Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 334 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. And this question was sent by Jan. She is on the team who transcribes our fingering and pedaling scores. And she asked:
I attended a djembe African drumming workshop at my local library. I had a great time. It was so much fun to play music as part of a group.
I have a question...to remember the rhythms, would a classically trained musician automatically translate these rhythms into notation? (Sort of like visualizing a word that you are trying to spell.) I was able to play the rhythms by copying them, but I was not able to translate into notation. I hope that I will be able to teach myself to do so. The whole reason for me attempting to play the djembe is because I am so totally over not being able to keep a consistent tempo in my pipe organ playing and I thought that djembe drumming would provide a more whole body experience.
V: Ausra, have you had any African drumming experiences in the past?
A: No, not much of a chance to get that kind of experience living in Lithuania.
V: What about in Nebraska? Didn’t you attend a workshop with me? One guest drummer from West Africa came and... maybe it was only me, who attended.
A: I totally don’t remember it, so probably you were the only one who attended it.
V: I remember I was also totally amazed by the rhythms, syncopations, what they do with their bodies and hands, and yes, they taught us to use that on our body using hands and feet, but we didn’t have to notate it in rhythms—in musical notation. So...
A: Do you think it’s worthwhile doing?
V: I don’t suppose it would hurt, of course, it wouldn’t hurt, but obviously this music isn’t created to write it down. It’s created to improvise and perform it in the practice.
A: So it’s like a living tradition that is given from man to man.
V: But if you want to transmit this tradition to other countries or cultures, and through the sheet of paper, that’s one of the primary ways to do that, unless somebody sees the video nowadays. Right?
A: Yes, because don’t you think that if you would write down on the paper what they are doing it would rule some sort of magic.
V: Obviously, it’s like taking a picture of somebody. Some African tribes believe that if you take a picture of somebody you will take his soul.
V: So, some musicians even believe that, and don’t allow others to take their pictures, too. I know one.
A: So now, I guess, lots of folk just take souls out of themselves by doing all of those selfies everyday!
V: Right! That’s their belief at least. So, going back to Djembe African drumming as it relates to organ tempo-keeping, playing organ pieces and keeping a consistent tempo, that really helps I think.
A: I think so, yes, and I think at least that was how I was taught when I was a child in my early age. My piano teacher would always tell me, “Oh, you know, we Norman people, we don’t have a good sense of rhythm. You need to go south in order to learn how to use the rhythm correctly, and tempo.” So I don’t know if it’s much of that or not, but when I studied in the United States, I simply was taught that you need to count, and that you need to subdivide everything that you are playing, and you need to listen to what you are doing and you will be fine.
V: Could be part of the reason, and if Jan wants to not take it, she says that she can’t copy it herself, right? I suggest, for example, either record herself, do a video, or even an audio of those beats, or go online and look for a video that other people that are using drums are making, and slow it down by about 50%. You could adjust the speed, you know? And then if this tempo is slow enough, you could actually start to notate it. It’s like Jan is transcribing our fingering and pedaling from slow motion videos. I’m playing those pieces in a slow practice tempo, but I hope people who transcribe on our team, they slow it down even more—like 50% more, so it’s like 4 times slower than normal concert tempo, so note-by-note, basically, much easier this way.
A: Well, and I think if you would transcribe it, do you think it would look something similar to what we are using in our Western music?
V: Sure. It’s not modal music, it’s not those ancient exotic traditions that have more than 12 notes per octave, it’s just rhythms, syncopations, that are difficult to Jan. But, if it’s slow enough, and if she could notate it, it would look like crazy rhythms, but we could understand it, right? Especially in slow tempo.
A: Yes, that’s why I think that learning rhythm right from the early age is so important. That’s why, for example, in our school, the young kids they have in the Solfège to write down also rhythm dictations not only the musical dictations.
V: Did you like it?
A: Well, no! I didn’t like it, because it was hard for me.
V: I preferred melodic dictations.
A: Me, too!
V: I even melodic dictations to harmony exercises.
A: Well, that’s because you have perfect pitch!
V: I remember that day, the choir director of the second graders in our school tested my pitch, my ear, and she played a few notes in the middle, a few notes really high, a few notes really low, and said, “You have perfect pitch.”
A: Did you know what perfect is at that time?
V: No. But, I felt like...upgraded into the next level.
A: That’s funny.
V: Yeah, very proud. Looked down on everybody for a few weeks, and wouldn’t say, “hello” to anybody for a few months.
V: Yes. Even now, I am like this.
A: No! He’s just joking. He’s very friendly.
V: Thank you guys, this is an interesting question. I wish we had more experience with African drumming. We have one percussionist, who obviously knows a lot about it. Thomas, right? He can play all kinds of percussion instruments, and he was our colleague in the Academy of Music in Vilnius, and sometimes we are playing with him with organ and percussion.
A: Yes, we played some duets. I, for example did some sonatas by J. S. Bach. Actually, I played it on the organ, and he played it on marimba, and it sounded wonderful! And also we did that big piece of Petr Eben, Landscape of Patmos, for many different percussion instruments and organ.
V: Mhm, it had an entire set, and you performed in the Philharmonic Hall in Vilnius!
V: With the big organ.
A: It was hard for me. I don’t think it was so hard for him, because he’s an excellent musician.
V: Did you enjoy this piece? Eben’s Landscapes of Patmos?
A: Yes, I enjoyed it very much.
V: It’s very colorful when you play it with marimba and other percussion instruments and organ.
V: Okay guys, this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra!
V: Please keep sending us 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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