I remember the time back in 2007 when I became an organist in Vilnius University St. John’s church. One of my responsibilities was too maintain this instrument and to tune stops. We have to keep in mind that this is the largest pipe organ in Lithuania. It has 3 manuals and 64 stops. It became clear to me very soon that I have to know the inside of the organ very well in order to take care of it. At that time this instrument had a very sensitive action and I was maintaining and regulating this instrument very often.
Can you really be a decent organist and get away without knowing the mechanics of the organ? I know that some people are not interested in knowing the intricate details of how the organ functions and they basically only want to perform on it. But most of the time when an organist duties are not only to play but also to maintain it, I think it’s impossible to do it unless one knows how the organ is constructed, how the sound is being made, where are the pipes located on each of the windchests, how reed pipes or stopped flutes can be tuned, and how the mechanics of the organ function.
Imagine if you know the organ very well and can find any mechanical part without any problem then of course your job is so much easier to notice the cipher for example and then go to the windchest where this part is located. You decide whether the problem is with the pipe or with the mechanics and simply go to the exact spot where the problem is. Then you fix it or you’ll open the windchests, check the valves and check the springs. Sometimes you can't reach the thing or you can't fix the problem. Then you call in an expert organ builder.
Now imagine if you have to play this instrument and you have no idea how it works, you have no idea how the sound is produced, and you have no idea where to find the reed pipes of any specific manual. Then your job is very difficult. You might get frustrated and upset when something unexpected happens. And believe me, an organ throws surprises at you very often.
I usually go in to practice on this instrument just before my recital, normally a couple of hours before and frequently notice that some things have to be tuned or regulated. This also happens before recitals of other organists who play there too. Without any frustration or panic I simply go in and do the work.
Sometimes it takes a few minutes, sometimes half an hour or more depending on the problem but the benefits that this intricate knowledge of the inside of the organ and its mechanics will be clear to any organist who is in similar condition. By the way, your playing itself transforms as well when you know what’s causing the pipes to speak.
Some organists who don't know the mechanical side of the organ very well, can't even properly describe what's wrong. It's usually a problem when they call me or an organ builder to say that some stop "doesn't work" or that "the organ is broken". We go in and see that the problem wasn't a major one at all or that the problem was with something else than they described.
So if you want to have a peace of mind in these stressful situations I highly recommend you get to know the inside of the organ very well. It’s not an easy process, it takes time but you’ll never regret it.
What I'm working on:
Writing in fingering and pedaling for Widor's Toccata. Editing Movement 3 of Sonate No. 1 for Organ (1968) by Teisutis Makačinas. Writing program notes for August 1 organ recital „Vater unser im Himmelreich“ by Gianluigi Spaziani in my church. Writing press release for my August 8 improvisation recital „Little Mermaid“. Transposing hymn setting "God, That Madest Earth and Heaven". Practicing 12 Technical Polyphonic and Rhythmic Studies Op. 125 by Oreste Ravanello. Practicing Hanon "Virtuoso Pianist" in C Lydian mode (from C but with F#). Playing Office No. 34 from “L’Orgue Mystique” by Charles Tournemire. Improvising with Dominant 7th chords in Rondo Sonata (ABACABA) form. Composing "Morning in the Countryside".
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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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Don't have an organ at home?
Download paper manuals and pedals, print them out, cut the white spaces, tape the sheets together and you'll be ready to practice anywhere where is a desk and floor. Make sure you have a higher chair.