Last Sunday (February 9, 2020) Ausra and I played an organ duet recital at Olaus Petri church in Örebro, Sweden. I hope you will enjoy the recital video.
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 475 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. And today, we would like to talk about our recent trip to Denmark to Svendborg and Copenhagen. In Svendborg, we played our organ duet recital, in the Svendborg International Organ Festival, so I thought it could be a nice opportunity to talk about it in greater detail. Right, Ausra?
V: Here is the video of the recital for our subscribers to watch. So, Ausra, what was your overall experience about this trip?
A: About the trip, or about the concert?
V: Let’s start about the trip.
A: Well, it was a hard trip, because I was sick during the entire trip, so I had a very severe bacterial infection, and it just began during our trip at the beginning of this, so I had a fever while playing this recital, so it was basically a tough trip.
V: It was difficult, I think, to travel without antibiotics, and without a prescription, you cannot get it easily.
A: You cannot get it at all without a prescription, so…
V: Right. Even at home in Lithuania, it’s a tough time, sometimes, to get those. You have to go to the doctor. But if you are traveling abroad and you are a foreigner, you have to know the local rules, and it wasn’t easy to find out. But, luckily, we managed to call a doctor late at night, and had a phone consultation with him, and he prescribed antibiotics for Ausra, which started helping her, I think. Right?
A: But that was already after the recital, so it didn’t help me to perform.
V: So, talking about performance, what did you think about that organ, first of all?
A: I liked it very much, actually. I thought as a Marcussen, it was really nice.
V: It was an improved Marcussen from 2016. They did renovation on it and added additional manuals—swell manual plus additional combination action, I think, plus some other things, too, so that the organ wouldn’t sound so screamy.
A: Well, the more I travel and the more I try new instruments, actually, the more I probably dislike our organ at St. John’s’s Church, because it’s a clumsy and really difficult instrument to play. Despite all this beautiful church and all this wonderful acoustics, and despite some really nice organ stops, but in general it’s very hard to play it.
V: It needs, also, renovation, I think, about mechanics.
A: And you know, when you travel, for example, as we went to Alpe d’Huez or here in Svendborg, and you find these spectacular organs, well taken care of, and it’s just wonderful.
V: Exactly. What did you think about our program? I know it was a new one for you, and not a very easy one.
A: And I think it was new for you, too, or not?
V: It depends. Some of the pieces I played as a solo, maybe we should…
A: Oh, okay, I see, so I did the hard part, then. Yes? Learning all the new stuff!
V: Yes! Maybe we should list the pieces that we played, first. We played….
A: Of course, nobody will no them, because they are all Lithuanian.
V: We played an all Lithuanian program, and started with an arrangement of “Symphonic Poem in the Forest,” by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, a Lithuanian composer from the beginning of the century, end of the 19th century. And, I think that was the first time it was performed on the organ.
A: Yes, definitely.
V: I think my own impression was that I liked it, even when we practiced on our little home organ, and when we started playing it, it was such a wonderful experience in Svendborg.
A: Yes, true.
V: It sounded like an orchestra, really. Although, registration changes had to be done very cleverly and set up in advance, and it was very long—time consuming.
A: Yes, I think this rehearsal a day before a recital was the longest that I have had in my entire life!
V: Plus you were with fever.
V: And then we played, what…
A: “Reverie”, by Juozas Naujalis.
V: Romantic composer. It was also a transcription; originally, it was written for string quartet, and it was a nice relief from Čiurlionis’ “Symphonic Poem.” Then, we played two pieces, or two cycles, basically…
A: Well, one piece, and one cycle, to be exact.
V: Yes, by a contemporary Lithuanian composer, Kristina Vasiliauskaitė. One was her early work for organ—for double organ, basically, “Sounds of the Forest,” which we dubbed more like a train sound, because it reminded us of train tracks. And the other one was a cycle with four Lithuanian folk songs! Which one do you like more?
A: “Songs” of course!
A: “Song Cycle,” yes.
V: Her later style is more user friendly, although this modern sounding early piece was an interesting contrast, I think, too.
A: Yeah, and then we played the Sonata “Ad Patres” by Bronius Kutavičius.
V: Which was originally created for two organists and only later arranged for one organist.
A: And Vidas and I both have played this Sonata as soloists. Of course, I don’t think… Have you ever performed it? Ah yes, you performed once at Saint John’s Church, and I played it way back when I was still a student at the Academy of Music.
V: I think that my impression was that playing solo was easier.
A: I think so, too. It’s a tough piece to play together, because it’s sort of a minimalistic style, and it’s very serious in character. It’s based on a cycle of funeral symphony paintings by Čiurlionis.
A: So, it’s not an easy piece to manage, even psychologically.
V: Now, we played two of my own pieces. One was the piece that we played once before, Fantasia on the Themes by Čiurlionis created by me,
A: At least in this one, we could relax a little bit. Yes?
V: Yes, this was…
A: ...but of course, if you can call relaxation when the key changes like every eight measures or each four measures… so… but at least we have played it before performing it, probably played it before.
V: And then, we finished our program with my arrangement for organ duet of Veni Creator Spiritus. It was originally opus 3, but I added a second organ part, and basically, it became like a new piece. When we practiced it at home, it sounded really convincing as a duet piece. It didn’t sound like a solo piece.
V: I mean, both organists had enough to do on their own.
A: More than enough, I think.
V: Did it sound okay in Svendborg?
A: You know, I can’t say how it sounded in Svendborg. I hardly remember what I was playing and how I was feeling.
V: I guess we’ll let our audience decide. And, we finished our program with an encore, because people seemed to like our playing, and...
A: Yes, we received standing ovations!
V: Yes, and they demanded more, so we gave one more piece for them. It was a choral piece by the composer of Juozas Naujalis’ age, Juozas Gudavičius, a well known Lithuanian anthem called, “Kur giria žaliuoja” or in English it would be, “Where the Forest Is Growing” probably. And it is famous because it is sung in every massive song festival in Lithuania. And it’s so beautiful that it could be our national anthem, basically.
A: Yeah, it would be better than what our anthem is now.
V: It has two stanzas, or verses. We only played the first one, because it didn’t have text, obviously, but next time, I would prefer two, because it’s so lovely.
A: Well, I think it’s always better to do less than too much.
V: Yes, I would play less than 10 stanzas. But two, I think, is okay.
A: I think moderation in life is one of the most necessary things, but not everybody can understand it, of course.
V: No, not everybody. So this was our experience at Svendborg. In general, the weather was sort of good for us.
A: Well, in general the weather was very changing rapidly and quite dramatically, because when we arrived, it was almost 30 ºC, and then during the next day, it began to change, and then the third and the fourth day were quite cold, actually, with rain and wind!
V: And what did you think about Denmark in general? And Copenhagen?
A: Well it’s a very clean and nice country, sort of a little bit boring. I found people quite cold,
V: But friendly...
V: ...and helpful
A: ...well, yes…
V: ...in most cases.
A: ...well, yes. But sort of, you know, nobody is in a hurry…
A: Yes. And all those bicycles! You need to be really careful to not get killed by one of them.
V: And now e-scooters zooming besides them, too! So, it’s tough to cross the street in Denmark. But a nice country to live in, I think.
A: Yes. Did you get any adrenaline during the recital or before or after?
V: At first, I was a little bit worried that you might not make it to the recital, and I would have to play your part, too, alone!
A: How do you manage that!
V: I don’t know. The night before, I was sort of, before I went to sleep, I was thinking, “What could I do to play the same exact program, but with my own two hands and feet.”
A: I guess that’s impossible in most of the cases.
V: Maybe I should have improvised a little bit and played some music here and there.
A: Yes, and have four extra legs like an octopus, yes?
V: Yes! Good that you managed to play. Saved me lots of nerves.
A: Yes, but you know, it damaged my health a lot.
V: Exactly. Did you feel adrenaline when you played, Ausra?
A: No, not at all! And it was strange, because usually I get some adrenaline, either before or during or after recital. Because I remember when we played in d’Huez, we did all duets, but you did one improvisation, and actually, I got adrenaline during your improvisation, because I was playing the “Brandenburg Concerto” after that, and my hands were shaking. But in Svendborg, no, because I guess because of the fever, all my adrenaline was gone, so…
V: I know what was different. In Svendborg, you didn’t have to fight that fly!
A: But you know, in d'Huez, I fought that fly after most of the rehearsal already down on the floor, and I could play how I wanted.
V: Right, but the feeling of the battle still was there with you.
A: Do you think so? It might be.
V: So guys, this was our experience. We hope you have enjoyed the recording, and if you haven’t listened to it yet, we will try to share it in this conversation, too. Alright, 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 192 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Robert. And he wrote a response to my question about what are his organ dreams, and the challenges that he’s facing in his organ journey. So, he writes:
1. I'd like to perform, occasionally, in public and perform concert-level pieces.
2. Major holdback is a lack of adequate practice organs, and someone to actively listen to my practice.
Hmm, interesting. So, that’s a very natural dream, right? To be able to play in public?
A: Mhm. yes.
V: Concert-level pieces. For that, of course, he has to develop a large repertoire. What else?
A: Yes...and you know, for his first performance, he could sort of mix pieces. Not necessarily play all the hard stuff, or long stuff.
V: Exactly. And not necessarily even a full-hour recital. You could play 30 minutes.
A: Yes, and it always depends on what audience you’re playing to, too. Because not everybody appreciates long-lasting and difficult music. From the audience, I mean.
A: That sometimes, people enjoy hearing lighter music.
V: You know what I would do if I were a beginning organist, but would love to eventually play in public: I would probably go to find friends in local churches, and then ask for occasional performance opportunities in the liturgical setting. What I mean is, I would play a postlude or a prelude or communion piece, or even an offertory, once in a while--maybe once a month. One piece or two pieces--it doesn’t have to be long, right? 2-3 minutes. So basically 2-3 pages of music--that would be enough, and enough to keep me motivated, at first.
A: Yes, that’s true; but later on, you would have to keep going with concert repertoire and more complicated pieces. And what I would also suggest, maybe you can find somebody who will help you to perform together--with you, I mean another instrument or you know, a soloist. That way you could do, let’s say, half a concert of your solo music, and half a concert with your soloist.
V: Exactly. Even if this concert itself would be short.
A: I know. And that way, usually when you accompany, it’s easier.
V: Yes, maybe without pedals.
V: But he writes that he can’t find adequate practice organs, right? In his area. So maybe he could go to one of the churches, and ask for permission to practice there occasionally, maybe in exchange of playing some services. It’s a volunteer work, right?
A: Yes. But I remember in my study years in Lithuania, of course I did not have enough time on the organ as I wanted or as I needed; so what I did was I practiced my organ pieces on the piano, too.
V: Of course, we don’t know if Robert has any type of keyboard at home.
A: But I think it’s easier to get, let’s say, piano, than organ. Don’t you think so?
V: Generally speaking, yes. Or maybe a keyboard, an electric keyboard.
A: So that way, you could save some time, and do some work on that kind of keyboard.
V: What some of our Unda Maris studio students do: they print out our paper pedals and paper manuals, and play at home on the table and on the floor. And not all of them do that, because you cannot hear the sound. But people who are persistent, and have a big vision--they would rather do this instead of skipping practice.
A: Yes, that’s true. So, you know, you can find various, most unexpected solutions to your problems!
V: And it’s just temporary--I don’t think you would play all the time on paper, or an electronic keyboard. Maybe it’s just for a month or two, until you get a better solution.
A: And I think, you know--if you would do some part, or the largest part, of your practice at home, in any way, or at least be able to play notes smoothly (not making too many mistakes), then you will not feel embarrassed when somebody would be listening to your practice. And this was a problem, too, for Robert, as I understood from his question.
V: Umm, I’m not sure I’m following you. That he would love that someone would actively listen to his practice, right? Like a coach? Or not…? Or do you understand that somebody is listening, and he is embarrassed?
A: That’s how I understood this part of the question. Maybe I…
V: Ah, could be both, actually. Could be both scenarios.
V: If someone is listening to his practice, it means that he has an instrument on which to practice. That’s good, right?
A: I know. But you know, if you don’t have somebody who would listen to your practice and would advise you what to do or what not to do, and how to play, you could record yourself.
A: And listen to your playing. And you know...you will hear some things that you will probably not like; and then you will change them, and improve them.
V: You know, the funny thing about recording yourself is that before you do that, you think, “Oh, you play so well sometimes, you are proud of your achievements because you spend so much time on the organ bench.” And...sometimes you cannot really hear what’s happening until you record yourself. And don’t even listen to yourself right away, but after a few days--after you forget that feeling of that practice. And then you sort of listen to that recording as a stranger, and then you can be more objective.
A: Yes, that’s true. And also, some people who are very modest might have a very bad opinion about their performing, about their performance. And this might change, also, after listening to their recordings, that, you know, they listen and, “Oh, I’m playing actually quite well!”
V: So it depends on how you judge yourself.
A: Yes, and what your character is.
V: If you’re a perfectionist or not.
A: That’s true. But either way it would be useful, for yourself to record your playing.
V: Are you a perfectionist, or not?
A: I will not dignify this question with an answer!
V: We know the answer, though! And...was it difficult for you to let go of the feeling that you might not be perfectly prepared for the public release of your recording?
V: You have to let go of your imaginary mistakes.
A: Yes, that’s true.
V: Sometimes those mistakes don’t’ kill you, you know.
A: Yes. Sometimes they do.
V: Hahaha! What do you mean?
A: I’m just making fun!
V: I see. Yeah. Sometimes, people, if you put a recording on YouTube, you can receive some nasty comments. And I don’t recommend replying to those comments at all. If you don’t like negative feedback, ignore those comments. And you can even mute comments, and let them vent anywhere else, on their own channel.
A: But you know, from my experience, I think that people who give other people negative comments, they actually cannot play well themselves.
V: Absolutely. And in my experience, whenever I listen to YouTube videos, sometimes I encounter not-so-well-performed pieces, right? But I never, ever have complained about that performance level, and never said, “Oh, you should not play the organ,” or “Just keep it to yourself, I’m embarrassed,” and things like that. Never. You know? Because I know what it takes to play well.
A: Yes, that’s true.
V: Or what it takes to play badly, right?
A: I know.
V: So it takes thousands of hours. And if that person was brave enough to put that recording out there, and feel vulnerable, that’s better. It says a lot of you.
V: So Ausra, let’s encourage people to publicize their own performances on the internet. Okay?
V: So, encourage!
A: Don’t be afraid to put your recordings on the internet!
V: Exactly. You actually will feel stronger about yourself, once you are doing this for, let’s say, a month or two. You kind of feel resilient to feedback and negative comments.
A: Yeah, so just lose the comments!
V: Exactly. Thank you guys, this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: We hope this was useful to you, right Ausra?
A: I hope so.
V: Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
Katelyn Emerson on Dealing With Wrist Pain, Panic Attacts and Unpredictability of Rehearsals Before Public Performance
Welcome to Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast #115!
Today's guest is a young a talented American organist Katelyn Emerson. She performs throughout North America and Europe, showcasing repertoire from the 14th-21st centuries with “impressive technical facility and musicianship” in performances that are “thrilling from beginning to end” (Cleveland Classical).
Upcoming and past recital venues include such illustrious locations as Walt Disney Hall (Los Angeles, California), Hallgrímskirkja (Reykjavík, Iceland), Cathédrale Saint-Omer (France), Kurhaus Wiesbaden (Germany), the Riverside Church (New York, New York), the American Cathedral (Paris, France), Musashino Civic Cultural Hall (Japan), Krasnoyarsk Philharmonic Hall (Russia), Cathédrale St-Quentin (Hasselt, Belgium), the Hauptkirche St. Petri (Hamburg, Germany), Merrill Auditorium (Portland, Maine), Bradford Cathedral (England), the Cathédrale Poitiers (France), Severance Hall (Cleveland, Ohio), among others.
As first prizewinner of the American Guild of Organists’ (AGO) 2016 National Young Artists' Competition in Organ Performance (Houston, Texas), the Guild's premier performance competition, Katelyn will be honored with a recital at the 2018 National Convention of the AGO in Kansas City (Missouri). She received the Second Jean Boyer Award in the 2014 Fifth International Organ Competition Pierre de Manchicourt (Béthune and Saint-Omer, France), the second prize of the 2015 Arthur Poister Scholarship Competition (Syracuse, New York), and the third prize of the VIII Musashino International Organ Competition (Tokyo, Japan).
Katelyn was awarded the title of “Laureate” and Third Place, among other prizes, in the VIII Mikael Tariverdiev International Organ Competition (Kaliningrad, Russia). Winner of the 2011 Region V AGO/Quimby Regional Competition for Young Organists (Lexington, Kentucky), she has also received a number of scholarships for her musical and academic work, including the 2013 M. Louise Miller Scholarship and the 2015 McClelland Community Music Foundation Scholarship.
Katelyn Emerson released her first recording, Evocations, on the Pro Organo label in May 2017. Her interviews and performances can be heard on radio programs on such programs as Radio Russia, NPR’s Pipedreams and Radio Présence Toulouse, France.
As recipient of the prestigious J. William Fulbright Study/Research Grant, Katelyn studied at the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional in Toulouse, France for the 2015-2016 academic year with Michel Bouvard, Jan Willem Jansen and Yasuko Uyama-Bouvard.
In May 2015, she graduated from Oberlin College and Conservatory (Oberlin, OH) with double bachelor's degrees in organ performance and French as well as with minors in music history and historical performance (fortepiano). During her time at Oberlin, she taught music theory at the Oberlin Community Music School, received the Selby Harlan Houston prize for distinguished work in organ and music theory, and was inducted into Pi Kappa Lambda, the national music honors society. Katelyn began her organ studies in 2005 through a scholarship of the Young Organist Collaborative (Portsmouth, New Hampshire).
She has studied with James David Christie, Olivier Latry, Hans-Ola Ericsson, Ludger Lohmann, Marie-Louise Langlais, Ray Cornils, and Dr. Abbey Hallberg-Siegfried. She has also studied organ improvisation with Jeffrey Brillhart, Marie-Louise Langlais, and Bálint Karosi, piano with Arlene Kies, fortepiano with David Breitman, both harpsichord and continuo with Webb Wiggins, flute with Trisha Craig, and voice with Ellen Hargis.
In addition to her travels, performances, and teaching, Katelyn is Associate Organist & Choirmaster at the Church of the Advent (Boston, Massachusetts), where she works with the historic Aeolian-Skinner organ, the professional Choir of the Church of the Advent, and the volunteer Parish Choir. From 2010-2015, Ms. Emerson was music director of St. Paul Lutheran Church (Amherst, Ohio). In January 2012, Katelyn served as the Oberlin Sacred Music Intern under music director Keith Tóth at the Brick Presbyterian Church (New York, New York), where she also substituted for Mr. Tóth for the months of July 2012-2015.
Katelyn has been on the faculty of the McGill Student Organ Academy (Montréal, Canada), numerous AGO-sponsored Pipe Organ Encounters, and the Oberlin Summer Organ Academy (Ohio). She regularly presents masterclasses on organ interpretation and church music for AGO-sponsored events and was invited to present workshops on recently published organ music for church services in the 2013 Regional Convention of the AGO (Hartford, Connecticut) Regions I & II, and the 2015 Northeastern Regional Convention of the AGO (New Haven, Cnonecticut) and serves on both the Executive Committee of the Boston Chapter of the AGO and as an officer of the Northeast Division of the AGO Young Organists.
Katelyn Emerson's North American appearances are managed by Karen McFarlane Artists, Inc., www.concertorganists.com.
In this conversation, Katelyn shares her insights about dealing with wrist pain, panic attacks and unpredictability of rehearsals before public performances.
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Listen to the conversation
Some performers like to be very sure about each element of their interpretation of organ music well in advance. They have to prepare every little detail, like registration, articulation, phrasing, tempo etc. When the time comes for them to play in public, they just do what they have trained themselves to do to the best of their ability.
While this certainly brings more security to the performance (and without questioning the advantages of such playing), I feel that this is sometimes done out of fear of risk. It feels risky to let go and to make music in a little more relaxed way. In such performance, anything can happen - ritardando can be not quite what you want it to be, articulation might not be always very precise.
Such rigorously choreographed performances sometimes are also done out of fear of failure. We are afraid to make mistakes in performance, so we memorize everything to the utmost detail. When we are afraid, we feel vulnerable. When we feel vulnerable, we think that something bad might happen to us.
Consider this for a moment - if many written organ compositions of the past were considered as models for improvisation for future generations, perhaps allowing more freedom into the performance would be also appropriate?
Yes, having some spontaneity in a performance might lead to feeling insecure but it also might lead to certain moments when the music comes alive and touches other people in the unexpected way.
Have you experienced such moments in your past performances?
PS One of the reasons some people don't improvise on the organ is because of the same feeling of risk and insecurity. And that's exactly why other people choose to improvise nonetheless.
[Thanks to Marcel for this subject]
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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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