SOPP282: My dream is to be able to play some of my favorite music on a good pipe organ
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 282 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Anders, and he wrote:
Hi Vidas and Ausra!
I´m following the information you give with great interest. I have been playing the piano for a while but I´m not very good at it, though I really love it and listening to great music, Classic as well as Jazz and Ragtime. In the last period I have started to think much about playing the organ and I've asked the local organist to give me lessons (lessons are free in the Swedish Church) and I hope lessons will start this autumn. I bought an old Electronic organ but am extremely disappointed since the sound is outright awful. It´s not what is called a Church organ, they´re much more expensive. I will throw my Electronic organ and buy some good instrument with a really good sound.
The short answer to the questions are:
1.) My dream is to be able to play "well enough" on the organ some of my favorite music on a good pipe organ. This I wish to do in a Church where I can enjoy the fantastic and mysterious sound of the different voices of the pipes.
2.) What is stopping me is really nothing except:
A.) The feeling that I have no time (I do have long working days and other commitments)
B.) The feeling that my wife really doesn't enjoy listening to me repeating the difficult parts over and over again. Though she doesn't complain.
C.) The lack of a good instrument.
And these three things shouldn't stop me. I know and I´m working on it...
Now I´ll explain what I mean by playing "well enough":
It´s not at all necessary for me to dream of reaching a level of high professionalism, though I fully understand and wish to play with correctness and musicality. For me it´s better to listen to an amateur playing a simple piece very well instead of some half-professional doing a sloppy job on too complicated pieces. I think that for me it will be much more realistic to find, or even better, to be able to arrange the music so it will be simple but still beautiful and retaining the real spirit and essence of the pieces. For that I obviously will have to learn about music theory and learn to play chords and their inversions etc. Maybe not so impossible.
For instance i have maybe 5-6 different versions of some piece of music ranging from the very simple to the very difficult. And it´s far from always the fastest version with most notes and difficult fingering that catches the essentials! Thank god for that. I have some rather simple pieces that are really beautiful if you perform them correct and with real spirit.
My taste includes classical pieces such as "Poem" by Fibich, pieces by Grieg and Delius and some very nice pieces by Eric Satie. Some jazz pieces I wish to play are maybe not very well known but some are jazz standards. I especially point out some outstanding jazz recordings made by Fats Waller in 1927 on a Church pipe organ (Estey). There has not been any recordings of jazz organ to compare with before or after these few musical pearls, so rich in harmony and feeling. Of course I will never be able to play like Waller did, far from. But maybe be able to play some simplified and still beautiful version in a not too fast tempo. In my opinion speed is not often very important, many pieces win on being played slower but correctly giving time to listen to the music.
As a rounding off I wish to say that I fully appreciate and try to apply the principles of slow playing in practice, repeating until I play without faults and learning a piece step by step. Actually I was smiling with remembrance when I read through your "Organ practice is a privilege". The reason is that I already knew about the principles since my last wife was a really good piano teacher (from St Petersburg). And she applied these rules. Before she died 6 years ago I was lucky to learn the importance of these rules, though I was never a very good pupil. And it was maybe not so easy to have the wife as a teacher (she was really serious).
Best of Wishes,
Anders from Sweden
V: Wow, that’s a very long message that Anders wrote, and so thoughtful that I think we have a lot to talk about, right Ausra?
A: Sure. And I think it’s very instructive. He sort of confirms our beliefs in learning slowly and practicing patiently.
V: And a person like Anders, who wrote such a detailed detailed description of how he practices, what is his situation, how he feels his obstacles are means that he has a very deep level of self observance. Sort of, he analyzes his own actions and ideas, and he might become his own teacher.
A: Yes, I think that’s wonderful features that he has.
V: Because when people sometimes want to improve, but are not necessarily conscience of what they’re doing wrong, they just have this distant dream or goal in mind, like a horizon, and the days are passing by, they’re practicing without knowing if they are improving or not—without knowing if they’re going towards the goal or away from it.
A: That’s true.
V: Do you think that Anders will reach his goal faster than most of the other people we encountered?
A: Probably yes, because this sort of a paradox line that often people who do not rush into things achieve their goal first.
V: Exactly. You know, the feeling I got from reading his messages was that I’m reading a blog post or an article some place online from a personal blog about organ practice by an organist very conscience of his or her own efforts. Don’t you think that this kind of message should be posted, actually, on his own personal blog?
A: Sure, of course! Definitely. I think then that people would benefit from reading a message like this.
V: I’m not even thinking about many people, you know, I think he will personally benefit from thinking about his ideas and writing them down, and once he writes them down, he can practice much more efficiently. He can articulate other ideas as well. And you’re right, other people will enjoy listening and reading them, too.
A: Yes, the thing that struck me in this letter was that Swedish church gives organ lessons for free.
V: I didn’t understand fully….
A: This was a big surprise to me. I don’t think there is another country that could do this. But, who then is paying the organist for those lessons, the State? The church?
V: Could be! If the church fully supports an organist, like a full time position, then maybe those organ lessons are included in his workload, maybe. I’m not sure if it is that situation. If it is, then it would a be fantastic situation for students. For organists, I don’t know if it’s fantastic or not, depending on what kind of salary they get from the State. But obviously, the Swedish church is not connected with the state anymore. It separated from the State. So the church has to be quite willing to support the organist and the lessons.
A: But what would the organist have to do if there would be 5 or 10 people who suddenly decide to learn to play the organ, and he or she would still have to teach them all?
V: Maybe they have a maximum or minimum number of people to teach.
A: But that’s an interesting thing we need to ask our friend from Sweden, Göran tomorrow.
V: Yes, maybe we didn’t understand something from this message correctly. We’ll have to double check.
A: Another thing I found amusing is about his wife, that she doesn’t complain about his practicing hard spots over and over again. In any case, you could give your wife earplugs as a present, that she wouldn’t have to listen to your practice at all if she doesn’t like it!
V: Or, if it’s an electronic organ you’re practicing on, you could practice with earphones, too.
A: Yes, anyway, but I think it’s funny.
V: Ausra, when I’m practicing my spots over and over again, how do you feel?
A: Well, that’s fine, because I know what you are going through, so it doesn’t bother me.
V: It takes an organist to understand an organist.
A: And actually, I like when you practice.
V: I love it, too. One of my favorite moments of the day these past few weeks have been when we go to the first floor where our organ is located, and you sit down first thing in the morning and you practice your Chorale Fantasia “An Wasserflüssen Babylon” by Johann Adam Reincken. And those 21 minutes are some of my favorites in the day.
A: Good to know.
V: Yours, too, right?
A: Yes, that’s right. It’s a pretty Fantasy. Well, what about those arrangements, because Anders mentioned that he wanted to play some arrangements for organ and not necessarily do they need to be hard—do you agree that different music would be performed on the organ, let’s say not original organ music.
V: Mhm, sure! It could be. We’re performing vocal motets, right? It’s not original, we add some diminutions and flourishes in passages, and it sounds much better on the organ that way. So, it’s been a widespread practice to perform an arrangement—other music, instrumental music, and vocal music, and even symphonic music on the organ, too!
A: Yes, and if you take any collection of, let’s say, wedding music or Christmas music, you will find a huge variety of arrangements and transcriptions for organ. And they vary in difficulty. You can find really easy ones, and you can find quite hard ones, too.
A: Let’s take, for example, such a popular piece as Hallelujah from Handel’s Messiah. You can find so many transcriptions for organ.
V: Right. I think the easiest thing to play for organ is just two outer voices; soprano and the bass with two hands, if they are just starting out. So, maybe Anders can do that. If he wants to create a little more advanced version, then a third middle part must be entered, maybe with pedals playing the bass line, then. Trio texture, right?
A: Sure. And you know what I actually like the most about Anders’s letter? That he understands that it’s better to pick up an easy piece, and to play it very well, than to take too hard of a piece and to play it sloppy. I think this is the basic rule.
V: Mhm, that’s quite a mature feeling he has, right? Even though he can’t play maybe very advanced versions, yet, very well, but he has a good taste. That’s helpful.
A: Do you remember we had such a studio member back in Nebraska at Lincoln? The guy was a big fan of American football, and he always wanted to play grand pieces. And he could not do them at that time. It was not in his ability, not in his capability to do it. But he wanted to play like fantasies by Reger and all that other hard stuff. And I just don’t know how Dr. Faulkner and Dr. Ritchie handled him. But, I think then he stopped taking organ anymore.
V: You know, when you practice too advanced pieces for a while, and your professors say that you are not playing well enough, obviously, on these particular pieces, you get discouraged, simply, right, and you quit. Or you switch to the easier repertoire if you’re wise enough.
V: So, to end this conversation, I think let’s wish Anders to acquire a different organ, maybe a better organ, better solution for his home, and start doing those organ arrangements, right? Practice to the best of his ability.
A: Yes, and let us know how your progress is doing!
V: Wonderful. Thank you guys for sending these wonderful questions, and anyone who’s so detailed as Anders would really think, at least try to put those ideas online, maybe not on your own blog, but maybe on a social media channel. Right? That will be very beneficial for everyone who is writing and reading as well. Thanks guys, this was Vidas,
A: And Ausra,
V: 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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