SOPP 384: Is it compulsory to follow every notes or beats from the music sheet? Can we just be more creative?
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 384 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Pauline. She writes:
I’m more or less a self learned pianist & organist. I play in church & function. Congregation says my playing is inspiring because my style is different from the standard pianist which is conventional type. Is it important to use correct figuring to play piano or organ when already get used to our own figuring? Is it compulsory to follow every notes or beats from the music sheet? Can we just be more creative?
V: I think, Ausra, this question is about how you play your accompaniment from the hymnal, right? Or not?
A: I guess this question is broader.
A: Yes, you know, the similar problem I encountered last semester when I was teaching at that organists school, and I had two organ students, and one of them, she graduated from the music school, her studies were seven years long when she was in a high school. She was a violinist, so she could play piano, too, since it’s a required instrument in Lithuania for everybody who enters a music school, or almost everybody. But, she didn’t like to sight read music and to play it from the musical score. She would rather do everything by pitch, and we had quite an argument with her, because I tried to convince her that this is not the best way to learn music. Of course, you could do that, but I think that if you don’t want to study music professionally, I would say then you are sort of going to reach a dead end—that’s my opinion—at some point or another. You know, to be an amateur is very good for home musicians, because their music is created in a completely different setting and it serves a different purpose. But if you are a church organist or pianist, or in any way a church musician or choir conductor, it means that you are working with people, with a congregation, and as I told my students that maybe some day you want to have an ensemble or a choir or group of people who would love to help you, to create music together for church, and then, if you are an amateur yourself, and you don’t want to follow the score, and do things in a professional way, how will you teach others to do it? So, I think it’s probably good that some people are more creative than others and they want to add their own stuff, and create their own stuff… that’s ok. And if you’re accompanying hymns, then it’s not bad if you know you will add something to your accompaniment. It’s fine, unless you won’t keep your tempo steady, and the congregation will not be able to sing, leading your accompaniment. But, otherwise, of course you can be creative and add things, but if you are playing living or dead composers’ compositions, then I think you pretty much need to follow a score, because if you would do otherwise, it would be highly unprofessional.
V: You cannot improve on Bach, for example.
A: Well, what could you do when playing Bach? What I would allow myself to do, sometimes, if the chorale has a repetition, repeated section, which is often the case with German chorales, because it’s written in Bach form, which has A, A, and B sections, so A repeats A, on that repetition, you might add different ornaments. That’s the most of what I can do with Bach.
V: What about adding figuration on the repeats? A little more than ornaments. Stylistically appropriate.
A: Well, that would still be just an ornament.
A: Yes, that’s perfectly normal. But, other than that, let’s say you are playing music by Franck…
A: Would you try to alter something?
A: So, I guess that is my answer to Pauline.
V: I guess the melody could be altered, right? But the accompaniment has to stay the same. If you are embellishing a baroque melody, there might be some other options, but they are more technically advanced, which is beyond the scope of this conversation. So, what you are saying is that to add stuff is ok as long as you are still adding value and not playing musically without meaning. It should be meaningful.
A: That’s right, because look, if you want to do something different than what is written in a hymnal, you really need to be knowledgeable as to why you are doing this. Is it appropriate to that style? To that hymn? Because otherwise, it would be like, I know in America these beauty competitions used to be popular, which is in itself, I think, a very silly thing. For a grown up woman, yes, it’s ok. But when they do it for little girls, I think it’s ridiculous! I think they look just horrible. That’s my feeling and my opinion about it.
V: Like dolls!
A: I know! What kind of mother would you need to be to do to your daughter like that? I don’t know what’s the problem with those mothers, but I think they really need to see a shrink!
V: Maybe there is a problem with their fathers, too!
A: Well, definitely! So, I think it’s in some sort, those little girls that are dressed up like grown-up women with all that makeup and all that stuff, I think they look ridiculous, and it makes me feel so sad! And it’s the same when I listen to music performed with whatever added.
V: Without meaning.
A: Yes, without meaning.
V: So, advice for Pauline and others who may want to add their own creativity to the accompaniment is to do this from the sense of understand what you are doing. Right? Mentally understanding. That would be more appropriate than just rather playing from your ear, whatever sounds good to you at the moment, right?
A: Yes, that’s what I would suggest. And you know, you always need to study things, so…
V: And you always try to improve yourself.
A: Sure, because there are so many opportunities in America to get hymnal accompaniment.
V: We don’t know if Pauline is in America.
A: Yes, true. But for example, if you could get at least one example of how things are made up, maybe it would give you an idea of how it should be done or could be done.
V: But I guess there are many hymnals in other countries, too, and accompaniments. Yes, so, study, improve yourself, and don’t just trust your taste and musical ear. It just is not necessarily developed enough. Right? You have to compare your own work with other written down compositions, and take what’s best from their style, and make it your own. Adapt it. That’s advanced art, I think, we are teaching. But in the end, it’s worth the effort to improve.
A: Sure, maybe this road, this way that we suggest is a longer way, and it seems harder at the beginning, but it pays off at the end of it.
V: Thank you guys, we hope this was useful to you. Please keep sending us your wonderful questions, we love helping you grown. And remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen!
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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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