Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 329 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Hanna and she writes:
I am having pain in my inside right groin from trying to hold my knees and feet together. It was all I could do to do 10 reps of the Master organ course Week 2 Day 1 this morning. I am only 5' 1" and it is difficult for me to perch on the edge of the organ seat to reach the pedals as you describe. I can only hope that the pain will decrease with time. I was not able to do all of Week One in the Pedal Virtuoso course last week, but am trying to be more faithful daily this week. But things are improving, more accuracy bit by bit. –Hanna”
V: So Ausra, what do you imagine is happening?
A: Well I think probably Hanna is working too hard.
V: If something is hurting then you are not doing it right, right?
A: Well, yes. I would like to talk a little bit about that thing of keeping knees and feet together. I never did it for myself. It never worked for me. I learned about this kind of thing late in my life when I was already completely shaped as an organist. I never really learned to do that but it doesn’t hurt me for not doing it. And I’m playing all kind of repertoire from renaissance to modern and I can do it perfectly without keeping my knees and feet together because as Hanna me too, I’m not very high and really I don’t have long legs, I don’t reach things easily on the pedalboard so I have to find my own ways to do things and I think each of us is very unique and what works for one person cannot work for another person. So always when you have rules you need to take only what really works for your body and not try to hurt yourself.
V: You’re right Ausra. The idea of keeping the heels and knees together is simply to move both feet as a unit. Not two separate legs but one and for some people it’s harder to do than for others because of body type and physique and obviously if your playing in the far reaches of the pedalboard it’s crazy to do this. I have to emphasize this, never try to hurt yourself because it’s painful and it will lead to injuries eventually.
A: Yes and Hanna says maybe in time it will hurt less. If you won’t change something in your practice, your playing, it will hurt only more because that’s what pain does. It increases, usually, unless you change something.
V: I recommend for Hanna just to play with the inside portion of the feet. This way her knees will be pointed inward, not outward, and she will be still playing correctly and without pain.
A: Probably yes because I never imagined how a person with big hips can put his knees and ankles together. It’s kind of a weird feeling.
V: Right. And of course this Pedal Virtuoso Master Course that she is talking about obviously is just a set of exercises of scales and arpeggios. In real music we might find a passage or two in entire composition like this. It would be completely boring to have pedal line comprised only from scales. It’s not an etude.
A: So if you are working on some technical exercises like Pedal Virtuoso Course you don’t need to do only that and please don’t play entire day only on this course because you might really get injured yourself.
V: Right. This course is probably good for warming up.
A: Sure. Anything that you do you have to have that feeling of moderation.
V: Yes. Never over-exert yourself.
A: And mix that practice with some other practice, work on repertoire.
V: And whatever you do, always take our advice with a grain of salt, right? Whatever I say it might work for me but you have to think about yourself too, if it does work for your body. And you might even misinterpret my words sometimes. I don’t remember writing “You have to keep knees together and feet together in extreme edges of the pedalboard” unless there is something else that I am missing from Hanna’s writing. What about Ausra if she doesn’t turn her lower body to the direction of the playing. Maybe she’s playing upper notes but her knees are facing to the left. That’s hurtful, that’s incorrect.
A: I don’t know how it’s possible even to do, even to try to do.
V: If you always face to the center, right, your knees are facing to the center but your feet are trying to go up, up, up, the pedalboard.
A: That’s impossible to do. I can’t even imagine it.
V: It’s really hurtful and dangerous.
A: It hurts you from thinking about it.
V: I believe people can sometimes forget to turn their lower bodies to the direction they are playing. Their knees should always point to the note that you are depressing with the pedals. Either left or right. So then maybe even Hanna can reach the high notes with both feet together and knees together. I don’t know if she tried that or not. You see how sometimes we could spot a simple solution I think too. So if Hanna is listening to this or reading our conversation it would be nice for her to try the right way, the way we advise, and report us back if that helps.
A: True. In general the more I listen the more I think that not everybody needs to play everything. You need to select what you want to play and what works for you. Don’t you think so?
V: I think that you need to explain it a little bit more what you mean.
A: I mean that if something really doesn’t work for you, doesn’t fit your body, maybe it’s not worth trying to and hurting yourself.
V: Umm-hmm. What you mean is that you can become a good organist even without playing exercises.
A: I was talking also about repertoire as well.
V: As well.
A: For example if my hand is very small and I will pick up pieces that needs big reach then I will be doomed to hurt my hands.
V: Right. Always listen to your body. And maybe sometimes a thick texture is too much for you; maybe you need to play trio sonatas.
V: Do you like trio sonatas Ausra?
A: Yes, I love them.
V: For that reason.
V: Because you have small hands.
A: Well, I have moderate hands, I wouldn’t call them small.
V: Can you reach an octave?
A: Yes, I can do that.
V: Can you reach an octave and a fifth like Liszt?
A: No. (laughs.)
V: I once tried and I think with my left hand I reached an octave and a fourth. That’s a perfect eleventh, an interval of eleventh but only with the left hand and with the right hand I can only reach a tenth, an octave plus a third.
A: So you still have a greater reach than I do.
V: Can you reach a ninth?
A: Yes, yes, it’s hard but I can do it.
V: (laughs.) It’s very painful for the hands but fun to stretch just to see how far it can go but never try I think some tools to stretch your hands. Never fasten your hands and fingers to some appliances like in medieval times they would torture humans. Don’t do this. This wouldn’t be nice. Excellent. We hope this was useful Ausra. Do you think it was useful?
A: I hope so.
A: I’m not sure but I hope so.
V: Let us know if you think our suggestions to Hanna were suitable and it could be interesting to get feedback from other people who are not tall too. Alright. 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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