Mechanical wonder of the world
mechanism and the fact that this mechanism obeys your will?
You're not alone. Majority of organists Vidas talked to during his Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast said that they first fell in love with the organ because of mechanical complexities.
That's what physics professor from Vilnius University, Vytautas Jonkus wrote in a message to us with this feedback after the Unda Maris organ studio concert last week.
It wasn't the case for me, though. I guess mystery fascinated me more than mechanics.
But... when I first had a glimpse at the inside of the organ at St John's here in Vilnius back in the spring or early summer of 2000 while the organbuilders were preparing for the inauguration during the congress of International Society of Organbuilders, I was spellbound. It's the largest pipe organ in Lithuania, after all.
So when Vytautas wrote that feedback, I could feel it too.
One of the most complex machinery ever built by man (until the Industrial Revolution).
One of the great mechanical wonders of the world is to see how the pipe organ works.
Let us know if this aspect of the instrument fascinates you.
What I'm working on:
Writing in fingering and pedaling for Widor's Toccata. Editing Movement 2 of Sonate No. 1 for Organ (1968) by Teisutis Makačinas.Transposing hymn setting "Come, Ye Disconsolate". Practicing Exercise No. 1a and b, from 12 Technical Polyphonic and Rhythmic Studies Op. 125 by Oreste Ravanello (HT to Leon). Practicing Hanon "Virtuoso Pianist". Preparing for improvisation recital on August 8 "The Little Mermaid" at my church. Composing "Morning in the Countryside".
When you play different organs, you surely notice that their type of construction is different - some organs are operated mechanically and some - with the help of electric magnets, wires, and tubes. If you pay careful attention, you will also notice that not every instrument has the same set of qualities that help them achieve different things. Today I'd like to discuss the strengths of both type of organs.
Mechanical action organs (AKA tracker organs) were built for many hundreds of years when the electricity hasn't been discovered yet. Even today historically conscious organ builders continue to build them. On such an instrument not only the bellows were operated by hand or by feet mostly by another person (sometimes even today) but also registration changes had to be made by hand, too.
The most obvious advantage of mechanical action organs is the ability to control an attack and release of notes. It another words, it's possible by gently feeling the pressure point just before the opening and closing of valves, to make these valves open or close faster or slower. This is really crucial in early music and in music of lyrical character. That's why it's best to keep the contact with the keys at all times and not to lift the fingers in the air whenever possible to control better the sound mechanical action organ creates.
The most obvious advantage of electro-pneumatic action organs is the ability of placing the console anywhere in the room. By the help of special cables organ consoles can be moved upon request very easily. This is very handy for organs in concert halls where organ is not used all the time or in situations where the organist has to be seen from any angle.
I have to point out of course that electro-pneumatic organ allows for sudden registration changes. You can program the stop combinations in advance and go from pianissimo to full organ and vice versa by one push of a button. Many Romantic and modern organ compositions require that kind of flexibility.
This flexibility is not unique for electro-pneumatic organs, though. Even mechanical action may have a system of ventils, foot pedals, or levers which help achieve sudden registration changes as well.
Try to be conscious of these aspects of both type of organs when you play them because one of the many of your requirements as an organist is to bring out the best that each instrument has to offer.
Having a weak technique comes with a price.
When I was a student at the Lithuanian Academy of Music back in 1997, together with one colleague of mine we were chosen to go to the International Summer Organ Academy and Festival „Juniores Priores Organorium Seinensis“ in Sejny, Poland (Seinai in Lithuanian) with my professor Leopoldas Digrys.
This little town, which is close to Lithuanian/Polish border, houses a Basilica with a two-manual Romantic mechanical action organ, built by the Lithuanian organ builder Jonas Garalevicius from 1907. This instrument stands behind the older, quite ornate Baroque facade, as it's often the case with older organs.
Although 17 years have passed from that summer, here's what I remember as clearly as today: this organ had an incredibly heavy action. I had played many organs ever since and most of them were mechanical but no instrument could compare to that of the action of the organ at the Basilica in Sejny (I'm sure there are even more challenging organs than this one in the world, though).
In Sejny, I played a charming Organ sonata No. 3 by Paul Hindemith, one of the most significant 20th century German composers, which is not terribly challenging piece technically but for some reason, depressing the keys felt like a torture, especially in the 3rd, faster movement.
Clearly my technique was not developed enough (although the action itself might have felt differently when the organ was new back in 1907). I remember my professor advising me to relax my hands and shoulders and use large muscle groups instead of fine fingerwork. This helped a lot.
So, if you are in a similar situation, try not to lift the fingers of the keys, relax, and breath. It's wise not to choose to play very virtuosic pieces on such an organ, if your technique isn't flawless. Improvisation always helps because when you're improvising, you're are constantly adjusting to the real situation.
A lot of people nowadays play electronic organs, older of which have a very light touch. After practicing a lot on such an instrument and suddenly given an opportunity to try a real mechanical organ (even not with a very heavy action) will present certain difficulties.
And here's is my long-term advice:
Perfect your finger technique as much as you can and you will never be in real peril when playing a mechanical organ with a heavy action.
Piano playing is good for finger technique, too. So if you have a chance to practice your organ pieces on the piano, please do it often. If you don't like practicing scales, arpeggios, chords and Hanon exercises, you can take your favorite pieces and create the exercises out of them.
[HT to Jon]
Next: What is excellence
Ricercare del quarto tuono by Adriano Banchieri (1568-1634). He was an Italian composer, music theorist, and organist of the late Renaissance-early Baroque period.
Jesus, Thy Boundless Love To Me
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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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