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.
V: Let’s start episode 645 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Katrine, and she writes,
Thanks for asking about this Vidas.
1. To be as fluent and reliable at organ playing as I am at the piano (professional accompanist/repetiteur by background)
2. Getting the set-up right for feet and being confident that I am practising in a way that will lead to accuracy - not sure if stool height is correct, shoes are perhaps too wide etc. Unclear on where feet should be able to reach (get pain in legs if I stretch too far and have hurt knee trying to insist with my right leg that it can reach the bottom notes!) and not sure how best to practise pedal scales (have seen varying advice on toe/heel use).
V: Okay. So Katrine wants to be very much proficient at organ playing because she is now proficient at piano - professional accompanist and repetiteur. Let’s talk about her challenges.
A: Well, as I understood her, the main challenge is basically the pedal technique and playing pedal in general. So if she is not sure how the, basically the women organist shoes need to look like, she might watch my videos on my YouTube channel.
V: Yes, Ausra uses Organmaster shoes. I also use Organmaster shoes, but for men. And I will of course include the link to that site for people to click.
A: Yes, and as my brother was just making a joke another day while watching my videos, said that my shoes, these organ shoes would be very good when I would be dead…
V: For funeral!
A: Yes, for funeral! Well, that was of course a bad joke, but really funny.
V: Only your brother could joke like that.
V: To you.
V: Okay, so Pedal Virtuoso Master Course would really help people who are struggling with pedal technique, don’t you think?
A: Yes, that’s a very helpful course.
V: If she wants to play scales on the pedals, so that’s part of this program, scales and arpeggios. And we have exercises that help to develop the perfect pedal technique with heels and toes. Just need to stick with it for a number of weeks. It’s not that easy to start, and people get discouraged.
A: Sure, especially that’s a problem if you are a really accomplished pianist, and suddenly you started to play the organ, and you can still do very things on the manuals, but you are a beginner with your feet, and it might be frustrating. You might want to achieve results very fast, but it’s a slow process in reality. It takes patience and it takes time.
V: Right. The thing about setting the feet and sitting in the right way is that when you sit, your feet have to touch the pedalboard - not entire pedalboard, but just the edge of the sharps. The toes have to touch the sharps. But not depress the keys - that would be too low, the bench height too low. But just gently touch the surface of the white keys where they connect with the sharps, don’t you think, Ausra?
A: Yes, that’s very good advice. And then never think about reaching, let’s say with the right foot at the left side of the pedal board. You cannot do that. Because there are certain limits, how far your feet should go.
V: I agree. I usually limit my right foot in the left hand side of the pedalboard starting from bottom G. The G is still possible to play, comfortable to play with the right foot, but below G is not. The same is if you want to go up in the pedalboard and play the top right notes. I would play probably A or B flat, maybe A with the left foot; and then starting from B, I would play only with the right foot - correct?
A: Yes, that’s what I do, too. Because I really have quite short legs, and wouldn’t, couldn’t reach so far. So what I do, I really love to play baroque music, because when you are using alternate toes, that solves many of the problems, plus when I am playing hymns, I also mainly use just toes in the pedals. But if I am playing modern or romantic music and of course I cannot avoid using heels, then I actually use a lot of sliding with my feet and a lot of substitutions.
V: Another thing that might help is to understand how to shift position. Then you wouldn’t hurt your knees when you have to play with the right foot in the lower left region of the pedalboard. Not extreme lower, but maybe in the bottom octave somewhere. Then you need to shift your lower half, your legs, basically. Your knees have to be facing the note that you will be playing. If you’re playing, let’s say bottom G with the right foot, or with the left foot also, you have to shift both of your knees into that direction, and both of the knees have to face the note G. The same is if you move up towards, also you move your both knees to the right. That helps?
A: Yes, that helps of course. And another thing that you need to know, that unless you have some sort of preexisting health condition and it hurts when you’re playing, then maybe you need to consult your physician what you need to do, but if you haven’t had any preexisting conditions and it’s starting to hurt your knees, for example, for playing the organ, it means that you are really doing something not in that direction as it should be, because naturally it shouldn’t be hurting your feet while playing the organ.
V: Yes. Be careful, and if it starts to hurt, make a rest, walk around the room for awhile, and see what you can improve in terms of shifting the direction, maybe adjusting the bench height or distance from the keyboards also. It doesn’t have, it shouldn’t be too far away from the pedalboard - from the keyboards, actually.
A: Yes, especially if you are not really high for example, as I am.
V: So, both your feet should be touching the edge of the sharps and resting gently on the pedalboard. That’s the correct distance and height of the bench. Okay. We hope this was useful to Katrine. Please check out our Pedal Virtuoso Master Course. That way you can grow much faster. And send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen.
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SOPP555: What do you think about those organists that either use stocking feet or bare feet while playing?
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 555 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Kirk, and he writes:
“I know church organists push using organ shoes but I have been using just socks on the pedalboard I find it is easier to find the notes when practicing. What do you think about those organists that either use stocking feet or bare feet while playing? I find some of them around here, they are very good organists, some of them told me they just got sick of the shoes.”
V: Ausra, do you know some organists who play with socks?
A: Yes, I know some.
V: And are they good organists?
A: Yes, they are, but actually, you need to be able to play both ways, because I just simply can’t imagine if you are performing at the recital hall, fancy recital hall, and you would go to the organ and be barefoot on the stage where people could see you. It would be a hilarious look.
V: That’s a thought. If you are hidden in a practice room or at home or on a church balcony, nobody can see you, and…
A: Then that’s okay, and it’s fine.
V: It’s fine, I guess, in situations when you can get away without heels. Right?
A: Well, yes, but some people can play with heels also without using the shoes, but it’s harder for your ankle, I guess.
V: Last Wednesday, when we had the Unda Maris organ studio rehearsal, I wonder who played without shoes… Some of the students, anyway, and it was the first time that she discovered that it’s not really comfortable, because she needs to bend her ankle too much when using heels. When using toes only, it’s kind of okay. And it could be a quite sensitive and pleasant experience, but if you play a piece which is composed later than 18th century, you definitely need heels, and in this case, playing with organ shoes, proper organ shoes, makes sense.
A: Yes, because it hardly makes sense, for example, to play, let’s say, Symphony by Louis Vierne or Suite by Duruflé without organ shoes! It would be very uncomfortable.
V: What about Dupré’s Chorales, sort of shorter pieces, maybe educational exercises like that?
A: Well, but still, you need heels, so…
V: Yeah, Dupré definitely describes heels in his edition of 79 Chorales.
A: But sometimes it’s really handy to be able to play without shoes. When you’re traveling, for example, and trying different new organs, and you simply don’t have your organ shoes with you.
V: I wish we had a sort of replacement for real organ shoes when we travel. You could put on only a leather heel on your socks like slippers, sort of, but tight slippers, and then attach a heel to it, maybe some kind of hook or something which could slide in or something, and it would really not take a lot of space.
A: Great idea! You work on it, and we will copyright it and we will be come rich, because all the organists will buy your new invention!
V: No, I think since we’re talking about this in public, I think somebody will already do this faster.
A: Well, and I know what Kirk means that he feels the pedal keyboard better when he plays in socks. That’s true in some sense, but what I found for my self is that actually my feet have more weight when I’m playing with organ shoes, and that the pressing moment of the pedal board is more exact and more accurate when I’m with my organ shoes.
V: Oh, that’s another thought I haven’t considered before. Exactly! Your shoe’s weight gives some weight to the feet, and you don’t need to use so much muscle.
A: That’s right, and that’s very important for me.
V: Right. Maybe for some people it kind of doesn’t matter. Right? But for some it does.
A: And especially I feel it when I’m playing on a mechanical, on a tracker organ, and when I have to reach really low pedal notes, and really high pedal notes on the edges. Then I’m more comfortable when playing with organ shoes.
V: Okay, so I hope this was useful to Kirk and anybody. Keep in mind that dancers’ shoes also work for organists, not only specially designed organist shoes, but dancers’ shoes, which are very similar to organists shoes as well. So, you can look around if you don’t have organist shoe store in your area, you can often find dancers’ shoes, because ballet and dancing is more common in the world than organ playing.
A: Yes, and maybe that’s a good thing.
V: I know in Lithuania, in Vilnius, for example, there is no shop for organists’ shoes and organ supplies, but there is a shop for dancers’ supplies. Okay, this was Vidas,
A: And Ausra!
V: Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen!
SOPP447: I bought shoes from Organmaster but I didn’t quite like it. Do you have any recommendation?
Vidas: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 447 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by David, And he writes:
Hi Vidas, I bought shoes from Organmaster but I didn’t quite like it. Do you have any recommendation? Regards, David
Well, what would you say to David, Ausra? Because I have my own recommendations.
A: Well, if I would be, you know, Mr. Bennett, from The Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, I would say it seems like a hopeless business, but since I’m not… Well, I don’t like the Organmaster shoes myself so well, and why I don’t because they are not made from genuine leather, except of the…
A: Soles, yes.
A: Yes. And that’s why I don’t find them of really high quality. At least, that’s my opinion. But, after using them for many years, they sort of softened, and it’s becoming more comfortable.
V: Do you remember, Ausra, when we first bought Organmaster shoes? How long did it take for you to get used to your shoes? How many weeks?
A: It took quite a while. A month, maybe.
V: A month. So if David, and this is the start of my recommendation, if David doesn’t like the shoes at first, maybe it doesn’t mean the shoes are bad at first. Maybe he just needs to play for a few weeks to a month, and see if they soften up a little bit, and your feet get used to your shoes this way. Do you think, sometimes, that might be the case?
A: Yes. It’s like with any new shoes. They often give a struggle at the beginning, so.
V: But not all shoes.
A: No, not all shoes, but some of them, yes. I’m not talking about sneakers.
V: Mm-hmm. Sneakers are very comfortable. What I would suggest, also, to take a look, for David, into TicTacToes. This is another company, which specializes in shoes. Let’s see their website. TicTacToe. TicTacToe Shoes,” I think. There is a game called Tic-Tac-Toe. These are shoes for ballroom dancing, and organ shoes and square dancing. You know, all kinds of shoes they have, and in addition to that, they have a collection for organ shoes, and if I click to enter their collection, they have men’s organ shoes, they have women’s organ shoes, and they also have special organ shoes, which look… (laughs) strange, Ausra, right?
A: Well, they’re shoes that look really soft and you can bend it, you know?
V: Yes, it’s bent, like, at a ninety-degree angle, downward.
A: I don’t think anybody could… do their foot like this. They would break it.
V: So that’s my also recommendation; to look at TicTacToes.com
A: But, anyway, you know, I wonder how David is doing with other shoes. Are other shoes comfortable for him? Because it might not be a problem with these complete shoes, but it might be, you know, a problem with, I don’t know… feet? (inaudible) Or what he wears on a daily basis? It’s really hard to tell, because, actually, he didn’t explain why he doesn’t like these shoes. We don’t know what the problem is.
V: Exactly. I think when I wrote to him and answered in an email about TicTacToes, he was quite happy with it. Maybe that solved his problem. So anyway, organist shoes, sometimes, it’s a great challenge to find for us, right, and not every person has the, you know, the ability to buy something online and get shipped from overseas to their country. They need to buy something locally. For example, in Venus, we have, also, a store for dancers. And I found that our Unda Maris students also need organ shoes, so I recommended them to take a look at their collection for dancing shoes, ballroom dancing, specifically.
A: Ballroom? Do you think those shoes are fitted? For men, maybe, but for women, I highly doubt it.
V: No? Why not?
A: Because, well, look at women’s shoes. You know, ballroom dancing shoes.
V: They’re very similar. I mean, some of them.
A: Well, this company, yes, but in general, they’re not, because the heel is much higher than short in these.
V: But, remember, if you play with--
A: You have professional dancers on the TV. We never wear shoes like these.
V: Ah, I see. So maybe, full dancing, then…
A: Yes, I would say it’s more like full dancing shoes. But also, if it’s to play the organ.
V: Uh-huh. Could be, could be. Interesting. So basically, you could accommodate your own feet this way with various kinds of shoes, and sometimes, you might even don’t need to buy something. You could look at your own shoe collection at home, if you have one, and see what you can use for the organ. Sometimes, you can find one. Not always, though. Right?
A: It depends.
V: It depends, as everything in life. Thank you guys. This was Vidas…
A: And Ausra.
V: We hope this was useful to you, and please keep sending us your wonderful questions. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 360 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent sent by Rob, and he writes:
Hello Ausra and Vidas,
Enjoyed the story featuring pointed high heel shoes and what Anders said in today’s post about his organ shoes. So, let me share my organ shoes (well, not literally, of course) with you, Anders and all other readers of your posts.
Nobody plays the organ wearing gloves, it wouldn’t make sense. Yet, in a way, we do wear “gloves” on our feet. (I remember that Rhoda Scott played her Hammond organ pedals with bare feet). Just as much as we need to feel the manuals in our fingers/hands, we need to feel the pedals in our feet. My organ shoes are supple (i.e. not too thick or sturdy) leather shoes with thin leather soles, almost (but not quite) like moccasins. The soles are “slippery” and without patterns or anything like that. These shoes are a snug fit on my feet so my feet can’t move about in them. They are not too tight by any means. They are round shaped where my toes are and have a normal, round heel (certainly not high heels, haha). These shoes enable me to slide over the pedals and dance when required. In shape, as I said they are round (slightly pointed is also an option) so moving from one black key to the next (adjacent) black can easily be done without getting stuck between black keys and white keys. Heel-to-toe movement is natural and without effort. The thin soles allow me to really feel the pedals, and there is the similarity with fingers feeling the keys on the manuals. In these shoes, my feet know the “topography” of the pedal board so it is rarely necessary to look down to direct my feet on sight. These, all in all, are the characteristics of my organ shoes. They are now more than 35 years old (my second pair of organ shoes) and I only wear them when playing the organ. I will never ditch these shoes of course (unless my feet change in future or when these shoes fall apart).
Hope this helps when folks think about/need to select organ shoes. And so, with good organ shoes, pedal miracles will happen! (to put a little twist on your tagline).
Best to both of you and Merry Christmas,
V: That’s, I think, a very interesting story, Ausra. Right?
A: Yes, it seems like Rob is really in love with his organ shoes, because he describes them so carefully and in great detail.
V: Couldn’t they be so flexible and sensitive because they are very old?
A: I think that adds to that, as well, to this quality of being flexible. And of course he loves them, because he has played with them for so many years!
A: I guess when you wear some kind of shoes for so many years, you don’t feel them! You can get a feeling that you’re barefoot, as well!
V: Right. So, playing without shoes, barefoot, is quite tricky, and not practical at all, actually!
V: Because, the pedal board is messy and dusty.
A: You may have to vary your playing socks! You come to church and bring your socks, you know, and change them!
V: With socks there is a possibility, but then I think you damage your socks pretty easily and soon. I think if you have leather soles on your woolen socks, that might better. But you still need the heel!
A: Sure. And let me talk a little bit about comparing the manual part with that pedal part. I don’t think it’s a fair thing to compare these two, and to put an equality sign between them. Because, look at the score—how many notes you have to play with your hands, and how many with your feet—and you will notice a great difference. So, I don’t think it’s comparable, you know, the difficulty of the pedal—playing pedals—and playing the manuals. I think in general that the problems with playing pedals are greatly exaggerated. That’s what I feel about it. And also, that problem of finding the right shoes is also greatly exaggerated. Because, I think that hitting the right key in the pedal board is not so much of having the right shoes as it is having the right muscle memory.
V: And it also depends on how many organs you have played. If you’re playing just one organ, than you can really play with your eyes closed!
A: True, because that muscle memory develops.
V: If you have played five organs, and you have to switch to the sixth organ, then I think the problem is apparent right away. But, it reduces with each new instrument that you try, I think.
A: True! And let’s say you are a beginner and you play on one instrument, only, and you get fairly comfortable with that pedal board, and then you move to the next organ with the same shoes, actually, and you see that you cannot hit the right keys, and you have to look.
V: Yes, I have experienced that many times!
A: Have you changed your shoes? No! If you just changed the pedal board, that’s where the problem is.
V: Exactly! If you have a problem with playing pedals, change the pedal board!
A: I don’t mean that, but that’s a great idea!
V: Yeah, until you find the perfect one.
A: True. And also, I wanted to comment a little bit about that Rob said that you don’t play organ with gloves on your arms, and that’s not exactly true, because sometimes you use the gloves when you are playing in Lithuania in Winter in the middle of a no-heat church. You use gloves. Of course, you just have to cut off the tips of the fingers.
V: I’ve played in them many times. They’re quite good for keeping the fingers warm.
A: Maybe you will not be able to play a very virtuosic piece with things like this on your hands, but still, you will be okay with hymns or simple pieces.
V: Simple pieces, yes. Improvisations. Some churches now are heated, luckily.
A: Some. Way too few, I think.
V: Right. Just a few days ago, organ builder Janis Kalninš, from Latvia, came to visit our church, and he brought a colleague organist from Poland, Andrzej Szadejko, who wanted to try out our instrument in our church, and he played there for about one hour or so, and then we talked. He was surprised that it was so warm in our church.
A: Well, it’s heated!
V: And I asked him if many churches in Poland are heated, and he said, “no.”
A: And it’s a big country, so it has many churches.
V: Right. Of course, our situation is different, because our church is owned by the university.
A: Well, but also, you know, I don’t think that the university first installed the heating system, it happened during the Soviet times, because the church was converted into the museum of science, and that’s when they added those radiators. Plus, this year, this last Summer we had such hot weather all the time, and even in September, so the temperature got pretty high.
V: And with each degree when you have a rising in the Summer, the temperament and the pitch level rises, also. Approximately 1 Hz per one degree, I could say. So, if you have about 440, in 18 degrees Celsius, then you will have 441 when you have 19 degrees. When you have 20 degrees, 442, something like that. In the Winter it’s lower, then.
V: Okay, so, I guess Rob’s points are very valid here: You need to think carefully about how to select organ shoes, and sometimes your first choice is not the most fitting one.
A: That’s right.
V: And that’s okay, right? You have to look around and try out several organ shoe pairs. And one final advice would be probably to look at dancer’s shoes. Right?
A: And, I think we have talk about it before.
V: Dancer’s shoes are very similar to organ shoes, and there are more dancers than organists in the world, I guess, so therefore, dancer’s shoes are more popular and easier to find.
A: Well, not every dancer’s shoes will fit for the organ.
V: Exactly. And, the feet are like the third hand to me. Right? You need to treat your feet playing like one additional hand. Don’t you agree, Ausra?
V: Say “yes!”
A: So, still, I think hands are more important.
V: Yes, but together, you have in one hand you have five fingers. With both feet, you have 4 options to play the pedals. toe toe, and heel heel.
A: So you have 10 fingers in your hands, yes, and 4 fingers in your feet?
V: Exactly. That’s what I was trying to say.
V: Okay, guys, thanks for sending these questions. We’re hoping to help you grow, so please keep sending them in the future. And remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen.
SOPP356: I’ve found that it’s more difficult to learn and remember good pedal technique, when you’re changing shoes constantly on which you play pedals
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 356, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Jay and Pauline. They are responding to my blog post from yesterday about playing with pointed high-heel shoes. I talked about when one lady, beginner organist, came and tried to play with high heels and pointed toes. And at the end of it I asked what our listeners think, should she keep trying to adjust to the difficult of playing with these high heels and pointed toes, or should she just get a pair of real organ shoes. So Jay responded with following message:
I think it’s better if she (or anyone) can get closer to a ‘real’ pair of organ shoes. I’ve found that it’s more difficult to learn and remember good pedal technique, when you’re changing shoes constantly on which you play pedals. It’s better to have some consistency.
Some people may not have the funds to purchase great organ shoes, like from the Organmaster site for example, especially students. I don’t have a ‘genuine’ pair of Organmaster shoes either. I’ve thought about purchasing a pair of those, but just haven’t yet. Mainly because I had an older pair of shoes that I just had resoled—just had a leather sole and a higher heel put on them, and they work fine for me. Cheaper too! In doing that though, you need to make sure that if you just replace the heel, that the rest of the sole is leather, or at least not rubber. Something that will slide easily on the pedals.
That’s my two cents worth.
And Pauline writes that she plays organ shoes less. So she writes:
Hi, I play organ shoeless. Because when I took organ lesson before we’re not allowed to wear shoes into the studio. And at home we also don’t wear shoes inside the house.
And after so much practices without wearing shoes, I felt more comfortable without shoes. I can feel the pedals better. 1st day I played in church I also took off my shoes. So I m a naked feet organist. In your opinion what do you think? No standard or just being natural.
V: Interesting comment, right?
A: Yes, it is. And maybe outside [of] answering to Pauline’s part of letter, it’s a very nice one, and I also know some organists in Lithuania who always play without shoes. But, and I played without shoes myself too. I find it sometimes it’s very beneficial to know how to do it. Because let’s say, if you are traveling, and you didn’t take your shoes…
A: with you, and you want to try some new organs, you cannot play with the street shoes. At least I don’t do it because I feel that it’s disrespectful and it’s not a nice thing to play organ with street shoes.
V: Unless you wipe the dust...
A: But, still, I just take my shoes off and play on my socks. A disadvantage of it is, actually there are two disadvantages, because if you are playing a really virtuosic piece, let’s say romantic or modern, not Baroque piece, your ankles will, might get hurt. Because you will have to…
V: Flex it.
A: To flex it too much. And it might be really harmful for your foot. And another thing is that, imagine that you are playing a recital, and organ is not upstairs in the balcony but it’s downstairs in front of people, of your listeners. How do you imagine that happens? Because often in that case, the pedal board is turned in such a way that people would see your feet because it’s one of the most exciting thing for people to watch for organist is dealing with the pedal.
A: And then can’t you imagine that you are walking on your socks, next to the organ bench?
V: With slippers!
A: With slippers. I don’t know, how you go with shoes and then you take the shoes off and put next to the organ bench and then sit down and play. So you might get in a really comical situation.
V: Make this large artistic movement of taking your shoes off so that everybody will see it. it’s part of the game.
A: True. True, and it’s so you might find this very comical situations.
V: Not right that you’re playing without shoes but actually expose your socks and expose the process of taking off the shoes.
A: So I guess it’s a good thing to know how to play without shoes, organ, and to be able to do that, because it’s very useful sometimes. But I also believe that you need to adjust some shoes and practice with them as well.
V: Plus it’s cold in the winter—without shoes.
A: But it might be cold with shoes also, and sometimes it’s better to play on your socks in winter when it’s cold. It’s less dangerous...
A: to play in shoes.
V: Why? This is counter-intuitive, right, Ausra?
V: Explain please!
A: Because your organ shoes is always right on the edge of being too small for you.
V: Mmm-hmm. They fit very…
A: And I had such experience in my life, maybe, I don’t know, twenty years ago. It was December, right around for Christmas and I was performing in one small town in Lithuania, and I was using my organ shoes for like, what, hour and a half, and actually my toes froze.
A: And I was in a big, big, big trouble. And I’m lucky that everything was fine after a while, but it was really bad. I didn’t feel it at the beginning but when we went, left the church, and went to our house, to our, to my parents’ friends house, actually, and I started to feel that something is really, really, really bad with my feet.
A: I had that feeling that somebody took many needles and started to…
A: To hammer my toes. And I took my socks off and I saw that my toes are red and they are actually swollen.
A: And was really, really bad.
V: What degree of frost is this?
A: This is the first degree, I believe.
A: And I got lucky that it wasn’t the higher degree. Because I might end up without toes left at all. So, but luckily that there was a medical student next to us and she told me not to do anything like external with my toes—not to rub them, not to try to put some ointment on them, but she said that I need to get warm from inside. So actually they gave me like…
A: Yes, brandy.
A: Like a hundred of brandy and I really got warm from inside and somehow when I put woolen socks on my feet to keep them warm, and well, I got fine after a couple of days.
V: What if you went to the bathroom and put your feet into the bathtub with a little bit of warm water?
A: Well, she told that it wouldn’t be good.
V: Not hot water but…
A: No, no!
V: But lukewarm...
A: No, no, no, no...
V: Room temperature.
A: Because your skin is very sensitive in cases like this and you might do more harm than good.
V: I’ve noticed that when you are really cold, you’re fingers are cold and you put them under the hot water flow—it’s extremely hot.
A: And actually after that time, I learned my lesson. That now when I know when I will have to perform during winter time in a cold church, I put the woolen socks on my feet instead of organ shoes, and that way I know that I will not froze [freeze] my feet.
V: That’s good to know for other people, I guess, too, who are playing without shoes. But now you are playing with shoes every time, right? In public?
A: Yes, but if it’s really cold, I try just to put them right from my performance and then to take them off.
A: As fast as I can.
V: Not for a long period time…
A: True, true.
V: But just as short period of time as possible. That’s good to know. Thank you guys. If you have any observations about playing with, without regular organ shoes, please keep, send them to us.
A: And another remark about Jay—I think he find a great solution—that he remade his shoes into an organ shoes. I think that’s a very good way to do.
V: Yes. You don’t always have to buy things.
A: That’s right.
V: You can repurpose.
V: Just make sure that the soles are from leather, and that the heel is like three centimeters or two inches high.
A: Yes. And another thing about that lady who played with high heels; maybe she has a French blood. Because I have heard so many stories about these French madams, like Madam Durufle who came actually to Lithuania to perform, way back.
A: And some older colleagues of ours listened to her recital we told that she actually was playing with high heels and really fashionable shoes, and she was just brilliant. So I guess some people can do it.
V: Do you think that Madam (???-12:23) started with high heels?
A: I don’t know.
V: As a beginner organist?
A: I don’t know.
V: That’s the question.
A: I guess French women are very special.
V: But I have no doubt that it’s possible to play with high heels too. It only takes much more effort and much more time to get used to this, because it’s much easier to slip, because of narrow heels. It depends on your needs, I guess, and how fashionable you want to look on the…
A: That’s right.
V: organ bench. Okay guys. Wonderful questions! We hope to help you grow. And remember, when you practice...
A: Miracles happen!
Pointed high heel shoes
Yesterday I had our Unda Maris studio rehearsal where one lady beginner organist came to try out her shoes for organ playing. Her name is Diana and she is playing a trio No. 1 by Lemmens.
These weren't regular organ shoes but the shoes from her collection that she sometimes uses for violin recitals on stage.
They had pointed toes and high heels. I don't usually have a problem with high heels but this time they were narrow. We tried to put them against the pedals and it appeared it would be easy to slip between the keys.
Also their pointed toes would mean that if she placed her toes on the edge of the sharps as we should do, the real end of the shoes would come somewhere in the middle of the sharp key.
I told her to try out and see if this seems comfortable or not. I said that it would take maybe 5 times the energy to hit the right pedals with this kind of shoes.
Of course, we all know the stories about female virtuoso organists who play with high heels but this is really advanced level.
What do you think? Should she keep trying to adjust to the difficulty of playing with these high heels and pointed toes or should she just get a pair of real organ shoes?
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 335 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Neil and he writes:
“Hi Vidas and Ausra,
Thanks for your email and I love your wonderful conversational style! I take it that Lithuanian is your native language but your English is delightful! I admire that so much, as I'm afraid we Americans are mostly unilingual. My grandfather sang songs in Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, and English. His father was Polish but he grew up in Lithuania because his mother's family owned a farm there, I think not far from Kaunas. On a musical note, I will soon be taking my first formal organ lessons, from a local church organist. The church where I am choir director will pay for them, and I am delighted.
I've been a musician/music teacher for forty years, but not on the organ. I'm still looking for organ shoes, but my feet are extra wide, and I also need loafers, because I prefer not to deal with the laces. Will I be able to find organ shoes like that?
Thank you again for your wonderful, inspiring messages and music. God bless--you are both earning your angel wings!
V: Wow, what can you say Ausra?
A: That’s a very nice letter. Thank you Neil. And our English is not as delightful, at least not for my ears.
V: Many people say we have Russian accents, at least I do.
A: And it’s funny because the Lithuanian and Russian actually they stem from different language groups and they are not similar anyway.
V: And Latvian organ builder Janis Kalnins who worked on our church’s organ, St. Johns organ, he said that I have a Russian accent when I talk in English.
A: That’s funny because you can talk Russian very well.
V: But when I talk Russian what kind of accent do I have?
A: Lithuanian probably, maybe English.
V: Umm-hmm. I forgot most of my Russian of course, because we have been western oriented for so long.
A: True, true.
V: And of course interestingly enough, some YouTuber who watched my videos online said I look like Count Dracula with a funny accent.
V: Count Dracula is because of my teeth and funny accent is probably because of this Russian.
A: True. But the funniest thing is that when we lived in Ann Arbor for two years, Michigan, many people thought that we are from Germany, somehow, I don’t know why.
V: We look like from Germany to them probably.
A: (laughs.) Anyway we look like from nowhere in Europe because of all those blue eyes.
V: And relatively like here.
V: It’s nice that Neil’s father was Polish and he grew up in Lithuania.
A: But yes, I feel he sort of a little bit sorry for Americans who cannot learn languages very well because then you are living in a big country that has a need for it.
V: You have a need for Spanish for sure.
A: Yes, I guess so, yes, because remember when we lived in Nebraska for three years even in Lincoln we had a few places where you could find Spanish signs.
V: Umm-hmm. Bilingual.
A: Bilingual. On Mexican restaurants or at Mexican stores…
V: Or even in super-markets.
A: Yes and we had quite a few Mexicans living there and I guess the more south you go the more Spanish folks you would get.
V: I wish I knew how to talk in Polish.
A: True. And it’s funny because I spent most of my life in Vilnius where I was born and Polish folks did a great influence to Vilnius because at some time it even belonged to Poland. And I guess there are still some different feelings about that subject between Poles and Lithuanians. Well anyway but it’s my hometown so I consider as my town. But most of my relatives came from the southern part of Lithuania which was actually related to Germans and even in their language they still use some really German words. I don’t think they even know that those words are German.
V: For example?
A: Like for example “stube”. Who in Lithuania would call their house “stube?” (laughs.) Nobody but in that region but funny enough is that it is close to the Polish border and on the TV in the summer time you could watch the Polish channels so most of my cousins actually we learned Polish by watching the TV.
And they are so surprised and amazed and looks at me as a dummy because I don’t know Polish while living all my life in Vilnius. But actually on the street you cannot hear a lot of Polish speaking.
V: Unless you go to the villages and other small towns around Vilnius. Then there is a lot of Polish people.
A: Or you will go to a Polish mass.
V: Umm-hmm. Like the Church of the Holy Ghost where this famous 1776 Casparini organ is. It’s completely Polish congregation. No Lithuanian masses are held there. Only in Polish. So it’s really useful in that case if we knew some Polish I think we could connect much better with the Polish congregation.
A: True. I don’t think it would be so hard to learn it because you know Russian so Polish still is related to it. It is the same language group – Slavic. Well and I think it’s so wonderful that Neil is starting to learn to play the organ.
V: Good luck, Neil. We hope you will learn a lot and enjoy the process. And let us know how your progress goes and of course, you need organ shoes for that.
A: True. But if it’s really hard for you to find something maybe, I don’t know if in the United States there are people who do that, but I’m sure there must be some who actually make special shoes.
V: Custom shoes.
A: Custom shoes. They measure your foot and take measurements and do things.
V: It’s like when you go to the tailor and he could create a suit for you so the same is with shoemaker probably.
V: Do you think there are shoes without laces?
V: It would also be very comfortable for my feet because I am lazy.
A: I know you are too lazy to. For women yes, for men unfortunately not.
V: I haven’t seen. But you could maybe buy loafers which would look sort of similar to organ shoes, right? What you need is pointed toes and maybe two or three inches of heels, leather soles and that’s it probably. What else?
A: Well anyway I think for man it’s easier to find suitable shoes comparing to women.
V: And those loafers need to have thin soles, not thick, because you need to bend your or flex your soles and feet, sometimes.
A: Well yes.
V: Umm-hmm. Let us know how it goes, it will be interesting to see if you find any. And if you find any loafers that fit your feet and look good when you play the organ and fits well maybe you could take a picture and send it to us and we could share it on the blog.
V: Wonderful. Thank you guys for sending these questions, we love helping you grow. And remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
#AskVidasAndAusra 90: What type of shoes you should wear while playing organ pedals
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 90 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Sunny. And she writes:
“It would be good to mention the type of shoes you should wear while playing and NOT barefoot like I've gotten in bad habit. My teacher taught me to wear same shoes, with 1/2' heels, carry in bag with my music or keep at the organ.
AND one rule we have in our house: NEVER touch ANY of the 4 keyboards in my home without washing your hands. That’s a big time no no. My grand daughter scolded one of our guests who sat down at our grand piano to play. Too funny, but people don't realize how over time, grime from one’s hands becomes a problem with build up gunk so washing hands should be taught to others for any instrument.”
So first of all, Ausra, let’s discuss: what type of shoes should organists wear while playing the organ?
Ausra: Well, if you live in the United States, then it’s not a problem to get organ shoes, because they have a company that delivers you organ shoes. The only thing you have to do is to submit an obligation--to give them your size, to pay money; and the shoes will come to you.
Vidas: You’re talking about Organmaster® shoes?
Ausra: Yes, that’s what I’m talking about.
Vidas: And you’re wearing those shoes, too, yourself?
Ausra: Yes; and I paid double for them, because we don’t have that treaty between the United States and European Union, so everything that goes above $20, you have to pay extra.
Vida: Yeah, fifteen percent of taxes.
Ausra: Yes. And so now, my last organ shoes are just golden!
Ausra: I paid for them twice!
Vidas: But they are good for you, right?
Ausra: Yes, they are good for me. I’m very glad I have them. But in general, if you cannot access real Organmaster® shoes, you could find similar to what you need for the organ.
Vidas: Something for ball dancing, right?
Ausra: Well...no, no...
Vidas: No? Not the same?
Ausra: No, no, it’s very different. If you mean like folk dancing, then yes, but not ballroom dancing.
Vidas: Mhm, not ballroom.
Ausra: Because they have that very high and narrow heel.
Ausra: Thin heel. So you could not play organ with those shoes. Unless you would be like, a French madam.
Vidas: So probably...an inch would be enough, right, for you?
Ausra: Yes, an inch, maybe an inch and a half.
Ausra: But no more than, probably, two inches. I would say that two inches is the highest heel.
Vidas: Sunny writes that a half inch is a little too small.
Ausra: Yes, definitely, yes.
Vidas: Mhm. Because then you have to twist your ankle a lot when playing heels.
Ausra: Yes. An important thing is that the tip of your organ shoes would be a little bit narrower.
Vidas: The toes?
Ausra: Yes, toes.
Vidas: Mhm. But not too long.
Ausra: Yes, not too long, definitely.
Vidas: So they all should be leather-based shoes--the soles should be leather, right? Not rubber.
Ausra: Yes. Yes, then you could nicely glide through the pedal keys. I think it’s easier for men to find the right organ shoes. But the most important thing is that your organ shoes must be clean, that you would not bring dirt on the organ.
Vidas: For some beginner students, we don’t want to invest, for example, a lot of money for shoes, if they don’t know if they will be playing for a long time, and they just want to try it out. It’s better to just wipe your feet on the carpet (if you have a similar type of shoes). But you want them to be clean: so before playing, have a special carpet next to the organ bench, and clean or wipe your soles, and then you should be ok. For the short term, of course.
Ausra: Yes, for the short term, definitely.
Vidas: What about the second part of the comment, about washing your hands? Have you seen? Remember when we went to some country organs, and we saw some grease on the keyboard, and that means that people really don’t wash…?
Ausra: I know…
Vidas: They maybe eat bacon and then sit down and play.
Ausra: Ooh. That’s disgusting. And I think then rats will just eat those keys! Because they feel some grease on them. Ugh! Sounds very bad. So better wash your hands before playing any type of instrument. But actually, on the other hand, sometimes you can get another problem: for example, I have very dry skin on my fingers. So if I wash my hands each time before sitting down to the organ, I simply will not be able to play. Because the blood will just start to flow from my fingers. I will hurt them. So what I actually must do before playing organ is, I must use some hand cream.
Ausra: Yes, moisturizer. I wasn’t even even able to give my fingerprints when I needed a new passport.
Vidas: So you could be a great bank robber.
Ausra: Yes. They could not scan my fingerprints; and finally they gave me such a very greasy cream to put on my fingers. And after that I was able, finally, to give my fingerprints.
Vidas: I know what you should do. You should break into the Organmaster® shoe company and steal some shoes!
Ausra: Oh yes, but then I would have to go to America, and it would be too expensive! That’s just a joke.
Vidas: You don’t have to explain to people that’s just a joke--it’s not a joke! It could be a real plan, right?
Ausra: Well, you could write a story about that.
Vidas: I may, sometime!
Ausra: It will become a bestseller.
Vidas: At least, in our circle, right?
Vidas: I will have at least one reader.
Vidas: ...And that’s you.
Vidas: Good. So guys, what about playing in your socks? Have you played in your socks?
Ausra: Yes, I did that a few times.
Vidas: Did you like it?
Ausra: Well, it’s okay. It’s better to play in your socks than to play with uncomfortable, unfitting shoes. But definitely if you are playing modern and Romantic music, then you will hurt your ankles so badly, because you will have to turn your feet a lot.
Vidas: I think too much, probably.
Ausra: Yes, too much, and it will be very uncomfortable.
Ausra: But for example, what I experienced when I played in wintertime in an unheated church--when it’s very cold, then it’s better to play in your socks. That way your toes will not freeze so much.
Vidas: Exactly. And your socks could be thick, right?
Ausra: Yes, like wool.
Vidas: And you could add a special leather sole to it, right?
Ausra: Not necessarily. It could be just regular old socks.
Vidas: Uh-huh. Alright, so people can try out what they like, especially in winter. But most importantly, rule number one is: have your shoes or socks or whatever you wear cleaned.
Vidas: Because dust and dirt will definitely damage the action of the organ. Thanks, guys, for listening! And send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. This was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
By Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene (get free updates of new posts here)
My organist shoes doesn't fit me anymore.
I bought them from organmastershoes 11 years ago before leaving Nebraska after our doctoral studies.
They were very convenient and durable for me for a long time. Size 7 (Medium) - that's what I usually wore.
Recently, though, I discovered they are about half size too small and too narrow.
Perhaps my foot has swollen with time.
So yesterday I ordered a new pair (Mary Jane, black, size 7.5 wide). We'll see if they'll fit.
For now I've been playing with thick winter socks from wool with a special leather sole. But no heel.
Not perfect, I know.
Last Saturday, I experimented in playing with my winter shoes on during our recital (don't recommend to anybody this experience). I had to struggle quite a bit to find the right pedals in Heinrich Scheidemann's Canzona.
Through all the worries about hitting the correct pedals, I barely had time to enjoy the incredible sweetness of this music.
Now I can do this at least while listening to the recording.
High heels of organist shoes
Women organists often have to play the organ with the shoes which have rather high heels. At first they seem to be very uncomfortable because there is a danger to slip on the pedalboard and hit the wrong notes all the time. Is it possible to make the playing with such shoes more comfortable and secure?
It's difficult for me to tell for sure because I don't use such shoes but from what I have observed when some of my organ students play is that it gets easier with time.
One student recently came to the lesson with a new pair of shoes. I asked her how she felt (she was playing chorale prelude "Wir glauben all an einen Gott" by J.L.Krebs with double pedals). She performed it with some pedal mistakes, more than usual, actually.
The next week her pedal playing was better and the week after that - almost without mistakes. So I think it takes about 3 weeks of daily practice to adjust to new heels and new shoes in general. She confirmed this idea.
There are some women organists who play organ with extremely high heels flawlessly. How do they achieve such perfection even playing pieces which have passages of pedal scales and arpeggios?
The answer might have some variables but generally, pedal preparation always helps to make the pedal technique automatic and mistake-free. It takes about 80 repetitions of the same passage to make it second nature over the number of days.
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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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