#AskVidasAndAusra 58 - I’m having difficulty in adjusting my organ playing to the individuality of every organ I meet
A few days ago David wrote me the following message:
If you have time, would you please make an audio recording of Handel's Largo on your home organ for me. I am very interested in hearing what the articulate legato and the correct tempo of the piece sound like. I have been listening to the various performances on the internet, but I don't think many of them are played correctly.
So yesterday Ausra and I went to our church to practice my draft arrangement of the 1st movement of Bach's cantata "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme", BWV 140 for organ duet. It was unplayable - the voices were crossing each other too much. But now I had an idea what might work.
Incidentally I also had Handel's Largo with fingering and pedaling printed out which David was practicing from. In order to demonstrate him the tempo and articulation, I asked Ausra to play with me on our church organ this piece as a duet. We did and later recorded this video. Hope you enjoy it.
And now let's go to the podcast for today.
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 58 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And this question was sent by Minori, and he writes that he is having difficulty in adjusting his organ playing to the individuality of every organ he meets. He writes:
“Every organ is unique with its own touch of the keyboards and pedal. It often happens that I can play well on my practice organ but not on other organs, especially when I play on them for the first time.
I am a Roman catholic (a religious minority in Japan as a Buddhist country), an ex-amateur pianist (intermediate level), now a small parish church organist with only four years of experience of organ playing.
So many challenges to tackle ahead, but I am enjoying and improving gradually. I am learning a lot from your Secrets of Organ Playing. When I practice, miracles do happen. Thank you, Vidas and Ausra. Minori “
Ausra: That’s very nice to hear!
Vidas: Right! So his challenge for today is adjusting to other organs, right? He can practice successfully on his own instrument, but individual organs that he encounters in different occasions are tricky for him.
Ausra: Well, it will come with more experience; but I would say, just don’t give up. For now, I would suggest to him maybe to choose an easy repertoire when he knows he will be playing on a different instrument. And also, you need to select your repertoire wisely; I mean, to be able to pick the right music for the right instrument. Because sometimes you cannot play everything on every instrument. What do you think, Vidas, about it?
Vidas: Well, obviously, sometimes people do this mistake: they learn some kind of baggage of organ repertoire, let’s say thirty minutes of repertoire--or one hour of repertoire; and they want to travel their country, or even different countries, touring the world, by playing this in public concerts.
Ausra: Actually, in Lithuania, I even heard this joke about an organist: “Tell me an organ piece, and I will tell you who’s playing it!” And this joke means, that some organists, they learned like twenty organ pieces; and they played them during their whole lifetime, and never have learned anything new! And for such organists it might be a problem to go to a different instrument.
Ausra: I don’t think it’s probably an issue with Minori, but you definitely need to know that you cannot play every piece on every single instrument.
Vidas: Well, in his country, Japan, he might not have too many historical instruments…
Ausra: But I think that they might have nice replicas of historical instruments, don’t you think so? Because I think that interest in organ music, and organ as an instrument--especially in Asia in the late years--is increasing.
Vidas: That is true. Of course, then, what do you think, Ausra: how many instruments do you have to try first, so that you would feel more or less comfortable later?
Ausra: I think the more you try, the better you will feel.
Vidas: Well, right now, for example, tomorrow (as we’re recording this)--tomorrow we will go to play a joint concert with our friend and colleague Paulius Grigonis, to a town in the southwestern part of Lithuania, Vilkaviškis. And this organ has 3 manuals; it’s mechanical; it might have some electric stop action, I think. I played it some years ago, but Ausra hasn’t.
Vidas: So...are you worried about adjusting to this instrument?
Ausra: Actually, no. I’m used to it. I have performed many times without any rehearsals at all, on various instruments. Well, you just have to know what you want from that instrument, and to have some sort of conception about registering it. So then it should work just fine.
Vidas: So, in your case, Ausra, when did you notice that it’s no longer a challenge for you to adjust to a new instrument?
Ausra: Well, it probably took me about eight, nine years of practice.
Vidas: So it was already in America?
Ausra: Yes, definitely.
Vidas: In later years in America, or early years?
Ausra: I would say about the middle.
Vidas: So, at the beginning of our doctoral studies, in Nebraska?
Ausra: I would say so, yes.
Vidas: What was the first instrument in Nebraska that you felt pretty comfortable to trying out?
Ausra: Well probably that beautiful organ at Cornerstone chapel.
Vidas: Which is no longer there…
Vidas: It was moved to St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church: the Newman Center. This organ was built by Gene Bedient.
Vidas: It’s a landmark instrument. And I think I’ve heard people say that it’s the oldest-sounding instrument in the United States. Although it’s a modern instrument, but it’s in the style of 17th-century Dutch organs.
Ausra: And it’s very beautiful, really.
Vidas: So we have to comfort Minori a little bit by saying that the more organs he tries, the easier it will be to adjust, right?
Ausra: Yes; just don’t pick up, repertoire which is too difficult for the beginning. Because iif you will choose a piece that you feel really comfortable--maybe with less pedalwork, not very difficult technically--it will be easier for you to adjust to, anyways. And you will get more comfortable in time, I hope so.
Vidas: And for closing, I would say that for me, I started noticing my challenges diminishing with every tenth instrument I visited. About ten. So every tenth new instrument is like a new landmark for me; and maybe Minori could have a list of instruments he tries out, right? And maybe count them--count the number of the organs that he has to try, and see if Organ No. 10 makes a little bit different approach: maybe he discovered something new about the instrument, about himself, about the music; and adjustment becomes a little bit easier. Maybe Instrument No. 20 will become another landmark for him, too, you see.
Ausra: Yes, and another suggestion probably might be costly, but if you will have an opportunity in the future, you might go on an organ tour. Because there are actually a number of organ tours going in the world, especially in Europe or organ academy, where in a brief time you can visit and try out many instruments. That might help, too.
Vidas: Just a few weeks ago, our student Victoria returned from Bach Organ World Tour. Basically they have this tour every...two years, I think?
Ausra: I think so, yes.
Vidas: In central Germany. And people have a chance to try out instruments from Bach’s day and region. That’s extremely valuable.
Ausra: Or like, summer organ academies. This week, for example, in Alkmaar every single day, we would visit different organs in the Netherlands. We just took a train--it’s a very simple travel form, very comfortable in that country--and every day we tried new instruments. And so, in maybe less than 2 weeks, we had tried many new instruments. It was very nice.
Vidas: Okay guys, we hope this was useful to you. Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. This was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
Taming the wild horse
By Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene (get free updates of new posts here)
Do you remember the feeling when your dad let you sit on his lap and turn the wheel of his car? It was awesome, wasn't it? Your head literally started to spin.
Organ playing can be like that, too. Especially on a large instrument.
During this week's rehearsal of our Unda Maris studio one student was playing a piece in a classical style by Pietro Yon, an Italian-born composer and organist from the 1st half of the 20th century who made his career in the US.
The entire piece has melody and accompaniment texture with some elements of fanfare music in the right hand. It is to be played by one type of loud registration throughout. But the last passages require additional stops to create Fortissimo effect.
Vidas and I normaly would help our students change registration during our practices and this time was not an exception. Vidas draw out Bombarde 16' on the Great at the end during the grand rest which created a magnificent closing of the piece.
However, when the student played this episode one more time, we let him draw this Bombarde by himself.
Afterwards we asked him how it felt.
He said, "it felt like taming a wild horse".
That's exactly right. If you rely on combination system and pistons or perhaps on assistants to change the stops for you, try to do it yourself once in a while.
It's not easy at first, you have to practice repeatedly to coordinate your hand movements while playing the organ and changing the stops.
But it certainly gives you a sense of respect for your instrument.
It's not like you're just turning the wheel while sitting on your dad's lap in the car and he does the driving. Rather it's like you drive the car yourself.
With a clutch and accelerator pedals and stick shift.
Like taming a wild horse, it's dangerous. It's raw energy. Anything can happen. You look the beast in the eye. You sense her power. She only lets you pet her. But with one blink of an eye she could smash your head with her hooves.
It's the same with wielding pipe organ, I think.
By Vidas Pinkevicius (get free updates of new posts here)
[If you're reading this on the phone, click "Show images"]
Listen to what we played in Berlin
The oldest pipe organ in Berlin
By Vidas Pinkevicius (get free updates of new posts here)
Last Friday Ausra and I played in Berlin, Germany, at the church "Zur frohen Botschaft" where currently stands the oldest organ in Berlin - an elegant two-manual organ from 1755 which was originally built for the residence of Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia.
Here's what happened (special thanks to Beate Kruppke, organist of the Amalia organ for arranging this visit and to Ausra's niece Ieva Motuzaite who was behind the camera).
Welcome to Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast #38!
Why is it important for an organist to try out as many different organs as you can? Listen to an exciting conversation with Charles Spanner, an English organist, a student of Flor Peeters who has done 10 world tours in his life.
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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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