SOPP647: My dream is to be a great concert organist, and to be one of the most significant organ performers in this century
Vidas: Hello and welcome to Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast!
Ausra: This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better organist.
V: We’re your hosts Vidas Pinkevicius...
A: ...and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene.
V: We have over 25 years of experience of playing the organ
A: ...and we’ve been teaching thousands of organists online from 89 countries since 2011.
V: So now let’s jump in and get started with the podcast for today.
A: We hope you’ll enjoy it!
V: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
Vidas: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 647 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Nabil, and he writes,
1) My dream is to be a great concert Organist, and to be one of the most significant Organ performers in this century. Because I believe I have something new to bring.
Also to be the first Organist in a Cathedral (good organs usually are in big churches), to push the people in the church with me looking towards heaven in their prayers by making great music…
V: This was his dream. Number 2, it’s obviously the challenge, and it is
2) * Not having Organ or even Classical Music atmosphere around me.
V: He lives in Israel. Also
* Planning to study Organ and Church Music in Europe (it's very hard and complicated plan)
* I need support in social media to get known
Love you and Ausra!!!
V: What do you think, Ausra, about his dream first of all?
A: Well, I’m thinking that he is a very ambitious young man, and I wish him good luck with his dream.
V: Do you know any very significant organ performers in this century...maybe in the past century?
A: Yes, I know significant in this century and in the last century as well.
V: Just name one. Your favorite.
A: Well, from which century?
V: 20th century.
A: 20th century. Well, probably Marcel Dupre comes to my mind.
V: This one, right. Do you think Marcel Dupre had this kind of goal or dream, to become one of the most significant organ performers in the 20th century?
A: Well, I don’t know. If he wrote a diary maybe if this information is available. But probably not. I guess he just did what he did on a regular basis, because he was really a very hard-working man. And of course he also wanted that people around him, for example his students, would be also very hard working as well.
V: Yes. So it usually is the opposite. If you have the dream of becoming famous let’s say, you will not become famous of your work, probably. You could become famous of your physique, appearance, outlook. It’s possible right, if you do something eccentric with your face or your body. But if you want to be well-known because of your work, as Nabil writes, it has to be the opposite dream. You need to be probably more concerned with building up your skills than to building up your fame.
A: True, because without your skills, you won’t be able to be famous. Well and in general, if you want to be famous on social media, then I would say that probably organ is not the best way to get known, because it really takes time and effort, and support of course. And luck, too. Well, look at such person for example as Cameron Carpenter. Well, he graduated from Juilliard if I’m correct. Well, do you know what it means to be accepted to Juilliard and to graduate from it? It means that he had to put a lot of effort and to do a lot of work. And now yes, he’s famous on the social media as well. Could you do that? Well I don’t know.
V: And also some people get more luckier than others. You mentioned luck, right, and that’s a big factor actually. For example, I know a person who has only two videos on his YouTube channel, but he has several million of views. Organ music, but just two pieces. And he’s not been active for many years now. Just riding this way for a decade maybe. And probably he’s not even playing organ anymore. Maybe changed direction. But it doesn’t mean that he’s not well known because of those two videos. He was young and talented and got somehow noticed. But that’s luck, that’s not hard work.
A: Yes. And you know, I already gave up my dream to become famous, and to have, to even gather 1,000 subscribers on my YouTube channel, because I realized that I’m neither young, nor a man and neither slim. So basically, I don’t have any chances to get famous in an organ world.
V: Famous is very relative thing you know. You are famous to me, and you’re famous to people who are listening to this podcast for sure. Even though they might not count as one million subscribers of your YouTube channel. But basically, I think it’s a relative thing. If I gave you advice about YouTube channel, I wouldn’t give you advice to be famous or to reach 1,000 subscribers. No, probably the most important thing will be also just to concentrate on uploading music. Playing, recording, and uploading. The same as for Nabil probably. On a different scale, of course.
A: I think the most important thing is not to become famous, but to really enjoy what you are doing. To really like and love what you are doing. Because otherwise, all that daily routine that you, all those hours that you have to spend practicing organ might become really tiresome for you if you will not love enough what you are doing.
V: Exactly. If you are doing just for the sake of some lofty goal which might be true for you now, but I don’t know about the future, you might change your mind, then you will not last long. You might last one week, two weeks, maybe a month. And then you get burned out, because the results will not be positive enough to create positive feedback loop. Like for you, right? If you had received more subscribers right away, you would keep going and going and going and uploading new music. But it doesn’t work that way. It’s much slower progress, if you keep counting subscribers. If subscriber count is your metric of success, basically. But I don’t think subscriber count is the metric of success. Success probably means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
A: Yes, and you know as about studies abroad, for example in Europe, I would suggest for Nabil to consider not only Europe but also United States - why not? Sometimes they can offer good scholarships to which you can apply. And if you’re talking about Europe, why not to try for example Germany? I think it has really good ties with Israel.
V: Correct, correct. Yes. Well, he writes the last challenge as support on social media. Everybody needs attention, right, and everybody fights for this attention.
A: Yes, therefore this competition is really severe.
V: And some people get discouraged and give up, close their channels and delete their accounts, change their mind a week later and reopen again. That’s fine, but it’s a negative circle, basically. You won’t win this game by doing this, by playing this game. I think most important thing, as you say Ausra, is just enjoy what you’re doing. And keep sharing your music with others. And if that will work eventually, that’s okay. If it’s not, at least you will have a good plan.
A: Sure. Because otherwise you might find out after 10 or 20 years of your life that you actually have wasted it and did things that you even didn’t like it.
V: Yeah, for example if you suddenly analyze what’s the most popular type of organ music online right now, and start playing it over and over again, this type of music. Not the same piece, but similar pieces by different composers. And you get popular, right - you might get popular this way. But if you keep doing this for years without love, just for the sake of popularity, as you say, you might get revelation that you wasted your time without actually playing anything that you did like during that time, right?
V: Thank you, Nabil. And we hope this was useful to other people who are facing similar challenges and have similar dreams. Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen.
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SOPP370: What 2019 will bring?
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 370, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. Today we’d like to review our 2018 year, and let’s see what 2019 might bring.
V: So, Ausra, how was your year? It’s probably over by the time our listeners will hear this conversation. So let’s start with you.
A: Well it was very hard year for me.
A: And I’m really lucky to be alive. And always on New Years Eve, I’m thinking that I wish that my next year would be no worse than this one was, but actually, on this New Year’s Eve I actually hoping that the next year will be a little bit better than this was. Because if I would get another year as this one, I probably wouldn’t survive it.
V: What do you mean?
A: Well, let’s not go into much details, but I almost died—July of this year, so...
A: What else can I say to that.
V: Not too many listeners know about this but you were in the hospital, right?
V: Mmm-hmm. And afterwards you had to go to…
A: To perform a recital in London at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
V: In mid thirty degrees temperature. So it was extremely hot and very exhaustive, exhausting time. Anything else, that you remember from 2018?
A: Well this was sort of a highlight of my year. That July…
V: That combination.
A: Combination, yes.
V: Afterwards it’s downhill?
A: Yes. I, would just…
V: Mmm-hmm. Yes, so for me 2018, of course with your health issues I was very much also affected, and was worried a lot about your health and even whispered daring to go to London alone. But it was both of ours decision that it was worth the risk and we went both together, as a duet. Do you regret this decision, of going to London, today?
A: Well, no, I don’t regret it but because circumstances were so severe, I found London a very ugly city.
A: And now I’m not sure if it’s really so ugly or it seemed to be very ugly because I was so sick.
V: And when we wrote about it afterwards, some people actually shared our opinion.
V: So maybe it’s not entirely your vision of your mind.
V: Hallucinations. Yes. London has changed after the 2nd World War a lot, and...
A: Have you seen it before, that you are talking like this?
V: I was there, 3,000 years ago, like the king of elves, said in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, to Gandalf, I think.
A: You’re watching to many movies. You need to practice more organ.
V: Alright. Talking about practicing, my 2018 was interesting in the way that I was used to going to my church and practicing in the morning and putting videos on Youtube, especially those in slow tempos, so that our team of some transcribers could then later make fingering and pedaling out of those videos, which are proven to be helpful to our students all over the world. What else can I say? It’s interesting to see the community of Total Organists come alive with our Basecamp communication channel. Because every day, they get this question ‘what they’re working on today’, and they can comment, give feedback, what they’re struggling with, what they’re working on. At the end of the week they get the question ‘what they were struggling with’, what the challenges were. At the beginning of the week, they get the question, what are their goals for the week for them. And this communication with them, because it’s internal with the entire group, everybody can see them, and it’s so empowering for a lot of people who participate in this discussion. Of course there are people who tend to be silent and prefer not to get involved with others and prefer to learn on their own, which is fine. But those who do choose to communicate as a group, tell me that it’s very motivating to practice and to keep posting their answers, because we all grow together.
A: That’s right. I think it’s very important to motivate each other, and help each other.
V: Well it’s my own experience also, in many other initiatives that I was taking earlier in life. I dropped them because I was alone. I didn’t finish my Swedish language learning process because I was alone. I didn’t finish my Shotokan Karate training because I was alone. And many other things, right? But what I didn’t drop, so far, is drawing and posting comic—Pinky and Spiky comics on Steemit platform. And why? Because there is community there. We participate in contests, and we also organize Pinky and Spiky contests ourselves. And that’s also very motivating to keep going. It’s just one of side of my hobby, right? So the same is for organ playing, I believe, for people that want to advance. Ausra, are you a loner, or are you a team player, in your essence?
A: Well, probably not so much a team player as you are, because I’m more introverted than you are.
V: But I’m also not very well versed in dealing with large groups, like classroom setting, for example, it’s not motivating for me. But in a small group environment, it’s fine. Among friends, I’m well. People who are on the same track as I, are doing the same thing as I’m doing. I feel then comfortable with them. I don’t think me and you are so much different in this respect. It’s just maybe sometimes we feel that how we are perceived by others is different. Our perception is different. So continuing our discussion about 2018, I was really happy that Pope Francis came to Lithuania and I was chosen to play for him during his prayer at the KGB Museum.
A: In general I think that September was the best month of entire year, because we played that wonderful recital in Banchetto Musicale festival, and also heard many wonderful early music performances in Vilnius, during that festival. And then you performed for Pope Francis. It was really exciting.
V: And then I went to see Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra in Paslek, Poland, to see her play historical organ there, which was very exciting, at the end of September. So yeah, this year had very terrible life, I believe. July, I wouldn’t want to repeat that experience, and later on was easier and easier I believe, downhill a little, better and better I think. What about you? Do you feel that way too?
A: Well, yes, but you never know what might wait you around the corner.
V: We’re just talking about 2018 of course.
V: So yes, guys, we hope this year was a blessing to you and you continue to be healthy and your family’s continue to be healthy too, because without health, good health, it’s very difficult to continue to practice, right Ausra?
A: True. And you know what I learned after that recital in London?
A: Well, and you know why I took a risk of going there and performing?
A: Because I was very well prepared before that. Because, look before that recital—let’s be honest—how much could I practice?
V: Uh-huh. You spent two weeks, I think in the hospital.
A: A week and a half. But I already was sick before and then after that doesn’t mean that I was, I felt right away well, after a hospital.
A: It wasn’t like that—still feel the consequences of all that thing…
A: And I’m not completely cured, but, because I was really prepared in advance, that’s why I could go and perform.
V: Right. So I think what you mean to say here is like giving advice for people, who are scheduled to play sometime in the future and they think that they have plenty of time to prepare, but in fact they don’t have plenty of time.
A: Because you never know what might happen.
A: So you really need to get some sort of time pillow, I would say.
V: What do you mean? What is a time pillow?
A: I don’t know. Time pillow—that you put your time pillow and would not worry that you might be late to prepare for things.
V: So yeah, that’s a great idea. Because we know from our close friends, sometimes they think they have time, but things change, situation change, and they don’t have enough time to prepare suddenly, which isn’t nice when you have to sit down and play in public—not a nice feeling. So every day is a struggle in your mind, in our mind, what to do with your time, what to do with our time, and to do what we can to practice today, not tomorrow, probably. Because you don’t know what tomorrow brings. So going into 2019, we don’t know what this year will bring, right? It’s hard to guess and predict. We we’re hopeful, right? That as you say, it might be better than 2018. For example, I hope that we will successfully travel to several European countries abroad to organ festivals, to play. That would be a great thing. I hope that our help will be better than in 2018. What else do we hope for, Ausra?
A: Well, I’m afraid of hoping for anything, because I’m sort of very cautious about it. That if you would say something aloud, that it will not happen.
V: Uh-huh. I see.
A: But anyway, next year will be the year of the pig, and since the pig is my favorite animal, I hope it will be successful for me, and for you, if you will be nice to pigs.
V: (Laughs.) You see guys! What do I have to live with everyday.
A: (Laughs.) Poor Vidas.
V: And my animal, favorite animal is hedgehog, and hedgehogs don’t have year for them, so we only have to be good for pigs.
A: Well, anyway, I wasn’t born in the year of the pigs, but my mother is a pig. So if you will be good, nice to your mother-in-law, maybe year will be successful to you as well.
V: Exactly. If your mother-in-law is happy, then the son-in-law is happy too.
V: Everybody is else in your family is happy as well. Thank you guys for listening. We hope you will have wonderful 2019. Keep sending us your wonderful questions. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice...
A: Miracles happen!
Let's pretend you have decided to learn a couple of contrasting pieces by a certain date (say, in 30 days). You have long thought about having a nice goal, almost like a small mission for yourself and since living with the feeling of regret, laziness, excuses, boredom, and aimlessness became too depressing, you have looked at the mirror and said to yourself: "Now or never".
So you are all pumped up with excitement and ready for change. These two pieces would add a nice excitement into your day - you will watch your skills grow every day and by a certain date you will be ready to play them in public.
Here are a few mistakes to avoid when you are planning and goal-setting your organ practice:
1. Starting with too much excitement. When we are jumping from joy about the prospect of succeeding in some exciting goal, it's very easy to lose ground. Temptations come every day, every hour, every minute. Our inner dragons are waiting for us around the corner. Actually it's nothing special. Start silently. Practice just today. If tomorrow comes, you will have another chance.
2. Having too much to learn every day. Have you planned to learn one page a day? Maybe you can do it once or twice, but believe me, in three days your mission will become unbearable (unless you are professional at this) because you will have to repeat previously mastered material. Bite only what you can eat. If you learn one line a day, then you have a chance to do it long-term.
3. Giving in to the idea "it's not the first time I decided to achieve something and failed." Of course, we all have had our failed New Year's resolutions and other epic failures, some public, some private. But it's not a failure, if you learn from it. F = Feedback. Although you are not some Super Man, but you are not a loser either. This time it's worth your effort.
4. Thinking about the end result all the time. Looking too far ahead without doing the work for today is pointless. All that matters is today. Remember, you are like this train going from place A to place B. If you are on the right track, you will reach your destination. But you have to keep moving.
5. Scolding yourself for not being able to keep up with your plan. There will be some days when you miss a practice session or two. This happens and it's OK. Not that you must chicken out of your mission. You see, your inner dragons want you to stop. So every slip you make along the way will be held against you (in your mind). You can adjust your plan as long as you keep going.
Make sure you pay attention to these common mistakes. You don't want to be disappointed and go back to where you started without actually achieving anything. But find your inner strength, believe the power of today, and you will successfully master these pieces and will be ready for another challenge.
Result is not the goal. Process is the goal.
Goal-setting in organ playing
Setting short-term and long-term goals is crucial, if you want to achieve any kind of measurable results as an organist. It focuses your practice and helps to use your time available in the most efficient way. It also helps you to resist the temptation to skip one or two practice sessions because in your mind each day is one step towards your goal. One practice session wasted is gone forever.
Here are some of the most common goals I see organists set for themselves:
1. Prepare and successfully perform a recital. Take a deep look at your skills as an organist and decide what level of difficulty your pieces should be. Set a date well in advance (but not too far) and choose a venue. This could be your church or a church in your area where you have lots of friends, family members, and other people who are likely to attend your recital. If you have a trusted relationship with the local organist, you can ask for the possibility to perform in this church.
2. Prepare and perform at the church service (weddings and funerals also count). This is self-explanatory for any church organist yet we see people over and over again who prepare their hymns and service organ music in a sloppy way. It's important to take any church service seriously and prepare the same way as if Bach or any other master you respect would attend it (you never know who's listening).
3. Prepare a challenging piece. If you have a piece that you want to play but it is a little out of reach (but not too much) for you at the moment, you can set a goal to learn it by a certain date and play it for your friends or family. If the piece is long, divide it into manageable units or sections and concentrate on the them in each of your practice sessions, remembering also to refresh already mastered ones regularly.
Here are a few more:
4. Learn to play any hymn setting with the soprano in the pedals.
5. Transpose a piece into another key.
6. Learn to play a piece with the sheet reversed. Not as crazy as it sounds.
7. Introduce the organ to kids in your congregation. Let them play it (3 at a time) and take pictures. Organize their improvisations so that they would not be lost.
8. Discover an old organ in your area which has been forgotten and remind the congregation of the value of preserving it.
9. Use story-telling in your recitals with improvisation.
10. Think of the people with vision or hearing disabilities. Introduce the organ and its music for them. Invite artists, dancers or actors to collaborate. Can they touch it, smell it or perceive it in any other way?
Don't forget to measure your success rate. This can be done by setting short-term intermediate check-points. Don't measure how many mistakes you made while playing in public. Instead, measure how may times you have slain your inner dragons which don't want you to succeed. Don't measure how much applause or lack of applause you got. Instead, measure how many souls you have changed.
It turns out that the goals which are the most difficult to measure are the ones which we need to set the most.
Temptation with goals
William writes that his dream is to able to play the organ well enough to serve as a parish organist when needed. The three big obstacles are arranging his time to allow more consistent practices, focus while practicing, and coordination.
When you have such a dream as William has, it inevitably involves learning a fair amount of pieces to gradually build your repertoire. Apart from being a crucial side of learning experience, this can also be a temptation which might lead to failure to reach your goal. Let me explain.
Every day, when we practice, we encounter new pieces, new delightful compositions that would be worth practicing. While for some people these pieces might go into the list called something like "to learn in the future", for others it's a shiny object. It's a distraction from your current project. So what happens is that a person jumps from piece to piece without ever learning anything in a deep way.
And I'm not talking about real sight-reading practice which I'm a big believer in. Ideally, sight-reading should be done in addition to your regular practice. To prevent these temptations from harming your long-term goals, here's what helps me:
Give yourself a deadline with some stakes involved. A date in the not-too-distant future which will hold you accountable. This might mean a recital, a concert, or a church service or anything like that which would involve you playing for other people. If you don't want to play in church, simply promise you will play something special for your spouse or a friend at home after dinner. Set this date together with them.
When you give yourself a due date, everything that isn't a part of your current goal suddenly fades away as non-essential. This is because you know - the consequences of not meeting your deadline would cost you more than the pleasure of jumping from one wonderful piece to another.
A deadline is a single most important thing which helps focus your practice, find time for it, and stay on course.
If you "innocently" postpone this deadline - your goal will also move away from you.
Duo V Ave maris stella (in Versets of 2, 3 and 4 voices, Fabordones, Intermedios, p. 5) by Antonio de Cabezón (1510-1566), a blind Spanish Renaissance composer and organist.
Holy Ghost, with Light Divine
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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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