Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 466 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Ariane, and she writes:
“I don’t know, I am a bit lost. I could not stay with my new organ teacher after all because I am just so busy at work. Ever since I moved to my current city I have found it almost impossible to practice regularly. Maybe I should just have a break or only play what I feel like playing and watch the world move around me. I also wonder whether it is worth working towards a music exam I will never need anyway.”
V: Ausra, have you been ever lost in your organ playing goals?
A: Well, yes! I think everybody experiences it sooner or later.
V: I can remember, I was a little bit lost when we first came back from the United States to Lithuania, I didn’t know what to do. I did know what to hope to achieve. And, I think maybe 6 months or so was just wandering around. But then, somehow, I found my purpose, which by the way, has changed, and has been changing from time to time, and it’s okay.
A: Because, you know, I think there are a few reasons why people practice organ. One thing, I think, if you are a professional and you make your living out of that, you must practice. That’s no matter what; you will practice. Another possibility is that you serve for church. Maybe you are not a main organist or not a music director at church, but you do some sort of service at church, and it doesn’t make your entire living, but it helps to make your living, so that way you have to practice, too. And another case is if you are just playing for fun—if it’s your hobby—you like organ, you like organ music, and you practice because you like it. So, basically, if you are none of these, then I don’t know what kind of motivation you would have to have in order to keep practicing.
V: You definitely need some sort of community support in order to stay with this habit for a long time. Right? Because, only very few people I know can stick with the habit and do it when nobody is looking, for no one’s benefit, just for the sake of practicing. Right? And then this practice is no longer an art, because art has to touch other people. And it’s just practice, which is not bad at all, but it’s very difficult to stick with it this way.
A: So I guess if you see no goal, you need to find a goal.
V: Yes, maybe your goal would be to find a goal—your short term goal would be to find something. To find a purpose why you practice. Ask yourself: If you skipped practice today and tomorrow, would you feel bad about it? Would you miss it? And if your answer is “no,” then maybe organ practice is not so necessary for you, for your well being. But if the answer is yes, if you do miss days when you sit down on the organ bench, then it means something for you, you just have to figure out what does it mean.
A: And I think it means a lot for Ariane, because she wouldn’t write such a letter.
V: Obviously, plus she is our Total Organist student. And we already have this BaseCamp community which support each other.
A: But anyway, since she moved to a new location, as I understood from this letter, I think that might cause this situation, too, because sometimes it’s hard to adapt to a new place. It takes time.
V: Exactly, and she had, probably, this organ teacher with whom she studied for a while, and now she cannot do it because she is busy at work, and all this means that she has to find inner motivation. Not external, but internal motivation. If you have a real physical teacher to whom you go every week, then it’s like a deadline for you to prepare something every week. Or, if you go to church and perform for services, the same thing. Or if you perform at recitals, public performances, the same thing. It’s external motivation. But she no longer has that.
V: So maybe she has to find it.
V: Not necessarily in the form of a teacher, but for example, participating in our Secrets of Organ Playing Contest. And people who participate, we have just a few people, a very small community there, they participate every week, and sometimes they alternate in judging other people’s work as guest judges. Those people really quadruple their motivation to practice, and also their results.
A: Yes, I think it’s a big benefit to participate in something.
V: We saw many videos of those participants over time—over tens of weeks. I don’t remember how many weeks we were doing this. But those who stick with it are definitely progressing very fast.
V: So maybe it’s for Ariane and others who are feeling a bit lost at the moment. Alright guys, this was our advice. Maybe think about your goals and reasons why you practice, and if you’re not feeling motivated, maybe give it a try. Give our suggestions a try, and let us know how it goes. And send us more of your questions, because 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 325, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Andrea. And she writes:
Stage fright, shyness, lack of confidence and lack of patience for the last 10% to make the piece perfect. I have a teacher now for 5 years, tough lady, very demanding. So I am not in the organist’s desert.
V: Okay. How many people, Ausra, have a stage fright?
A: Well I think very many.
V: Did you have a stage fright when you first started playing organ?
A: Of course.
V: Or piano. You were little when you started playing piano, right?
A: Of course, I had it. I think everybody does. Some has beginner stage fright, some not as big but I think that everybody’s frightened, at least a little bit.
V: Mmm-hmm. I’m trying to find one answer by Daniel, I think. And he wrote really great things about stage fright. Let me read what Daniel wrote. To the answer to one organist who also had anxiety issues, he wrote:
Daniel: ‘Hi Vidas. You can tell your email sender that the anxiety originates from the mantle unpreparedness. Here are some of the things I do to prepare myself: Analyze pieces, understand what the composer wants, study the musical elements shown on the pieces, dynamics, articulations, etc. Sight read if playing with the score, isolate your mind to the score in brain, etc. Even if there is a memory lapse, I know I will not have a high anxiety. Very important to think, as to whether or not to focus on people or on the music.
V: That’s nice.
V: Very, I think, very on track advice, I think.
A: That’s true, but I think when you perform live, adrenaline will come. It doesn’t matter if you know piece well or you don’t know it well. If you have analyzed it or you have not. Of course knowing your piece very well and if you are ready for sure, you will not be as anxious about things. But still, you never know what might happen in actual performance. Maybe organ will break.
V: Maybe you will break the organ.
A: That’s true.
V: Or I will break the organ. As I did in the past.
A: Maybe your assistants will do something very stupid—will turn page backwards, as happened to me for example. Not once.
V: And the same person did this to you? Twice?
V: Oh! Will you tell us his name, publicly?
A: No, I won’t. I won’t. It’s rude to ask. So, and I would like to see original question.
V: Original, okay, let’s go back. Let’s go back to the original question.
A: Because we get distracted so easily.
V: So, lack of patience also for the last ten percent to make piece perfect.
A: Well, maybe that also gives you the fright and shyness, that you know that you are not ready to perform. Because as you say, you still have ten percent to make the piece perfect.
V: Imagine if the time comes to perform, let’s say in public, in a situation of liturgical playing or a concert, and you didn’t have this patience, and you didn’t do all the homework in time, right? When the time comes to perform, you will feel actually guilty.
V: I would feel guilty. And because of this guilt, I would feel afraid also.
A: Yes, like school kids, especially younger, in elementary school, we often get the tummy ache. ‘Oh my tummy hurts. I cannot do things.’ And that’s the question arises that tummy hurts, during for example tests. Because actually he or she wasn’t ready for it. And then the body sends all these signals in various pains.
V: I got tummy aches many times before vacuuming the carpet.
V: Mmm-hmm. In my childhood.
A: That’s because you were lazy.
V: And my mom then said ‘maybe I should rub your tummy, clockwise.’ And that helped. And my cousin, she saw me through very truly and she discovered that I was actually pretending.
A: Well, actually, you were a very spoiled child. My mother would never massage my tummy.
A: Clockwise. She would notice right away if I’m lying or not.
V: But that didn’t hurt me in the long run. Or did it?
A: I think it did, in some ways, yes.
V: And can you be more specific, please?
A: I think you haven’t formed your character.
V: Character! What do you mean?
A: Well I think it’s still hard for you to do some homework. Some domestic works.
V: You know what helps, Ausra? And I’m now really being really honest, in front of thousands of people? I’m inserting an earplug in my ear, and when I have to do some homework chores, church or work outside, or just do some manual work, right? I listen to inspirational podcasts, and that helps me to,,,
V: To survive, yes.
A: That’s nice. At least you found a way to help you, so I’m glad for it.
V: And, by the way, what helps you to do all those works? Do you have special secrets, or special secret ear plugs too?
A: No, but I’m trying to do every, every job that I do with love, and care, and it helps.
V: Oh. That’s deep. I don’t know. I need an hour to think about it. Okay, let’s go back to Andrea.
A: Yes, and now she says that she has teacher for five years now, a tough lady. And she writes that she is not in an organ desert. So, five years, I think that’s a long time, and if I would be Andrea, I would definitely want to study with somebody else, after taking five years of lessons with one person. Because that lady might be the most fabulous organist and organ teacher. I think in five years, you will, you already learned from that lady what she could give to you. And maybe you need to look for somebody else.
A: Yes. Don’t you agree, that five years, that is sufficient?
V: Well, look, we had for a few years, different organ teachers at the Lithuanian Academy of Music, right? I studied for four years with Leopoldas Digrys and then for two years with Gediminas Kviklys, right? So that was, I think, four years it was for me quite enough to know all about the secrets, secret methodology of Leopoldas Digrys. And then of course, two years with Gediminas Kviklys also gave me ample time to transmit his knowledge. And then what else? In Michigan, with Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra for two years, in Nebraska, two years with Quentin Faulkner, and, I think two and a half years with Quentin Faulkner and one semester with George Ritchie, right?
A: You are asking me. I don’t know, it’s your studies.
V: But I forgot. I’m getting old.
A: Well, you need to do more mental work.
V: I’m older than you, remember.
A: Yes, by four months. That’s a big difference.
V: When I was four months old, you were not born, you see. It’s a big difference.
A: Yes, it is. So for Andrea, my advice would be, maybe you need to look for another teacher.
V: Teacher, okay. Hopefully she’s living in an area where more teachers are on the market. Okay guys. Thank you so much for sending these questions to us. We hope our answers educate you, entertain you, and inspire you in some way. And remember, when you practice...
A: Miracles happen!
By Vidas Pinkevicius (get free updates of new posts here)
Yes and no. Think about it for a moment.
When Ctesibius who lived in Alexandria in 3rd century BC and invented water organ, the hydraulis, did somebody teach him how to do it?
Who taught the author of the Robertsbridge Codex in the 14th century? There must have been some mentors from whom this composer (or a group of composers) received his training.
What about Conrad Paumann, the author of Fundamentum Organisandi in the 15th century? He was blind, yet became one of the most important musicians of his generation. Again, he was an apprentice to some master.
We can go on to later centuries, when Sweelinck, Buxtehude, or Bach were active.
That was a time before formal music schools but they all had their training from the masters.
What does it tell you about today?
Yes, you need a mentor to learn the basics.
Good news, you no longer have to walk 400 miles from Arnstadt to Lubeck to study with the master.
Now we have the Internet and we can connect with whoever we want and learn from whomever we want.
For the first time in history of humanity, geography is getting less and less significant.
When we think about it, it's not really the lack of access to a local organ teacher that's stopping us from achieving our dream, isn't it?
By Vidas Pinkevicius (get free updates of new posts here)
Something is not right with the relationship between a student and a teacher when the student gladly obeys the teacher all the time.
No discussion, no debate, no sharing of ideas, just pure compliance.
Every teacher wants to raise students who would in some way walk the trail that the teacher has blazed before.
This means generating ideas and sharing them with others.
This is what teaching and leading by example is, right?
But how can a teacher hope to raise a leader, if all the student does is prepare for tests, do exercises, and follow instructions all day long.
I always say that the right kind of teaching happens when the teacher bothers the student.
Not in an intimidating way but sort of helping them go were they are afraid to go just yet.
Sure it's risky. The results are slow and often unpredictable.
But sometimes in 3 months or later you get an answer, like, "you know, I'm starting to realize what you were talking about back then."
Imagine that you don't have an organ teacher, never took organ lessons, don't have enough time to practice, and feel that your age might slow down your progress. On top of that, since you lack any formal training in organ playing, you are using only left foot for pedals when you play at your church. Is it still possible to achieve your dream which is to enhance your knowledge in music in every sense of the word, including music theory?
Let's start from the beginning and consider each obstacle in turn.
The fact that you don't have an organ teacher or can't find an experienced one in your area or even country, might have been very difficult to overcome years ago. Basically, you would be stuck with what you have. But now when we connect with each other online being tenths of thousands of miles away, it's no longer a viable excuse not to progress.
When you start playing the organ without the help of a real teacher after a while this might lead to incorrect practice habits that in time inhibit your development as well. Again, in earlier days sometimes this would mean an insurmountable challenge to some but now it's never too late to start practicing with the help of the person you know, like, and trust (if you have been studying this blog with training programs for a while and find them valuable, then you are doing just that).
Lack of time in today's busy person's life is such a common problem that I could easily say majority of questions I get concern with finding more time for practice. Sometimes people's schedules are too stuffed with other obligations that don't leave some room for your self-improvement. In this case, consider your priorities and make the time for your own well-being (even if it's only 15 minutes a day). On the other hand, it happens that a person wants too many things at once which is a different matter. It's way better to excel at only one or two things instead of having only shallow knowledge and skills in many areas. In the words of Zig Ziglar, become a meaningful specific instead of wondering generality.
What to do, if you are not young anymore and still want to improve? I would say that this is not a real obstacle, only the one which we sometimes create in our minds. In fact, for people of older age, it's so valuable to have some dream and actively take daily steps to achieve it than to watch TV all day long. Mental practices of various kinds (including organ playing and music theory) enhance brain activity which slow-down the effects of the time on us. Plus, it's fun and not boring.
I know of some organists who never actually tried to perfect their pedal playing and limited their skills to adding the pedals with their left foot here and there. When you can do most of the playing with your hands, having only optional bass notes for the pedals with time eliminates the need to improve. Then the vast amount of even easy organ repertoire with pedals is not accessible to you.
It's never to late, though, to change your habits and develop both feet equally. It starts with treating your pedal part of the piece or the bass part of the hymn as an additional hand. The first step is to try, the second - to fail and fail until you succeed.
[HT to Liza]
Next up is facing the challenges on the way to becoming a world-class organist.
Part II: Allegro Maestoso e vivace from Organ Sonata No. 2, in C minor, Op. 65 by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) who was a German composer, pianist, organist, and conductor of the early Romantic Period.
Jesus, King of Glory
Some people need a teacher for the security of someone giving them directions. "Do what I say."
Some people need a teacher for the deniability of following instructions. "If you do what I say, you will not get in trouble."
Some people need a teacher for the authority of someone giving them orders. "I'm the boss here and you wouldn't survive without me."
Some people need a teacher for the comfort of avoiding fear. "You don't have to be afraid - I'll take full responsibility for your actions."
Some people need a teacher for someone showing them their mistakes. "You don't have the education and the experience to know what's right or wrong."
Some people need a teacher for the pleasure of giving them credit when it's working. "You did a good job today. Try even harder tomorrow."
Some people need a teacher for the stability of knowing what to do next. "Here's the manual. Look on page 23 and do step 4."
But of course, that's not a teacher, that's a manager.
Other people, though, need a teacher who would get out of the way and trust them to have the courage to change everything. "I haven't seen you making enough mistakes lately. I want you to do more of them, please."
But of course, that's not only a teacher, that's an artist.
...is not the same as good organ teacher.
A famous organ teacher is like a brand name you see on TV often enough. The fact that you know this teacher doesn't necessarily mean he is good for you (or you are good for him).
The best teachers I know let their students figure out the problems for themselves. They show them the way, lead them, inspire them but let them do the work.
Many superb organists are mediocre teachers. And the opposite is also true: many excellent teachers are mediocre organists.
If you feel discouraged that you can't afford a famous organ teacher, it's not clear to me that this isn't just one of the excuses your Resistance wants you to believe.
Remember, all help is self help (except maybe for surgery).
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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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