SOPP276: I would be very interested in your professional listeners perspective, feedback, and honest criticism on these five specific pieces which I consider to be some sort of personal milestones in my improvisation
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 276 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. And before we started recording this conversation, we listened to five videos that Carsten sent to us. These were his improvisations put on his YouTube channel.
V: So basically, Carsten wrote that: “If I may be so keen to ask for an amount of your valuable time, I would be very interested in your professional listeners perspective, feedback, and honest criticism on these five specific pieces which I consider to be some sort of personal milestones in my improvisation”:
V: So we listened to these pieces, right?
V: And Carsten finishes, “Vidas and Ausra; thank you so much for patient reading. I guess I could go on for hours of writing but I think I should leave the rest for further emails. Have a great time and God Bless.
V: So this podcast episode is basically a continuation of the previous one.
A: That’s right.
V: Which we discussed in detail, Carsten’s challenges, especially that he’s feeling stuck and not able to play on the organ every day. So today, we listened to these improvisations, and Ausra, what’s your first impression?
A: Actually, I’m very much impressed. I would say I really enjoyed listening to them.
V: Do you think it’s a concert level performance?
A: Yes, it could be in a concert.
V: Yes. People like this should not hide their art. And I guess Carsten is not hiding. He’s publicly recording and sharing his work on Youtube. That’s very nice. A lot of organists are afraid of criticism, especially when they improvise. And most often then not, the people can play from repertoire much better than improvise because they have been playing from the sheet of music much longer. They’re afraid of criticism because they’re feeling like beginners in improvisation.
A: That’s right. But in improvisation there are no mistakes. Because all the music comes down spontaneously, or at least it should be played spontaneously.
V: But you see mistakes might be apparent if you try to imitate some sort of style, right? If, let’s say Carsten is improvising in the baroque style. For example, ‘loben denn herren’, I think it was, one of the versions here. And he for example started then, copying French style in the middle of that piece. That would be too apparent, right, to change, too sudden. Or you could do that but then you will have to change much more frequently to other styles as well, to do it eclectically.
A: Well, but if you are improvising in a free style then everything is possible.
V: Right. Do you think that, for example, some of his improvisations might be done even more interestingly?
A: Yes. I think it might. I think, let’s talk a little bit about toccata, because,,,
A: This is the piece that grabbed my attention mostly.
V: Toccata on ‘A Might Fortress’.
A: Yes. This is a wonderful tune to improvise on. One of my favorite[s]. I would suggest, especially for a concert maybe, to do shorter introduction. Because it’s toccata and you need to grab attention immediately.
A: Right at the beginning.
V: Start maybe louder?
A: Yes. Because it would be like a meditation maybe. Then yes that a voice played in unison and then again another voice played in unison would be good, I think. That’s a good idea for some kind, for some improvisation. But maybe not toccata. What do you think about it?
V: I would probably put chorale tune in the pedals quite soon after introduction so that people should really understand the tune well enough and would be interested in hearing what’s next. And this interest level is rising gradually, right? He starts quite softly, not with mixtures, not with principle chorus, but softer and gradually builds up to principle chorus and probably reeds as well. But I think too gradually. We have to wait too long, for too long.
A: Yes. I think so.
V: Mmm-hmm. Did you notice any other aspects that could be improved, Ausra?
A: In general, I think, in my opinion, improvisations could be a little bit shorter-all of them. And to concentrate your ideas more. Because if you will make them too long, they might become a little boring. It’s the same with playing a concert with composers repertoire. If you will choose too many pieces, people will start leaving your recital.
V: Mmm-hmm. You know how I look at improvisations in terms of length? I look at improvisation in terms of movie episodes, like scene[s] in a move. Have you ever counted the time, how long each scene in a move should be, for example?
A: No, I haven’t counted but I don’t think they are very long.
V: In a book each scene might be somewhere around 1500 words. Like optimum length could be shorter, could be longer. But when you watch it on T.V. or in a movie, then of course shorter, and not longer than one minute, usually. And because music is also an art in time, just like move film is, I guess I’m not suggesting that Carsten should only improvise for one minute.
A: No, no. Definitely not.
V: But, it would be interesting to change episodes, scenes, themes, character, tempi, rhythm, harmonies, registration, everything, within that minute. So I guess when you’re improvising, your sense of time is kind of tricky to feel, right? You feel ‘oh, it’s interesting and I have to play it longer’. But downstairs people perceive time differently than the performer upstairs. So what I do is, I change something while it’s still at the height of interest, not afterwards. Not when the idea comes to my mind, such as ‘what should I play next’? That’s too late.
A: I guess you’re not admirer of minimalistic style?
V: I could admire that style. If it’s that particular style, I have to know that little by little you change something. That’s okay. But that’s entire different story. What Carsten did and what normally people do also, this is normal development, right? And I think more effective way to develop things is to change up themes and make more contrast, more frequently. What do you think?
A: Yes. I think it would be a good thing to explore more.
V: For example, Carsten improvised a few pieces, not in the baroque style, right? And that could be looked upon like a modern style, like French style, one of the best probably styles to try to imitate before you encounter your own style. So if you look at pieces of modern composers, rarely music is in a similar motion longer than two pages. More often than not, you change something within that page, right? And especially if it’s slower tempo you change even more frequently than one page. If it’s fast tempo, so then a couple of pages is okay. And in a fast tempo [a] couple of pages consist of about one minute, right?
A: Do you think it’s somehow related to all this modern kind of knowledges?
V: Such as?
A: Cell phones, smart phones,,,
V: That we can’t,,,
A: Concentrate and listen for something for longer time? And always need new ideas and new titles coming up. New sensation.
V: That’s has to be it, right? Because if you look at baroque pieces, right, baroque fugues, baroque preludes, chorale preludes, fantasias, they are longer in one style, one character, basically, one episode. They change less frequently. Although if it’s a fantasia, then maybe a couple of minutes of one color could be done without changing, in older style. But if it’s modern style, then change more frequently. Because we modern humans have shorter and shorter attention spans, just like squirrels, or chipmunk.
A: That’s a nice comparison. Although I don’t know if everybody will like it.
V: Yes. Chipmunks won’t like it. Although it would be an honor for the chipmunk to be similar to a human, don’t you think?
A: I think so, yes. So anyway, congratulations on wonderful improvisations. Just keep going and keep exploring.
V: Yes. Keep sharing your art with the world, and schedule some public performances as well. Don’t hide it behind the screen of computer. That’s too safe. You have to take more risk at this level. Thank you guys. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. 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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