Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 314 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Dianne, and she writes:
I am struggling with keeping the practice slow. I am too goal oriented for my own good. And then of course I am more easily frustrated when I make mistakes. Working on patience and enjoying the process!
V: So, Dianne seems to have partly answered her questions, too.
A: Yes, that’s true.
V: Because she needs patience, and to enjoy the process. Why do you think, Ausra, people sometimes lack this patience and want to practice too fast?
A: Well, I think it gratifies one more when you are playing fast, and sometimes it’s so hard to work on a slow tempo and to practice slowly. But you know, if you won’t do it, you will be sloppy and make mistakes. And actually, you know, sometimes, I think about that story, do you know it, about how a hedgehog was competing with the rabbit?
V: A hedgehog or a turtle?
A: I know one version there was a hedgehog, and one version there was a turtle.
A: That they were competing in a race competition, and the bunny was just running back and forth very fast and he thought he will win, but actually, the hedgehog asked his wife to help him, and one was placed at the beginning of the race, and another at the finish of the race, and actually hedgehog won! Of course, he cheated, but he won, in a way.
V: I know a different version of the story.
A: Okay, tell your story.
V: That the rabbit was competing with a turtle, and that the rabbit, of course, was really fast, and almost finished the race, but before he finished, he looked back, and since the turtle was so far back that he couldn’t even see him, then he thought maybe he should take a nap. And, he did. And actually, this nap turned out to be a deep sleep for a few hours, maybe longer, and when the rabbit awoke, then he saw that turtle little by little, step by step, he approached the finish and actually won the race.
A: So, I guess in my story, you can learn that the smarter people win. Think about the strategy, and not necessarily doing what we want to do without thinking about it. And in your story, of course, you know, it’s a good story about slow practicing, I think. It shows that if you practice slowly, you will finish the race first, and you will win it.
V: That’s right. You know why I like your story, also? Because I think there is another hidden meaning here, that you should always strive to work on things that matter or are important. Like, in the race, the beginning is important and the finish is important. The middle of the race is not that important. Nobody sees the hedgehog, with his running around, the ending is important. So that’s how he won by placing his wife at the finish line. In organ practice, of course, we could think of things that make up the 80% of the practice with 20% of effort, maybe, and that could maybe be slow practice. But even, probably, not necessarily the entire piece, but maybe if you take a prelude and fugue, or chorale prelude, or fantasia, or any other type of piece, you would probably discover that not every line is extremely difficult. Even in the most difficult pieces, there are easy lines. And maybe, we should practice more the difficult ones!
A: True! We need to start from practicing the hardest part.
V: Mhm! So, for example, right now I’m practicing for my upcoming recital, where I’ll be playing three pieces by Teisutis Makačinas. He is a composer who celebrates 80 years this year, and he was our teacher, professor, at the Lithuanian Academy of Music. What did he teach, do you remember?
A: Harmony and Polyphony.
V: And improvisation, too!
A: It was part of those courses.
V: Ah! Not a separate one!
A: No, it wasn’t a separate one.
V: Interesting. So, he wrote a bunch of popular songs, actually, which are widely broadcast on the radio, but he wrote a few of the organ sonatas and other pieces that are rarely performed, so he asked me to play for this concert, and his music is really advanced, in many places, but not always, right? There are easy spots, easy pages, and even easy movements! So, at first, I was sort of practicing everything equally, but now, I understand that maybe, those easy movements only need to be played once, and I need to focus on the difficult parts.
A: Actually, I don’t remember you practicing so diligently for a long time as you are practicing now these pieces by Makačinas, and I’m so glad I told you, “No, I will not take part in this concert,” and, that I don’t have to learn this music.
A: Well, it’s so complicated, and, well, just not in my taste.
V: It’s not in my taste, either, you know….
A: And with years, somehow I want just to spend time on playing what I really, really like, because I just realized that life is so short.
V: But, it’s very difficult to say, “no,” because he was our professor. And, I think he deserves that kind of concert at least for his anniversary. And, since he asked me, then I said, “yes.”
A: I remember how you tried to convince me to play that recital, too, and after I spent a couple of hours sitting on the organ bench and sight reading his music, actually, I think I got seriously sick.
A: And I took it as a sign that probably I shouldn’t do it.
V: A sign from Heaven!
V: Nice. So, when I’m practicing, I usually practice without sound at home, so that you wouldn’t hear it.
A: Well, actually, I like how you’re practicing them, because you know what to emphasize and what to hide. And really, in music like this, I think, the more you play it and the more you listen to it, and the more acquainted you get with it, the better it sounds. And it’s just too bad that during the concert, the listeners will hear it only once. So, I don’t know how well impressed they will be, what impression they will get.
V: Maybe that’s part of my assignment, too. If I’m used to the piece and I know the good side of the piece, maybe I can transmit this knowledge to them—to the audience—as well! It’s easier than if I were just sight reading it, right? Of course, you couldn’t sight read it, nobody could sight read this kind of music in a satisfactory manner. So, I have a hope, that people will kind of enjoy this performance, because I will deeply know how the pieces are put together.
A: Yes, and I will be turning pages for you and changing stops!
V: And I just also hope that the composer himself will be happy.
A: I know, it’s always scary to play music by a living composer, knowing that he or she will attend your performance. It sort of puts pressure on you.
V: If you wrote music, Ausra, and somebody else performed it, would you go easy on that performer, or would you be very meticulous
A: Actually, I would be easier, because nowadays, there is so much music that is created, that you really need to be happy and really to appreciate somebody who is performing your music.
V: Mhm, that’s what I’m thinking, too. If anybody would play my music in a different way from what I would imagine, I still would be very grateful, I think.
V: And when you release the music into the world, I think you sort of let it go, and let it live its own life without controlling it too much.
A: That’s right, and now, as we go back to the question about patience, I think if you will be patient in your practice, it will help to be patient in other ways in life, too. Because, if you will strengthen this good side of yourself, of being patient, I think you’ll benefit in other things as well.
V: That’s right. And, I think it’s a good exercise for me to force myself to play this kind of music that I don’t enjoy right away—it has to grow on me—because I, too, have to be patient! Thanks, guys, this was Vidas,
A: And Ausra,
V: We hope this was useful to you. Please keep sending us more of your questions, we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen!
The problem with slow and easy
Yesterday one of my organ students at National M.K. Čiurlionis school of art, Eglė participated in the Festival of Ciurlionis piano and organ music where she played the Fugue in C# minor. This was a good overall performance but I want to point out a particularly peculiar episode that happened during her performance. I'm sure many of my readers will know what I'm talking about because this experience concerns us all (myself included).
This is a piece which starts with a subject performed with a soft Flute 8' registration in a slow tempo (here is a video of it I played at Vilnius University Saint John's church). As the fugue unfolds, the two hands start to play with Flutes 8' and 4' on a different manual. Gradually the tempo, tension, and dynamic level begins to increase but at Flute 8' and 4' episode the music is still gentle and slow enough.
So even though it was technically quite an easy spot, Eglė's fingers slipped in a couple of places. This probably wasn't noticeable to the listeners out in the room but since I assisted her with page turns and stop changes, I knew something was going on with her mentally.
Something that happens to us when we know that it's easy, when we know that the finish line is near, when we know that the battle is almost over.
And then we slip. And then we play the wrong notes. And then we lose focus. And then we panic. And then we blame ourselves.
Luckily Eglė is an experienced enough to know better. Those couple of slips didn't throw her off balance not a bit. She finished strong as if nothing happened.
In the words of the legendary American organist Marilyn Mason, "your recital is not over, until you are in the parking lot".
The trick is to keep focusing on the current measure you are playing no matter what.
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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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