How much time do you spend taking action as opposed to reaction in organ playing? This question can also be put this way: How often do you work towards your own goals as opposed to the goals of others?
How often do you give yourself the freedom of making a choice to play what you want as opposed to letting others decide it for you?
Here's the thing - we sure need to think a little about others when we play organ. We need to take into consideration our employer, our congregation, our listeners. But we also need to find some time in our practice when we are free to experiment, to ponder, to do research, to sight-read, to improvise something seemingly entirely useless, or similarly waste time.
Because you know what? If you only play what's required of you, you will miss an opportunity to be unique and remarkable, you will miss an opportunity to find your edge. You will miss an opportunity to matter.
This will make you into an average organist. An average organist who is easily replaceable with the one who's just a little cheaper and faster than you.
And in today's economy it turns out not a very productive strategy.
Instead, you should search for things that you hold dear, the things that are exciting to you alone, the things that only you can provide, the things which you would be missed for if you were gone.
The weirder the better.
Currently I'm in the middle of composing my Fantasia, Op. 35 in which I'm doing my experiments with melodies, rhythms, harmonies, textures, and form. However, ever since starting the work on this Fantasia I felt stuck. Even before, actually.
A was facing two choices in my mind - the one which seemed like a revelation to me and I was very eager to experiment with it and the one which I was more reluctant to try because it felt like a lot of work. Choice No. 1 seemed so fast and quick and yet creative and innovative enough. But deep inside my musical instincts told me it won't work. Choice No. 2 might not work either but provided I added more effort into it, the end result would be far more artistically pleasing. It wont' be quick and easy, though.
To be quite frank, I felt rather lost - one part of me wanted to try Option No. 1 because I sort of came up with its concept in a way that seemed totally fresh and creative. On the other side, because I haven't tried it before, I didn't know if it will work.
Sometimes when I face a similar situation with 2 unclear paths I tend to freeze and do nothing until I figured out the best solution in my mind. I would torment myself for days without actually doing it - only thinking about it.
As you can feel, only thinking about the problem won't solve it. You are not the problem. The problem is the problem. You have to do it. So this time, I chose action. Since I didn't know what's the best option is for me, I chose to do them both.
I started working on choice No. 1 two weeks ago. For two weeks I did my melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, textural, and formal experiments without knowing if they would work. Sure, I would try them out on my home practice organ from time to time, although my main work was with paper and pencil. When I played the fragments of this Fantasia on my practice organ, I had a feeling that it's not the right choice - No. 2 would work better. However, I chose to continue my work on it until I would have a chance to play it on a larger instrument with reverberant acoustics.
Yesterday, I was invited to play for the mass on New Year's Day at my church where I provided improvised prelude and postlude. After the mass, I tried my experiment with this Fantasia.
I didn't like it. It didn't work. Although the idea seemed nice, but from the musical and listener's point of view it didn't work. My gut feeling was true and now I'm ready to try choice No. 2.
It was not a mistake that I didn't choose No. 2 right away and started working on No. 1 which proved incorrect. It was not a failure. I just found one more way which wouldn't work. This too, kept me moving towards my goal.
Who knows, maybe No. 2 won't work either. I won't know it, unless I try it out. One thing I know for sure - choices No. 3 and 4 and 5 will present themselves at the right time but only when I'm ready for them - when I've done my work.
So when you, like me, feel stuck in front of 2 choices and you don't know which one is right for you, pick any one and do it, at least long enough to feel whether or not it's the correct choice. If during this process you will start to feel that it's better to switch to the other choice, do it right away.
The worst thing you can do is to freeze in front of your choices and do nothing. Or worse, decide that it's not for you and move on to the next thing.
The right choice is often the one you are most afraid of.
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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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