#AskVidasAndAusra 119: I’ve recently changed careers from working in IT to now a freelance organist/pianist
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 119 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. This question was sent by Neil, and he writes:
“Hello Vidas, I’ve recently changed careers from working in IT to now a freelance organist/pianist. My dream as an organ player is to be able play to the best of my abilities playing pieces from Bach to modern composers but also learning to improvise.”
So Ausra, this is really interesting, that an IT expert would want to switch careers to a freelance musician, right? Sometimes musicians become IT specialists, but rarely the other way around.
Ausra: Yes, it’s basically unbelievable!
Vidas: But I guess if a person has a passion for it, and even a calling, then it’s really hard to refuse this, right?
Ausra: Yes. Although, it’s hard for me to believe that, you know...I mean, who will pay your bills? I think it’s easier to pay your bills when you are an IT specialist than when you are a freelance organist/pianist.
Vidas: Or maybe Neil is now a freelance IT specialist as well, doing part-time work as a freelancer in the IT area, in addition to organist/pianist work.
Ausra: I think in general nowadays it’s probably best to combine different things…
Vidas: Mhm, mhm.
Ausra: Because I think you will hardly live well doing only one job.
Vidas: Or even if you do well one year, the next year your priest might change, and the situation might change entirely, right?
Ausra: That’s true.
Vidas: With Protestant churches it’s a little bit more secure, I think; because the pastors get hired by the congregation, and they don’t change that often.
Ausra: Yes. In general, I think that Protestant churches are more supportive of church musicians, because they understand that people have to make a living somehow. And that’s not as often the case in Catholic churches.
Vidas: I wish I could understand anything about IT and programming and coding and software development; because now, for example, Neil has a skill set that he can use in his free time, right?
Ausra: Yes, sure. Yes, but it’s excellent that he sort of catches or follows his dream, and is now a freelance organist/pianist. I think that’s wonderful.
Vidas: And now he wants to be able to play Bach and other composers, even modern composers, right? And even learn to improvise. So that’s a broad goal, right?
Ausra: That’s a very broad goal--basically a lifelong goal, might be.
Vidas: I think the best Step #1 would be to progress very very slowly, setting realistic goals: what you would want to learn in a month, in three months, in six months from now, in one year--right, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, but if he has a lot of free time, he can do it faster and easier, probably. But of course, the first step would be to practice every day.
Vidas: And pick repertoire very wisely, right? Progressing from the easier to the more advanced.
Ausra: And since he wants to play organ and piano as well, he has to practice on both these instruments every day.
Vidas: Mhm. How much time do you think he should devote to piano vs. organ?
Ausra: Probably 2hrs on each.
Ausra: So that’s 4hrs a day. And in these hours, he also needs to include improvisation, because he wants to improvise, too.
Vidas: Yeah. So generally, I believe his goal is related to church playing--to church service musicianship, right? Because he wants to be able to improvise as a freelance organist. So probably he seeks employment, I would suspect.
Ausra: Could be.
Vidas: So maybe hymn playing also would be good, if that’s the case.
Ausra: Yes, of course.
Vidas: But it’s good that he also wants to play repertoire, right--not only hymns? Because he can progress much faster with repertoire.
Vidas: Whoever practices repertoire will have a very easy time of playing hymns, I think.
Ausra: That’s right. Because the repertoire is in general so much more sophisticated, complicated, compared to hymns.
Vidas: I mean, there are hymn-like sections in real organ compositions, right? There are chordal-like textures--
Vidas: Episodes; but they’re short, right? Not long.
Vidas: Maybe a page or less. But not the entire piece, probably. And all kinds of textures are employed…
Ausra: And polyphonic music.
Ausra: That’s often the case in organ music, especially if, you know, he says he wants to play Bach.
Vidas: Right. So I think he has to think about the repertoire. Do you that think it’s wise to combine several styles of organ repertoire in his practice every day?
Ausra: I think so.
Vidas: Because he has to learn early technique and modern technique.
Ausra: That’s right.
Vidas: At least 2, right?
Ausra: And because he’s now devoting his time to becoming an organist/pianist, he has to play a broad range of repertoire. A variety of it.
Vidas: How many pieces, optimally, do you think he should focus on every day? 3, 4, 5?
Ausra: Yes, basically. I would say maybe 2-3 on the organ and 2-3 on the piano. So, I don’t know, 4 to 6.
Vidas: Mhm, mhm.
Ausra: To play more at once would be too hard, probably.
Vidas: It depends on how much time and energy he can devote to each instrument.
Ausra: Yes. And of course on how long the pieces are, too.
Vidas: So maybe he should focus on half an hour of repertoire on the organ, and half an hour of piano repertoire, right?
Vidas: So in half an hour, you could play 6 pieces of 5min of duration, right? Or 3 pieces of 10min of duration, or 2 pieces of 15min of duration, basically; right?
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: Whatever is the case.
Ausra: And of course, he needs to work on planning. Because while playing on both instruments, he cannot just sit and play straight through for let’s say, 4hrs. He needs to divide his practice. So maybe do some in the morning, some in the evening.
Vidas: Yes, I think 2 practice sessions would be ideal for him.
Ausra: One on the organ, one on the piano.
Vidas: Mhm. Maybe if he has access to the organ and piano at home, then he can do 2 sets of practices in the morning and 2 sets of practices in the evening, on each instrument, for 1hr each. But it’s important to take frequent breaks, right?
Ausra: Otherwise you can hurt yourself.
Vidas: Especially if you’re doing this like a professional, right?
Vidas: Excellent. So, learning to improvise, of course, has to be included in that time; so maybe a little bit less of repertoire, and maybe an equal amount of time devoted to improvisation and repertoire, right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: What would be, let’s say, 3 styles of organ repertoire he should focus on right now?
Ausra: Well, probably Baroque.
Ausra: Bach, and, you know, his circle.
Vidas: And earlier music, if he likes that.
Ausra: Yes, earlier music, yes. Then, of course, the Romantic music, too, is very important.
Vidas: 19th century?
Ausra: Yes, 19th century German, French music.
Vidas: Do you think that, let’s say early 20th century French music would still count as Romantic repertoire?
Ausra: Well, yes, I would say French symphonic composers…
Vidas: That’s included.
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: Yeah. And then the last one would be....
Ausra: And then of course modern music.
Vidas: Probably from 1920s up to the present day, right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: Mhm. Excellent, excellent. And in improvisation, he should also switch styles, early and modern, if he likes, right?
Vidas: Wonderful, guys. I hope this conversation was helpful to you if you want to develop your career as a freelance pianist and organist. But don’t neglect your current skill set, right? Because it might come handy in the future, too.
Ausra: Yes, that’s true.
Vidas: We live in a different world now. Thanks guys, this was Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
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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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