Russ writes that his goal is to give and receive pleasure from organ music and
introduce people to the magnificence of the organ. However, lack of self confidence, patience, and correct technique are holding him back.
I believe every organist should have a goal like Russ does. This is really excellent! It's graceful, elegant, and simple.
If you want to gain self confidence, you first have to know your instrument, your music, and yourself.
Knowing your instrument involves all the intricacies of combing various stops and stop combinations and knowing when to change the registration.
Knowing your music is of course being able to play it by heart (from memory).
In order to do it, you first have to master the piece from the score by repeatedly and extremely slowly playing various voices and voice combinations and the entire texture in small manageable fragments of about 4 measures of duration. A side effect of doing this is that you will gain patience and also develop correct technique.
So in reality it all comes down to slow, regular, and persistent practice. By doing this you will also come to understand yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses.
It's all very simple - when you practice, you move forward. When you give up, despair, doubt yourself, seek shortcuts, silver bullets, and shiny objects - then you are sabotaging your own efforts and success (until your next readjustment of focus).
Although it's a long road head, the pleasure comes from knowing that you are inevitably moving closer to your goal every day one step at a time.
What's your next step?
Introduction-Chorale (p. 2) from Suite Gothique, op. 25 by Leon Boellmann, French Romantic composer and organist.
Jaime Camps: This is me at the organ in Sacred Heart Church, Montevideo. Although it is an electronic organ, is quite good and enjoyable. The picture was taken by my jobmate and friend Nicolás Farinasso, who submitted it to a contest in Phlearn and won the prize. It is now my profile image in facebook. Not anyone has a first-prize-winner picture in his profile!!! :)
Thanks to Jacqui who wrote to me last night and I believe many organists around the world face the same problem:
"Thank you for all your meaningful articles and videos about organ playing. I just bought a product from you last week. I would like my son, who is 16 and has grade 7 piano, learn organ. I was struggling to find a church for him to practise as I don't have an organ at home. It is so difficult to find a church for him to practise. I heard midi can help, but if there are no foot pedals, you are not practising organ. Hope you can kindly help me with this mystery."
Not having an instrument with pedals to practice at home can be very upsetting. In fact, this might well be the reason stopping a lot of people from beginning their organ playing journey in the first place.
So what can you do? Here are some possibilities that people usually explore:
1. Find a church in your area with an organ. Approach an organist and/or the priest/pastor and ask for the chance to practice in exchange for a small fee, donation or occasional service playing. Some churches will even let you practice without expecting anything in return.
2. Build a midi organ yourself;
3. Buy an electronic organ;
4. Buy a new or a second hand practice pipe organ with 1-2 stops;
5. Enter the virtual world and consider the virtual organ possibilities;
6. If you have a keyboard instrument, such as piano, acquire a pedalboard and attach it to the piano strings;
7. If you have a synthesizer, get a midi pedalboard or midify a regular pedalboard;
8. If you love early music, buy a pedal clavichord or harpsichord;
All of these options are valid, of course. It will depend not only on your preferences but on your financial situation as well because some of the solutions are more expensive while others might be more affordable.
Today I'd like to offer a solution (perhaps a temporary one) but which will allow you to practice organ playing right away without any expense: print out regular size organ manuals and pedalboard.
Tape the sheets together, glue the pedalboard sheets on the cardboard (optional), place the manuals on the table and the pedalboard on the floor, put a few thick hymnals on the chair so that your feet would be gently touching the "keys" and you are ready to practice!
If you want to "hear" what you are playing, you can play along with the recording or the video in the slow practice tempo. However, use this option wisely - only for practice purposes, because you might get too attached to the interpretation of others and copy their rhythms without the need to count the beats yourself.
Paper manuals and pedalboard is not an ideal solution, but a temporary one. The idea here is to eliminate the excuse not to practice because you don't have an access to an organ at least until you are ready to find a better option.
Some of my students in our organ studio "Unda Maris" here in Vilnius have paper manuals and pedalboards and say that it works. Have you tried this yourself? I would love to hear about your experience.
Amateurs practice until they get it right, until they don't make a mistake.
Professionals practice until they can't make a mistake anymore.
Being a professional doesn't cost you any more money or any more time. It doesn't require you to have more experience, better education, more famous teacher, or being born in a more privileged country. And it certainly doesn't require you to be more talented or start at the age of 5.
Being a professional is an attitude. The only thing you have to do is to decide to push through and get to the other side. You can choose to be a pro.
Today. Tomorrow. And the day after that.
Here are the 4 categories of organ practice:
1. Practicing incorrect way incorrect things (least ideal)
2. Practicing correct way incorrect things
3. Practicing incorrect way correct things
4. Practicing correct way correct things (ideal)
For every person the correct things in organ performance will be somewhat different but here are some general guidelines:
1. Within your technical abilities
2. Variety in historical periods
3. Variety in national schools
4. Variety in genres
5. Variety in character, keys, tempo, registration
The correct way of practice might look more similar from person to person:
1. Show up regularly
2. Slow speed
3. Short fragments
4. Reduced texture
5. Multiple repetitions
6. Correct fingering, pedaling, articulation, ornaments, hand and feet position
Identifying where you are within the above 4 categories of practice is the first step. (HT to John)
When you receive unwanted and annoying commercial email from some marketer (even though you have clearly unsubscribed), you understand that he is acting in the urgency of the short-term results: "Get some easy money fast". He's sacrificing his long-term success, impact, trust and his relationships over a few pennies.
On the other hand, when you follow an organisation or a person who is so insightful and generous, you cannot help but wonder at his long-term commitment to lead, inspire, and change the people around him who want to be changed.
All of this is true also in organ practice.
There are people who rush through the pieces, rarely stopping to fix mistakes, for whom it's OK to play with accidental fingerings, pedalings, and articulation. If it's not obvious to them how the piece is put together, they will not bother to find out. They are cutting corners, always focusing on short-cuts: "Quick, I have to play something for this wedding tomorrow."
But others are patient. They can wait. They can wait for weeks, months, even years for the results of their honest efforts.
Unlike the short-sighted greedy marketers or impatient organists, they will still be around years from now, still practicing their art while their competition will be long gone after another magic bullet.
Withstand the storms of your mind.
We all have these days when it's not that easy to get on the organ bench to practice. And when we sit down to play, every minute seems like an hour - it's very hard to stay on the bench and do the work.
Then you can have these kinds of thoughts:
"Maybe it's OK to end my practice earlier than I planned. I think I worked hard enough today."
"Why do I need to suffer so much?"
"Do I really need this?"
"Practice shouldn't be boring - it should be fun and easy."
"I can't play any longer - there are more interesting things to do."
"My recital is far away - I have plenty of time to learn the music."
"Maybe I could stop now and pick up where I left tomorrow?"
"Maybe tomorrow it will be easier to practice?"
Here's my favorite: "Yesterday I practiced too hard. I should take it easy now."
Did you notice that when you persevere, push yourself and continue to practice as planned, your feeling is much better afterwards than at times when you give up? And the harder you have to push yourself to stay on the organ bench, the better your feeling will be.
Practice like there's no tomorrow.
is perfecting pieces during the practice and maintaining this level during the public performance.
The second most difficult thing for many organists is sitting down on the organ bench to practice in the first place.
Imagine a situation when you currently can practice organ for several hours a day but in the future you might have a change in your life either because of the birth of the baby or an illness of the family member or some other reason. Will this change mean the end of your organ practice?
The baby will change everything for the parents. That's normal. It would be selfish to let the spouse raise the child while you play the organ for long hours. However, in the long run it's crucial for both of the parents (and for the baby) to keep up personal interests and hobbies alive even for 10-20 minutes a day. You can of course take turns attending the baby.
If organ playing is your hobby, this well might mean you keep continue playing the organ. This activity will help re-charge both of you when you feel exhausted, when your energy level is down, when your spirits are low.
To help you see why it's important to continue your organ playing journey (if it's important to you in the first place), let's take an example of another sphere in live - piloting the plane.
When the plane flies from place A to place B and there is a high turbulence and a storm coming in front of the plane, the pilot normally wouldn't turn around the plane and stop the flight. No, the pilot would re-adjust the course, maybe turning left or right which would eventually allow the plane to reach it's destination by another route.
Sometimes the plane has to land to place C and wait there for better weather conditions. Then the trip will last longer but the plane will arrive to its destination nonetheless.
Here it's important to point out that sometimes the pilot doesn't fly at all. The pilot waits on the ground for better conditions to fly.
The same is in live. When life gives us expected or not expected challenges, we can re-adjust our efforts, re-adjust our schedule, re-adjust our priorities. But if your goal is eventually master some aspect of organ playing, you can do little things that matter most in the long run - short daily practices of 10-20 minutes of duration.
If you take a table spoon and try to dig a tunnel for 10-20 minutes a day - in 5-10 years you will move a small mountain this way.
Having goals and the purpose are very important here. Without them it is impossible keep going in baby steps and eventually to reach your destination.
Besides, keeping up the hobbies of both of the parents will be very beneficial to their baby, too (in the long run). This is because he/she can follow in the parent's footsteps. Also seeing that one of the parents is practicing something, this will teach the baby something about the value of waiting, the value of effort, the value of commitment, the value of delayed gratification.
People who grow up as selfish human beings sometimes saw the unconditional attention of their parents in the past, acting as servants. They expect that others will be servants to their needs and wants later in life, too. That's why it's important you also have your own time, too. By the way, this will only make your family bonds stronger.
Yes, this would probably mean you should practice at home more than at church.
This could also mean, you might practice more away from the instrument - on the table or even while lying in bed with your body still and your eyes shut (I once prepared for an entire recital this way). This could also mean you will value your available time so much more than before and accomplish things faster.
Don't turn around your plane. Adjust the course.
[Thanks to John for inspiration]
When you fall into the trap of practicing without the discipline and you see that your organ playing skills move to nowhere, there are a few preliminary things that have to happen before actually practicing correctly.
Necessity. Ask yourself, do I absolutely must practice organ playing? Would I miss organ playing, if I wasn't allowed to practice? If the answer is yes, go on to the next point.
Choice. Understand that changing your attitude towards organ is a choice. You can keep playing the way you are used to and get the same results or you can make change happen.
Goals. If you really want to change and get out of the circle, you need to set short-term and long term goals. Where exactly you want to be as an organist in 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 3 years, 5 years or 10 years from now?
Obstacles. What are the challenges you must overcome on your way of achieving these goals? Pick at least 3 for starters.
Action. Stop wishing, dreaming and take action. Today. And tomorrow. And the day after that.
All of the above happens in your mind. Change your mind and you win.
Imagine a situation when you had a fairly good organ technique in the past, you could sight-read rather well, learned new pieces quite quickly to the best of your satisfaction and hymn-playing was a relatively easy task.
However, the years went by and for some reason you had fallen into bad habits of practicing and as a result you started to play organ music quite poorly - with lots of mistakes, with accidental fingerings and pedalings. Also you seem to have forgotten everything about articulation.
Does this sound familiar? If so, I have a few tips which might get you on track right away:
1. Pay attention do every detail. Things to keep in mind obviously are the correct notes, rhythms, articulation, fingering, pedaling, ornaments and posture.
2. Because the above point is easier said than done, work in small fragments of about 4 measures repeatedly. Playing the entire piece too often does no good.
3. Reduce the texture for practice purpose to a single voice. If you can play a soprano line of that fragment effortlessly, practice the alto in the same way and so on. In this manner you can later do all combinations of two and tree voices before putting everything together.
4. Resist the tempation to speed up. Play at 50 % the concert speed at first. Only when you can effortlessly play at this tempo your entire piece, you can start playing a little faster.
I know the above points sound like a lot of focused work. But it does make a difference and it is well worth the effort. The joy of playing organ music beautifully will transform your life and the life of those around you for the better.
Have you redeveloped your bad practice habits into the efficient ones? If so, please share your experience of how you did it in the comments below.
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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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