Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 316, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Regina. And she writes:
I enjoy reading your blog and find your responses to be absolutely spot on.
I am a retired music teacher and choral director. Piano was my primary instrument (began lessons at 4). Upon retirement, I decided to pursue a life-long dream (the number one item on my “ bucket list” lol) to learn to play the organ. I have been studying for almost eight years and have tackled some of JS Bach’s most challenging masterworks. As a pianist, I found that the most difficult aspect of learning to play the organ was not the pedals but, rather, the left hand. If I made mistakes, it was usually in my left hand!
I’ve recently gotten the St Anne’s into performance- level shape. I will probably use the Prelude as exit music for my next wedding gig (I work as a substitute organist for two Lutheran Churches here on Long Island, NY) .
Again, I enjoy your blog tremendously and always find some piece of advice I can utilize in my studies.
V: So it seems that Regina is struggling with playing left hand parts, more than pedals. Why is that Ausra?
A: Well, I think everybody who hasn’t played organ but is going to do it, fears playing the pedals.
A: I remember myself before starting to play pedals, I was afraid of how I will do it. And actually I felt just like Regina; I felt that it’s really not the hardest part to play pedals. And actually left hand was less really a problem at the beginning, until I was able to master it and to coordinate between left and pedals.
V: It seems to me that the most difficult combination when you play two parts, is not the hands alone, the right hand and pedals, but rather left hand and pedals, for most people.
A: Yes. And even now, for example, when I’m playing hymns, let’s say, I still have to think about tenor voice. Not about alto and soprano and the bass. I need to follow carefully the tenor line, because I’m playing it with my left hand.
V: And I’ve heard that people who are playing hymns, and starting to play them with pedals, they easily omit the tenor line and play the right hand and pedals more often. And only later brave enough to add the left hand part. For those same reasons, I think, that you were mentioning before.
A: And I wonder, I think these problems are for right-handed people. I’m wondering what, how things work if you have left hand as a main arm, hand.
V: Mmm-hmm. If you are left-handed.
A: Yes. Maybe then the hard thing is to play the right hand.
V: I think then it becomes sort of easy enough to play both of them because the melody is usually in the right hand part, in most pieces. So that’s why this right hand is rather well developed for many people. And if you’re naturally left-handed, then left hand is easy for you too. So it compensates.
A: Yes. And another thing when I thought about Regina’s case, that she was a pianist, yes? Piano was her primary instrument. And if you think about most of piano repoirtore, I would say that left hand is accompany hand. But in organ music, especially if you are talking about J.S. Bach music, they have polyphonic music where both hands are equally important and both hands are equally complex and difficult. So that might be a problem too by it’s harder for her to play with left hand.
V: I find myself too struggling with left-hand part in advanced modern music. The one which I’m practicing right now for Teisutis Makacinas organ music recital is pedal part could be difficult. But if i’m playing it alone it’s okay. Right hand is okay. Left hand, if I’m playing it alone, is also sort of okay. But when I’m playing everything together, I think left hand is the first one to see mistakes, I think. Yes. So I need to work on left hand. Just like Regina, I think, does. And that’s so natural. I think people could practice etude’s for the left hand, don’t you think?
A: But still, at first, you will not get the same texture as you would get, let’s say, in Bach’s fugue. So my suggestion would be when you are picking up a new piece and starting to learn it, learn the left hand first. And then left hand and pedals.
V: Or if you’re playing in separate parts, practice them twice as many times.
A: That’s right.
V: Let’s say if you are playing ten times, right hand, and ten times the pedals, maybe twenty times for the left hand then.
V: But for other people pedals is also problem so maybe not ten times for the pedal but fifteen times for the pedals. Or as many times as needed until you can play three times in a row without mistakes.
A: That’s a good suggestion.
V: That might be much more than twenty times.
A: But anyway, I think it’s normal that everybody has sort of a weak spot in their playing. For somebody pedals are harder for somebody [with] the left hand. So I think it’s normal.
V: I think it’s also sometimes different when you go from organ to organ. Right now for example, I’m playing on two instruments; at home and in our church. In both places we have mechanical action organs. But at home it’s a small practice organ and in the church it’s 64 stop, three manual instrument with really difficult mechanical action. Difficult to depress keys. So, naturally, at home it’s easier, I think to play, to depress keys. But I think at church, it’s more convenient for me, don’t you think?
V: Because this resistance gives you sort of—foundation. You’re sort of grounded in those keys, when the keys are resistant.
A: But you know, with this, I find it harder and harder to play in our church. I don’t know, maybe I’m just getting weaker with age. But sometimes I, even saying all kind of bad words in my mind.
V: You’re cursing!
A: That’s right!
V: What kind of curses?
A: Oh! This is the last time that I’m performing on this organ. I won’t do it anymore. I’m just getting really, [really, really] tired of doing all that hard mechanical work. Because, and it’s not that tracker action is so hard. Yes it’s hard, but we have trouble with a few keys that are harder than everybody else. And it’s too hard because you cannot separate when you are playing complex music and in fast tempo, you cannot think, ‘oh, okay, I will depress this F and this E harder’, and put more power. You cannot do that. And after a while you simply starting to play everything with such a heavy touch, that after practicing for an hour, you are feeling like you will just fall and die.
V: I think this instrument really needs to have some sort of ‘barker’ machine.
A: True. Because I’m sort of used to mechanical instruments and I love them. I like heavy action, but not in this organ, not any more. I’m getting too old to struggle with it.
V: The keys the second manual and the first one also, would really benefit from some kind of ‘barker’ system. Maybe with variation that would make playing on those manuals much easier. It really is a pain for virtuoso music, I think, to play this instrument. And maybe that’s the reason why not too many Lithuanian organists love to play there.
A: I know. I remember when last I was playing that huge chorale fantasia by Johann Adam Reincken, ‘An Wasserflüssen Babylon’ and it’s in the key of F Major. And I played a lot on the first and on the third manual because they are sort of baroque-based manuals, baroque-like based manuals. And imagine I had to hit those two, the heaviest keys on the first manuals, E and F. They were repeating themselves, over and over again, because the key is in F Major, and I had to play so many trills, that would be start on the G, and I would trill this F, then go to E, and to resolve it on the F. I thought I will really die, or break my fingers.
A: I was feeling while playing those trills, that I’m sort of chopping a meat, with a hammer or something like this, or with an axe.
V: And as always, I have a solution to you, my dear.
V: You could always transpose to F# Major.
A: Could you do that? With Reincken?. I doubt it. I highly doubt it.
V: Guys, on this optimistic note, I think we’d rather finish this conversation.
A: Yes, just before I just would start telling nasty things to Vidas about his solution and transposing Reincken to F# Major.
V: Okay. Please go ahead and practice. Because when you practice...
A: Miracles happen!