Exams, mistakes, time, and memorization
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.
Tempo, mistakes, and memorization
Margaret writes that her dream for playing organ is to play faster and without mistakes. For her the main obstacles which prevent her reaching this dream are the difficulty in reaching a faster tempo, eliminating mistakes and memorization of the score.
The dream that Margaret has is common to many organists. But it's not so easy to make it a reality. So often people can only play rather slow music and when they try to play faster, lots of mistakes appear. This is frustrating.
If you experience such challenges as Margaret, you have to understand that it's better to play slower than with many mistakes. Therefore, choose the tempo according to your level of ability.
By repeatedly practicing very slowly and reducing the texture to single voice and various voice combinations, you will be able to eliminate mistakes and reach the level when you can play rather slowly but fluently.
If you want to play faster, perhaps you need a) to work on your technique and b) to practice your pieces at the concert tempo but stopping and waiting at the smallest fragment imaginable - a quarter note.
Once you can play this way until the end of the piece at least 3 times without mistakes, stop every two beats, then one measure, two measures and so on always expanding your fragments and playing the music inside the fragment at the concert tempo but stopping, waiting and preparing for the next fragment.
If you want to memorize music easier, you have to develop a systematic procedure of practicing short fragments 5 times while looking at the score and 5 times from memory. Usually the longest fragment you can remember this way is one measure. As you might have already guessed, after memorizing one measure fragments, start expanding them little by little from memory.
If you haven't done so, try to learn something about keys, chords, chord progressions, cadences, and modulations. This will help you understand how your piece is put together and consequently facilitate the process of memorization.
3. Begib mich nit myn höchster hort (p. 26) from Buxheimer Orgelbuch (ca. 1450), a German Renaissance collection of organ music.
Hark, the Voice of Jesus Calling
Mistakes we make
David Milller: I purchased a Johannus Opus 7 practice organ for my house in Hagerstown MD. I play a 15 rank Mollar at Zion Episcopal church in Charles Town, West Virginia. I enjoy practicing along with you using your YouTube videos and my home instrument tuned to your demonstration organ's pitch and temperament. My goal is to master the Articulate-Legato touch. Thank you for all the encouraging work you do and on the frequent updates to your web site.
There are two sides of the issue when organists make mistakes during service playing or recitals - the way they impact us and the way they impact the listeners.
Some people don't seem to be too disturbed by mistakes they make - they continue playing as usual. Other organists feel so awkward and off-balance that the very act of being aware of their mistakes produces even more mistakes. This attitude requires tremendous focus of mind on the current measure with the exclusion of everything else. This isn't easy at first but it can be exercised and learned like anything we do. Focus is a skill. We are not born with it but we acquire it through conscious effort over time. Forgive yourself, forget the mistake by fixing your gaze on the next spot, and move on. You'll do better next time.
Our listeners can also have different feelings about our mistakes, too. Some might not even notice them because they came to enjoy the music and the event, to participate actively at church service. Others can be quite critical and even cynical about the mistakes we make. They might scold you, they might even record you and post the video online just to share their frustration or make fun of you. In a way it belongs to the culture of bullying.
It's so sad that people behave this way. What can you do about it?
Haters gonna hate, non believers will not believe. And that's OK.
Maybe your music and your playing is not for them. Maybe it's for this woman sitting on the edge of her seat and crying afterwards...
[Thanks to John for inspiration]
PS Some of my readers seem to miss the sight-reading selections I've been including with these posts so here is the piece to play for today:
Arrogamer (p. 24) from Buxheimer Orgelbuch (ca. 1460), a landmark early German source of organ music. Although it's written for 3 staves, it's best played without the pedals with the left hand taking the two lower staves.
What's around the corner?
I've written earlier about what you can do when you make a mistake in improvisation. The answer is simple - repeat it several times and it will become intentional.
Once you realize this, you can take this idea one step further and use the same principle in places where you feel stuck, in places where your imagination doesn't work on the spot, in places where you don't know what to do next.
Repeating one musical idea several times (even if it's not a mistake) on the same or different manuals when you don't know what to play in the middle of the piece will give you time to think, react and it will lead you some place else eventually.
This suite from 6 pieces was improvised for the group of French tourists. Take a look at how you can draw inspiration to go from one music idea to another when you seem to be stuck in one place.
One more thing: even if you feel stuck, always be conscious of the form of the piece, where you are in it in any given moment (otherwise the playing will become like rambling without a direction). The pieces in this suite all have a ternary ABA form so even when I didn't know what's waiting for me around the corner, I knew I had a compass to follow.
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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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