I'd like to share with you the interview with one of the titular organists of Notre Dame, Olivier Latry about cathedral's grand organ, it's present state and it's future:
Thanks to John Higgins who shared it with me.
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It seems like the great organ of Notre Dame has been saved. Not clear how much damage has been done at this point. The choir organ is soaked with water but remains unburned.
It's a miracle...
The most pressing thing for the short term is to secure the vault and structure from collapsing. The idea of removing the organs to a safe place is being discussed.
We'll wait for further news...
Ausra and I luckily visited this instrument back in 2014. Some of you may know that I was scheduled to play there on the 31st of August this year and Ausra - in July, 2020...
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I don't know if this is possible but the great organ of Notre Dame in Paris might be saved from the cathedral fire. Don't have any further details. Only saw a message on Facebook saying that the Archbishop of Paris announced it is possible that the great organ is saved.
Would be a miracle...
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Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 390 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. And this question was sent by Erika. She writes:
Pedalboard on the church organ hasn’t been working for a few weeks. I accompany the piano - the piano is the main instrument. But the organ fills in the bass line and adds depth to the sound. So I have had to find another way to bring out the bass to the best of my ability. What I have done during this time is play soprano, alto, and tenor with the right hand and do the bass in octaves with my left hand, keeping it as legato as I can. It’s been a challenge - kinda figuring things out as I go. Thankful that the organ is not the main instrument - it gives me a bit of space to learn this new way of playing and hide my uncertainties. Thankful also that the organ should be fixed soon. But it has been interesting to have to figure out in a different way what the purpose of the organ is at my church and to find another way to accomplish that purpose.
V: Have you ever played, Ausra, like that, in octaves with the left hand, and three voices in the right hand?
A: Well, hymns on the piano, no. Because, usually, there are possibilities to play piano and to play organ you just pick up the different hymns with different accompaniment—the ones that are suited for piano, because I don’t think it’s such a nice solution to double things in octaves, playing on the piano.
V: You mean like a regular hymn chorale tune wouldn’t sound nice?
A: Yes, I don’t think so.
V: With three voices in the right hand, right? It has to be choral SATB texture.
A: If you want to have a prominent bass, maybe you need not to play bass in octaves, but just to play it an octave lower.
V: An octave lower, exactly.
A: I think it would be better, at least for my understanding of how it goes.
V: But then, obviously, the tenor line would not be able to be played with the left hand, because the distance between the bass and…
A: But anyway, Erika doesn’t play tenor in the left hand in this case, so…
V: Ah, I see. Ok, so, playing it one octave lower, maybe she does that, I don’t know. She doesn’t specify.
A: Well, she says that she plays three voices with the right hand, and she plays octaves with the left hand, so it’s very specific.
V: But where is this octave? Lower or in the normal range? We don’t know. If it’s in the normal range, then obviously, it would be better to drop one octave lower.
A: But I just wonder how she plays those octaves legato, as she says. How is it possible? Unless she uses a lot of the pedal, and then I don’t think it’s very nice, because I think then everything goes very muddy because of her 5 voice texture.
V: Yes, it’s hard to know. So in every situation, probably, you need to trust your ears, and even record yourself from a distance, how you sound….
A: But anyway, when you are playing on the piano, don’t try to pretend that you are playing on the organ, because it’s a completely different instrument, and the tricks that you use on the organ don’t work on the piano. So, I don’t think you would have to imitate organ while playing the piano. A piano is a piano, so when you are playing on the piano, just know that you are playing on the piano.
V: On the piano you could add piano texture with more arpeggios.
A: Sure, that, I think, would be more suitable.
V: Make it more lively and moving. Not as stationary, because remember, piano sound fades quickly, and you need some tricks to make it sustainable.
V: So, we hope this was useful to you, please keep sending us your wonderful questions, and remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen.
PS David who transcribed this conversation later clarified the situation:
Dear Vidas and Ausra,
I don't think that Erika is playing the piano at all. I get the idea that Erika meant that both the piano and the organ are being played on the hymns in the service at the same time by two different people. She is playing the ORGAN, not the piano, and is doubling the base in her left hand while playing three voices in the right hand until her organ pedal board gets fixed (so it would maybe imitate a 16' and 8' in the bass since she probably doesn't have a 16' stop available on the manual).
At the same time, someone else is playing the piano (I have been in several churches where the hymns are played on both piano and organ at the same time).
In her church, I think she is saying that the piano player leads the hymns, and the organist is more in the background accompanying the pianist.
SOPP338: I don't think our church will be willing to spend any more money for fixing keys in our digital organ
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 338, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Estella. And he writes:
My dear Vidas,
I have subscribed to your organ blog and it has helped answer some questions about improving my organ skills, thank you.
I have a question about the Allen Chapel organ, which is the one that I use at my church. Last year one of the keys on the Great Manual started clicking or clacking (G). After calling a repairman and 500.00, it was repaired. Just recently, the B flat key has started making the same sound. I don't think our church will be willing to spend any more money. Do you know a quick or inexpensive way that it can be fixed?
Hope you can help,
V: Ausra, you go first.
A: Well, sometimes people think that we are source of...
A: Some sort of yes, magicians, or organ doctors. Yes, we have doctorate degrees but not in organ maintenance.
V: And not in organ building.
V: And especially not in electronic organ building.
A: Sure. For me, I think it’s time since one key had the same problem and now another begins to have the same problem, probably that keyboard is just worn out.
A: And I guess the smartest thing would be to get a new instrument.
A: That’s what I could suggest.
V: Because, even if your congregation would be willing to spend 500.00 for repairing B flat key, maybe in a few months you will need D key, and then the G sharp, and maybe A and so forth.
A: And only repairing one key, and to take 500.00, I don’t know in which…
V: I presume…
A: But then if it’s U.S. dollars, so, I don’t know, Euro’s is, it’s highway robbery I think.
A: So you better watch out what are you calling to help you with your organ.
V: To really get acquainted with the prices, maybe you could check out representative of Allen Digital Organs in your area, maybe in your state, or in your, where ever you live. For example, in Lithuania, we have a person who is representative not only in Lithuania but also in other Baltic countries, I think, and also in Poland, I believe. So, but he’s official. The prices could be checked and compared. So look at the website of your organ company first of all and see if they have affiliates.
A: Yes, true.
V: Another thing, is, as Ausra is suggesting, to really get maybe, start thinking about possibility to raise money for a new instrument, and not necessarily an electronic one, right? Because that’s the thing about electronic organs. They, we all know that electronics last only a few years. Home appliances and T.V. sets and computers get out of order pretty soon after the warranty...
V: Period ends.
A: Sometimes I think that somehow we just calculate it when things will start broken.
V: Mmm-hmm. It’s like maybe after five years, problems will start to be quite prevalent. We know some examples in our city that people are playing electronic instruments and they’re not really happy at all.
A: True. And what I would do if I would be in Estella’s shoes, and would still have to play that organ with that B key not working…
V: B flat, right?
A: B flat, yes, not working, yes, as it should. I would choose my repertoire according. You could do that by choosing wisely the keys which you are performing.
V: To omit B flat.
A: That’s right.
V: And then play A sharp.
A: No. You, don’t make dopes of me.
V: I’m not making fun of you, I’m just making fun of situation.
A: I know but I’m trying to help! And of course use another manual as much as possible. Because I assume it has at least two.
V: Yes, you still have one more at least left.
A: So, yes, play more on that one, and on the Great, you just need to watch certain keys. And not only like B flat major or B flat minor but also you need to avoid like B minor too, or B major.
A: Because they would have this B flat or A sharp, a lot.
V: Oh, that’s a seventh scale degree.
A: True. And of course it’s actually very bad because it’s quite a common key.
V: Mmm-hmm. All flat keys have B flat.
A: I know, and even F major or d minor.
V: Even if you play everything in C major, if you want to modulate…
A: Well play in C major and A minor, that would be the best.
V: But even if you…
A: Oh no, G major, E minor, that would work just well.
V: But what I’m saying is that sometimes music modulates, and you can’t avoid that.
A: Well, play them on another manual.
V: Another manual, yeah, for now. But that’s the thing with these electronic keyboards—nobody can repair them but the official repairman. And they might be really pricey. Maybe that guy was official and maybe that’s his price point—500.00, for...
A: That’s horrible.
V: And maybe you will not find anyone else to help.
A: I think that’s just horrible.
A: I cannot believe it.
V: Mmm-hmm. Neither can I. But if there is nobody else, you see, what can you do. Like in mechanical action organs, you could sometimes figure out by yourself. If there is some sticky key, you could figure out what’s happening. Maybe you could adjust the spring a little bit to make it a little bit stronger and maybe then it will start to work. What the problem is, I don’t know, maybe the string, maybe the valve. Maybe two adjacent keys are touching each other. Maybe you need to clean it up a little bit. Maybe there is a dead mouse or something stuck. Maybe that’s the same thing in that B flat key, but you can’t do this yourself unless you know electronics.
A: And right now I’m thinking about old saying, this is, that ‘the greedy pays twice’.
A: Do you know such a saying, Vidas?
V: You mean that the church, which…
A: They wanted to save money basically…
V: To save money.
A: So we bought electronic organ.
A: And that’s very often the case.
V: Mmm-mmm. I know some of our readers will be disappointed at our conversation now because they love electronic organs. But what you do in the situation?
A: Well, because it’s not too bad electronic keyboard for example, at home, as your practice organ. That’s very appropriate I think. And because only you will use that organ and it doesn’t take much space, so it’s very handy, and actually I think it’s a good choice if you cannot have another kind of instrument, or afford another kind of instrument.
A: But think about churches, about institutions...
A: And, I’m just thinking that to buy an electronic keyboard it’s sort of really chicken vision.
V: Mmm-hmm. Instead of…
A: I’m sorry if I offended anybody, but…
V: No. You didn’t offend Estella. I think, she didn’t buy this instrument, you know. I think somebody else in that congregation decided to invest just a little bit of money, not more, and that’s very, not far-sighted. Because properly maintained pipe organ can play for generations.
A: Yes. For centuries.
V: Yes! As we see around the world, there are organs still working from 16th Century, in Italy for example.
A: That’s right.
V: In Bologna. And it’s still playing.
A: So if you will think in long terms, I think it’s much more adequate to put in a larger amount, but to get a sure thing.
V: Mmm-hmm. So a short term solution of course would be to avoid playing the Great manual with the flat keys. And sometimes you can get around with playing with different octaves, I think.
A: Yes, you could do it.
A: Sometimes that’s a case too.
V: But mostly use the second manual, the Swell manual if it has two manual. And also check if that repairman is official. Maybe there are other legitimate choices to call and maybe they could do the work on the same quality but much cheaper.
V: I’m not sure about that actually, but, 500 dollar for one key seems a lot.
A: It seems, yes...
A: Way too much.
V: Mmm-hmm. Okay. Thank you guys for this question. I don’t know if we’ve been helpful or not but we tried to do our best. But we have some boundaries because we lack electronic engineering background. And plus, Estella didn’t say what the problem was. She didn’t explain. Even to engineer, engineer wouldn’t know how to do. Maybe more details are needed. But anyway, we tried to help. Please send us more of your 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 309 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Michael and he writes:
"Hi Vidas, You're very welcome! I very much enjoy your music scores, and I intend to purchase more in the future. Thank you for making them available for purchase! They are all excellent works. I was hoping you and Ausra might consider discussing the following organ history subjects in future podcasts: 1. When was the organ introduced into the Christian liturgy? Where were the first church organs installed (e.g. in which regions of Europe or Western Asia, etc)? How did the earliest organists serve in the context of the liturgy? Were the service-playing responsibilities quite different from that of a parish organist today? What was the medieval (pre-Tridentine) mass like? 2. Historical tunings/temperaments: Pythagorean tuning, Mean-tone temperament, the "well-temperaments," etc. When and were where these tunings were used? 3. Compositional practices/features of organ music prior to 18th century? Who were the key composers in the development of organ music composition from the medieval period to the 17th century? Thank you for your very helpful and informative podcast and blog posts! Most sincerely, Michael"
V: What do you think for starters, Ausra?
A: Well I thought how many dissertations one could defend on these subjects.
V: This is like an outline of at least several organ literature classes and workshops too. Organ literature, organ building, what else? Organ composition probably, history of organ composition. So these are all questions that Michael is very interested and we really appreciate the broadness of these topics.
A: I think we might have to divide them somehow.
V: Obviously it’s impossible to cover even in a detailed manner at least a few of them in one sitting. Even in one sitting it would be impossible to do detailed analysis of one question because for example when Michael asks about how did the earliest organist serve in the context of the liturgy we could talk for hours about that. Or what was the medieval mass like? These are very broad questions. For this conversation what would you like to start with Ausra?
A: Maybe from the beginning.
V: When was the organ introduced into the Christian liturgy? This is a riddle.
A: This is a riddle. I don’t think anybody has solved it yet. But, from what we know now, that organ came to the monasteries first.
V: Remember that book by Peter Williams. He wrote many books but I’m thinking that actually any book that he wrote about the history of the organ would deal with that question because he kind of specializes in that history of the organ art and I think that I read about a gift by the Byzantine emperor to the father of Charles the Great, Pepin the Short was his name, in the year of 767 I think and the history was that he gave a gift of organ, probably positiv organ, and Pepin the Short was so impressed that he asked his monks to dissect how this organ was constructed and build more of them for him.
A: I don’t think that right at the beginning they were used for liturgical purposes.
V: So that’s into the western part of Europe from the Byzantine empire. If we’re talking about ages before that how did organ come into the Christian liturgy in general, let’s say into Byzantine liturgy, we don’t know for sure obviously, but we might guess it was like maybe 1000 years ago.
A: I think naturally because you know Byzantine culture took over classical tradition, Greek and roman empire, so that’s how we inherited the organ in general. But I’m not sure that we used much also organ in the liturgy because look at the Orthodox church now. We don’t use instrumental accompaniment at all or instrumental music in the liturgy. Basically we just sing. Voice is the main instrument.
V: I guess it was introduced into the western tradition more deeply about 1000 years ago and they have a theory that it was because organ represented the harmony of the universe in some way, maybe because each pipe was like a human being and together like in a choir they make harmony, those pipes. It’s a complicated theory.
A: Yes, it is. And in general I think that organ was started to use more often when liturgy needed it because in the early time in Catholic churches too basically Gregorian chant was sung and it didn’t need much instrumental support at that time.
V: Umm-hmm. And I guess when we are talking about early Christian liturgy organ was like more of a signal instrument at first. If you look at paintings or representations of early organs in frescoes, medieval paintings, they are small, they sit on a swallows nest on one column and they are very narrow. I think in that case they didn’t have stop handles. They didn’t have possibility to change organ colors. What was this term called? Blockwerk, right?
A: Yes, it was Blockwerk. And I think in Blockwerk you could not use separate organ stops, everything would sound together. And only in the Renaissance I believe this big discovery or organ mechanic was made where you could have separate stops.
V: So if you play on the medieval organ the sound would be like a big, big organ, principal chorus sound with powerful mixtures up to 25 ranks or something like that.
A: And I think with Blockwerk, especially if it was portable it was used during processionals.
V: Right. Do you remember the story of how organ came into Lithuania?
A: Yes, I remember Ulrich von Jungingen.
V: Grand Master of Teutonic Order.
A: Yes he gave us a present to our Grand Duke Vytautas Magnus' wife. Organ and clavichord too, not only organ.
V: Umm-hmm. Clavichord was a novelty at this time and he gave also a portative organ to Vytautas' wife Ona. And it was usual to exchange gifts. I would presume Vytautas would also give gifts on other occasions when he visited Teutonic order too. But remember it was in the year of 1408, two years before the battle of Grunwald in 1410. In the current territory of Poland joined forces of Poland, Lithuania and other united alliances defeated Teutonic order. So maybe Teutonic Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen was trying to avoid this battle.
A: Probably organ was too small to avoid this big war.
V: Right. And those battles actually were part of the expansion politics of Christianity, at least officially.
A: True, true. But it’s funny because our country was already Christian country by this time. It means that all those wars were just somebody’s cover up for basically expanding the territory and taking of money and treasures.
V: Although they were probably officially declared as crusades but…
A: There were no pagans at that time in Europe anymore so…
V: Umm-hmm. They have little to do with religion literally if were talking about religion expansion of Christianity. More about politics.
A: Yes, not let’s go back to the organ. And I think that’s the end of middle ages and renaissance was sort of a very good period for organ to develop and I think it advanced a lot. But still if you look at different countries I believe that basically reformation, especially Luther’s’ tradition gave the biggest inspiration for organ to develop and expand especially if we’re talking about pedal section because if you would take catholic countries such as Italy or France in the early ages the pedal is very undeveloped.
A: But if you look at Northern Germany, look at those big huge pedal towers. Because Catholics at that time didn’t sing I think altogether. And liturgy was more for clergy and people would just observe things what was happening because everything was in Latin and nobody could understand anything so we could just watch. But in Lutheran tradition people became an important part of liturgy itself and congregational singing began to develop and that’s why we needed these big organs, to support congregational singing.
V: And still today in Lithuania congregational singing is not a very strong part of the worship because of that Catholic tradition of Gregorian chant. OK guys, I hope this was useful to you for closing our conversation I think I might add to Michael that if these questions are interesting to him, what he could do, when he’s reading books about that, obviously our Podcasts cannot be the only source for information on such subjects, right. You have to dig deeper but when you dig deeper, and for everybody who digs deeper I think it’s wonderful to a little bit document your discoveries and maybe do it online in the form of little blog or on social media you could have a public record of your discoveries and also you could leave a trace online for other people to follow when they are interested in these subjects in the future.
A: Yes, I think it would be very helpful for others.
V: I know Michael has SoundCloud channel too so he could do a Podcast like we are doing but maybe more about organ history side about what he is studying with. He could do it in written form as well. Alright, wonderful questions brought topics for discussion in the future and please send us more of your feedback and stories. We love helping you grow. And remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
What I'm working on:
Writing in fingering and pedaling for Widor's Toccata. Editing Movement 3 of Sonate No. 1 for Organ (1968) by Teisutis Makačinas. Writing program notes for August 1 organ recital „Vater unser im Himmelreich“ by Gianluigi Spaziani in my church. Writing press release for my August 8 improvisation recital „Little Mermaid“. Transposing hymn setting "God, That Madest Earth and Heaven". Practicing 12 Technical Polyphonic and Rhythmic Studies Op. 125 by Oreste Ravanello. Practicing Hanon "Virtuoso Pianist" in C Lydian mode (from C but with F#). Playing Office No. 34 from “L’Orgue Mystique” by Charles Tournemire. Improvising with Dominant 7th chords in Rondo Sonata (ABACABA) form. Composing "Morning in the Countryside".
I remember the time back in 2007 when I became an organist in Vilnius University St. John’s church. One of my responsibilities was too maintain this instrument and to tune stops. We have to keep in mind that this is the largest pipe organ in Lithuania. It has 3 manuals and 64 stops. It became clear to me very soon that I have to know the inside of the organ very well in order to take care of it. At that time this instrument had a very sensitive action and I was maintaining and regulating this instrument very often.
Can you really be a decent organist and get away without knowing the mechanics of the organ? I know that some people are not interested in knowing the intricate details of how the organ functions and they basically only want to perform on it. But most of the time when an organist duties are not only to play but also to maintain it, I think it’s impossible to do it unless one knows how the organ is constructed, how the sound is being made, where are the pipes located on each of the windchests, how reed pipes or stopped flutes can be tuned, and how the mechanics of the organ function.
Imagine if you know the organ very well and can find any mechanical part without any problem then of course your job is so much easier to notice the cipher for example and then go to the windchest where this part is located. You decide whether the problem is with the pipe or with the mechanics and simply go to the exact spot where the problem is. Then you fix it or you’ll open the windchests, check the valves and check the springs. Sometimes you can't reach the thing or you can't fix the problem. Then you call in an expert organ builder.
Now imagine if you have to play this instrument and you have no idea how it works, you have no idea how the sound is produced, and you have no idea where to find the reed pipes of any specific manual. Then your job is very difficult. You might get frustrated and upset when something unexpected happens. And believe me, an organ throws surprises at you very often.
I usually go in to practice on this instrument just before my recital, normally a couple of hours before and frequently notice that some things have to be tuned or regulated. This also happens before recitals of other organists who play there too. Without any frustration or panic I simply go in and do the work.
Sometimes it takes a few minutes, sometimes half an hour or more depending on the problem but the benefits that this intricate knowledge of the inside of the organ and its mechanics will be clear to any organist who is in similar condition. By the way, your playing itself transforms as well when you know what’s causing the pipes to speak.
Some organists who don't know the mechanical side of the organ very well, can't even properly describe what's wrong. It's usually a problem when they call me or an organ builder to say that some stop "doesn't work" or that "the organ is broken". We go in and see that the problem wasn't a major one at all or that the problem was with something else than they described.
So if you want to have a peace of mind in these stressful situations I highly recommend you get to know the inside of the organ very well. It’s not an easy process, it takes time but you’ll never regret it.
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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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