right way, you will find the motivation to spend the time necessary to master the art of hymn playing.
Next: Read this before your next practice
Duo VII Ave maris stella (in Versets of 2, 3 and 4 voices, Fabordones, Intermedios, p. 8) by Antonio de Cabezón (1510-1566), a blind Spanish Renaissance composer and organist.
A Great and Mighty Wonder
Voice leading challenge:
Supply the tenor part to the above excerpt which is taken from my Processional March in C Major (try not to look at the answer ahead of time).
No. 5 Der Winter will hin wichen (p. 28) from Buxheimer Orgelbuch (ca. 1450), a German Renaissance collection of organ music.
All Depends On Our Possessing
Ariane writes that her dream in organ playing is to pass the so-called "C-Exam" which in Germany qualifies organists to play in church services whenever and wherever they are needed. The first of her problems is that she might make the strangest mistakes in hymns and some easy pieces. Also she just cannot fit in more than one hour's practice time per day. Lastly, the memorization of music is her real weakness.
It's very inspiring for the people, like Ariane to want to prepare and pass special examinations which would give them a special certificate that they are qualified to be liturgical organists. It gives a great sense of focus because now it's no longer just a dream, it's a likely outcome.
If you also want to pass the exams in your country, obviously the first thing is to build up a little bit of liturgical repertoire (at least some 12 pieces) - preludes, postludes, pieces for communion, and offertory, wedding processionals and marches, as well some funeral music. You would also need to be able to accompany hymns and psalms. In many cases, sight-reading, transposition, harmonization and basic hymn improvisation skills will be required, too.
It is frustrating to watch yourself play and be quite unpredictable in terms of quality - mistakes in easy places or mistakes in difficult places or sometimes no mistakes at all. What does it all mean?
I think it means you need to work even more diligently on getting the details perfected. Do you practice finger and pedal preparation repeatedly ? If not, you should be. This action which allows you to slide your foot with one swift motion into the new position for the next note and wait it here practically automates your pedal playing. The same can be said about the finger preparation, especially in leaps and places where you have to switch position. Check if you are depressing the pedals with the inside of your foot. This greatly adds to the overall precision of pedal playing.
Use this time wisely, even if you have just one hour available, like Ariane. It's not too little to start seeing the results you want. If you still feel frustrated and doubtful it is because probably you are uncertain whether or not you are using this time effectively.
Let me put it this way - it's way better to work on a couple of pieces in a deep level in this hour than to jump from one piece to another without actually achieving anything of value (unless you are sight-reading which has entirely different purpose).
Memorization is a challenge for a lot of people. Even teachers often don't tell us how to do it. They say - memorize this piece or a page of this piece and bring it to me next week. That's not enough to start to feel at home and secure and calm when learning to play without the score.
Regardless of what method you choose (voice by voice, like Helmut Walcha liked or measure by measure like Marcel Dupre recommended) here's what's really crucial - don't play the piece over and over hoping that one day you will learn it to play by heart. Yes, you might, but it's unpredictable - in time of stress when you have to play in front of other people, you might forget some crucial sections which will ruin your performance.
The more ruthlessly systematic you become in learning to play by heart, the longer you can keep this music in your long-term memory.
Charles Talmadge: I am learning many things from your daily messages. Many thanks. I am assistant organist here at All Saints by the Sea Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara, California (4 man./60 ranks). The sanctuary dates from 1900 and we are the third largest church in the Los Angeles Diocese. Steve O'Connor took my photo and is the excellent Music Director.
Harlene wrote me the following message:
"My dream for playing the organ is to be a more than just adequate church organist. I've been playing the organ for several years now in church, but I still consider myself a pianist who is playing the organ. I guess what I'm doing is okay, but I want to do so much more.
One thing holding me back is that I work full time and have a couple of part-time jobs, also, so finding time to practice is difficult.
Another thing is not having an actual teacher to show me how to play correctly, although I am learning a lot from your lessons. Again, I just don't have a lot of time to study them and practice.
Any help and advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated. Thank you."
Here's what I wrote to Harlene:
Finding time for organ playing can really be difficult for a working person. But the thing is that you don't necessarily have to practice for several hours a day. In fact, short sprints of 15 minutes done daily might be something that almost every person can fit into their schedule. Also you can practice more on the weekends when there's more free time available. Sometimes you can practice just using the score but without the actual instrument (visualizing the activity and imagining the sound inside your head). This saves time and develops inner hearing.
Concerning finding a teacher: these days when so much learning is amplified by technology, you can be in one part of the world while your teacher is in the opposite part of the world. It even doesn't matter where you live as long as you have internet connection available. That's why I have started teaching organ playing online so that people like you who don't have the resources and a good and experienced teacher in their area can still enjoy the learning and the practice.
The first step is to admit to ourselves that we need this, that this activity enriches our lives and the lives of those around us.
What do you think? Do you also feel this obstacle to find time for self-improvement (and not only in organ playing)? And what helps you do it nonetheless? Your insights and personal experiences will surely be of tremendous help to others for whom this obstacle stops them from reaching their full potential. Please share your thoughts in comments.
Concert Fantasy on the St. Venceslas chorale by Josef Klička (1855-1937) who was a Czech organist, violinist, conductor, pedagogue, and composer in the late Romantic style.
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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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