SOPP286: When I'm playing Sine Nomine once through or twice through, I do well but the 4th or 5th time through, I start to make mistakes
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 286 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by David, and he writes:
When I'm playing Sine Nomine once through or twice through, I do well... but the 4th or 5th time through, I start to make mistakes; particularly at the very beginning and very end of the piece.
Also, I picked a prelude that is too long, and at the end of the piece, the organ just does not want to play all the notes that are written in the music... the top notes drop out--not enough polyphony with a large registration, so I lose the melody and part of the harmony of the final cadence of the piece. Ugh.. so here I am the day before the service, and I am cutting the piece in half (there is a fair stopping point half way through the arrangement) and re-writing the end of the first half so it sounds more like it's finished at that point in the music.
Unfortunately, the church is reluctant to purchase a newer organ (more capable electronic or even small pipe organ) because they are convinced that it is impossible to find new organists to play them, and there are other priorities for the money. So I am stuck with the instrument that is there and often have to modify pieces. Also on this organ, the pedals are quite noisy.... not when I press them, but when they are RELEASED. So in a piece that moves at a fair pace, like Sine Nomine, or when I'm doing a moderately fast arpeggio, like in Lyons, as the pedal is released, it hits the top of its travel and make a considerable thump, which is annoying. I don't seem to have this same issue on other organs that I play. I try to be so gentle when I play these pedals, that even if I don't want to play legato, they end up legato just so I don't hear that thump.
V: So Ausra, I think this question has two sides, right?
V: About the sounds of the pedal board, and about starting making mistakes with additional repetitions. Not right away, David is not making mistakes when he plays once or twice, but on the fourth or the fifth time, he starts to make mistakes. Why is that?
A: I think he just loses his concentration, because if he would start doing mistakes right away, I would guess that he hasn’t learned the piece to play very well yet. But, because he can play twice through without making any mistakes, it means after that he probably loses his concentration.
V: A simple solution would be to probably stand up, walk around, drink a glass of water, and regain your focus. What about this idea, Ausra?
A: Well, what if you are in the middle of service or a concert, can you do that?
V: No, but if during the concert or service, you play just once.
A: Well, yes, that’s true.
V: What would you do in this situation, if you lose focus?
A: Well, you can do that, but you know, sometimes you need to stay on the organ and try to stay focused.
V: So, push yourself.
V: Don’t relax, right, your mind.
A: Yes, that’s right. But, it’s very hard to do. I think it’s the hardest part of being a performer. Don’t you think so?
V: Right, because, when you play the piece, and some parts are difficult, some parts are not, when you conquer the difficult parts you feel sort of proud. You feel sort of good. And, at that particular moment, you tend to relax after conquering that one part.
A: Yes, I had that feeling so many times.
V: And, when you relax, you…
A: ...you make mistakes.
V: You trip.
A: Yes. In an easy spot.
V: Mhm. There are, of course, solutions, two solutions for that. Maybe David could stay focused until the very end. That’s the hard solution. And the easy solution would be to relax yourself right from the beginning.
V: Like, imagine that he is just playing for himself for fun, not in order to avoid mistakes, but just to please himself. Sort of, to lower the stakes. To lower the risk. And then, the fear of making mistakes would be lower. What do you think about that?
A: I think, in general, you don’t need to focus making or not making mistakes, you need to focus on your music that you are playing.
V: Mistakes will happen, anyway.
A: Yes, anyway, because if you would record a CD, then you might do some editing. But if it’s a live performance, you never know what might happen. The organ might break in the middle of your piece.
V: Or one particular key might stick. And what would you do then?
A: Or the day might be very hot, and your fingers might just get slippery.
V: Or, if you’re playing on the upper manual, you start to slip from the bench!
A: Or, a baby will start to scream, and you will lose your concentration.
V: So we scare people for thirty minutes?
A: Well, I just want say that you never know what might happen during your performance.
V: That’s the beauty of it, right Ausra?
V: If you knew what will happen, then it wouldn’t be that interesting.
A: That’s right, and I don’t think I remember playing in Lithuania even once that it would be completely silent during a recital. Do you remember, or not?
V: Yes, I did, when I played just for myself.
A: Well, that’s another story.
V: No one showed up. But I didn’t play that entire recital, I think. Just one piece.
A: But especially at the cathedral where tourists come in and come out, you never know how much noise you will get during your recital. And sometimes I just felt like I’m, I don’t know, like I’m sitting in the middle of a farmer’s market and trying to play a recital. And that’s the feeling of playing in the cathedral in Vilnius.
V: That’s why we don’t, play there that often.
A: I know. Not a very nice feeling.
V: Mhm. So, wonderful. You know where is this silence if you play your recital?
V: At the cemetery! There will be complete silence!
A: But then you need to install an organ there!
V: Too bad that all the listeners are dead!
A: Maybe that’s a good thing! Well, but that’s a nasty humor. We don’t have to joke like this.
V: It wasn’t a joke, actually, it’s a reality…
A: Well, there are some cemeteries where there are chapels built, so you could put an organ there and enjoy playing in complete silence.
V: So, David then struggles with pedal releases, squeaky noises… not only squeaky noises, but some sort of thumps when he releases. Is there a way, Ausra, to diminish that noise? We have some pedals in our home organ which squeak. Do they annoy you?
A: Well, actually, not too much. Because, when you are playing a purely mechanical organ, such sounds make me to relax, actually.
V: Like a lullaby.
A: True. And I like them. But if this is an electronic organ that squeaks, then yes, that’s very annoying. And I don’t think that there could be much done. If you are gentle with what you are doing with your feet on the pedals, if you are wearing quiet shoes, then there is not much you could do.
V: I remember, I tried to fix that once in St. John’s church. I unscrewed the pedal board, and then removed the spring underneath one pedal, and then what I did, maybe I put some oil on it.
A: Yes, oiling things might help a little bit, at least to reduce that squeaky noise.
V: Still it’s a mechanical thing, even if David’s organ is not mechanical. The noise is mechanical, so you can get to the bottom of the problem and fix it mechanically, I think.
A: Yes, or you know, if the pedal is worn out, you might think about changing the pedal board.
V: Only the pedal board.
A: Yes, that should be possible, too.
V: Yes, that’s one of the ideas, too. What about Sine Nomine. What is this piece? Do you know Ausra?
A: Well I think you want to tell about it.
V: Sine Nomine in Latin means, “Without a Name,” but Sine Nomine, I think, is the name of the hymn? Could be. You know, the hymn tune. I’m just looking it up. Oh there is corporation Sine Nomine, Sine Nomine publishing…. Yes! In the Hymnal, there is also a “Sine Nomine” hymn, right? By Ralph Vaughan Williams. So, maybe he is playing a Ralph Vaughan Williams hymn. Could be.
A: Could be.
V: That’s quite likely.
A: I enjoy his music. Great composer.
V: Especially his pedal lines are so fast moving.
A: True. So maybe he plays too much of Ralph Vaughan Williams, and that’s why his pedal just broke!
A: I’m just joking.
V: Maybe! We’ll see.
A: I was not so sure about that middle section of his question, because I didn’t understand if the problem is with his technique, or if again it’s a problem with the organ. What do you think?
V: When he picked a prelude that is too long, and he has to drop out top notes, right?
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: So that in a large registration, polyphony would be easy to listen to. It’s difficult to understand what he means here.
A: Because on the one hand it seems like if it’s a mechanical organ, maybe the bellows don’t give enough air to the pipes, to the wind chest. But if it’s an electronic organ, then I don’t know. Maybe it’s his technique that the texture is too thick and he cannot play it all.
V: Yes, maybe the texture was too thick for that registration, and he had to reduce the texture by dropping some notes in the harmony. That’s what happened, I think.
A: Could be. But I would suggest that he not pick music then that he cannot perform on a particular organ for any reason. I think it’s better than to reconstruct a piece, although it’s possible, but probably not the best solution.
V: And he had to rewrite the ending of the first half so that it would sound like a finished piece, because he cut the piece in half and had to stop in the middle.
A: Seems like very much work to do for one piece. Then it’s better to select something more appropriate. Don’t you think so?
V: Right. Or simply improvise the final cadence, not necessarily right it out.
A: True, true. If you have to manually rewrite it, it takes a lot of time.
V: So that’s what our suggestions are to David and to anyone who is sort of in David’s position, maybe, when they have to deal with squeaky noises in the pedal, when they lose concentration on repeated runs of the piece, and when they have to cut the pieces—shorten the pieces for the service to adjust. Thanks guys for listening, for practicing, and for sending us your questions. We love helping you grow. So, please continue writing to us, and we will try to help you in the future episodes of this podcast. 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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