Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 339 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Irineo, and he wrote:
Splendid/illustrative podcast, maestros. Great guns.
But I think maestro Rob left something missing: One of my teachers many years ago told me "if you possess what's called a 'Melodik Ohr', you have an advantage over those who don't".
My questions are:
1-How can you teach students to develop that "Ohr"?
2-Where does it originate?
3-Are some people just born with it?
4-If not, is it possible at all to teach those who don't possess it how to develop it, you think?
V: This term, “Melodik Ohr:” What do you think Irineo means by that?
A: I am actually not quite sure. Have we talked about it? Because, I don’t think I know this term.
V: No, it’s just in parentheses. Maybe it’s a figure of speech. I’m looking it up. “Melodik Ohr.” And, I think he comments from podcast 322 on accompanying the congregation and improvising, when Rob wrote about his advice in accompanying and on improvisation. So, maybe about improvisation, right? Because, Rob said, “I discovered that there is a part in my brain that always creates music. All I need to do is tune into it and listen to what is playing in my head at that moment. It can be a melody, can be a harmonized piece of music,” and so on. Does it make sense? So then, Melodik Ohr means, maybe in Irineo’s mind, “How do you develop this sense of musical insight, when you keep hearing those melodies in your head—this sense of inspiration. Does it make sense?
V: I believe that’s what he means.
A: So is it like a musical intuition, then?
V: Mhm, but it seems that it’s connected with memory…
A: Or it’s more like something like perfect pitch.
A: I’m not quite sure.
V: Yes, and that…
A: Because, when I first read Irineo’s question, I thought about perfect pitch right away. But when he went back to Rob’s letter, I thought more about musical intuition.
A: Because these are very different things.
V: Right. I think it’s intuition. Melodic intuition. How you develop it. And, this is musical vocabulary that musicians use and composers use. I think the best way to start is to understand that yes, it can be taught, for some people easier than others because of innate talents and maybe musicality, right? What’s the background of the person. But, imagine a person who is immersed in a musical world day and night, listening to music, playing music, going to concerts, sight reading constantly. Little by little, he or she will have that vocabulary in his fingers, and constantly in his head, too.
A: Well, still, I think that the big part of it comes with your birth. You bring it from your birth. Because, let’s say I have some students, not many, but some, who are already graduating, let’s say, this year. And, one of them still cannot sing in tune or hear the difference between, let’s say, a tonic chord or a dominant. And then, I’m just thinking that probably, such kind of man needs to choose another profession, because I don’t think it would be wise to become a professional musician. And, I don’t think that a person like that could develop this Melodik Ohr.
V: Uhuh! I agree with you, and I remember from my conversations with improvisers, people like Tom Trennny or Sietze de Vries, and many others who were on the podcast earlier, they said that they liked to play around with things on the keyboard, play tunes and harmonize hymns and develop them a little bit, and transpose them—sort of they found it very curious and interesting task to sit down at the keyboard and do something with the keyboard. And the reason that some of your students don’t appear to have that skill is that that’s not interesting to them. Maybe they are interested in other things, and maybe that’s part of the reason they don’t have this talent.
A: Well, but still, I think if you have a very good ability to sing music since your birth, then it is more fun for you, and you are sort of more willing to do what you are doing.
V: Yes, you are naturally drawn to it, like children, sometimes some people sing in their youth, in their young age as kids. They sing. Some draw, some tell stories, some like to act, you know? And that’s where their talent lies. That’s where their curiosity develops, also. If a person is born with a gift for visual arts, and you say, “no, no, you play an instrument, it’s a torture, then!
A: I know, and I think you just need to find what you are gifted for, then to develop that skill of yours.
V: Right, and if Irineo feels sort of a tendency to do something with those melodies in his head, maybe that’s his calling—part of his calling—to try to improvise, try to compose, try to have fun at the keyboard, basically, with his own music, not the music of others.
A: I think even with the music that is written by other composers and that you are performing, you need to have that something in yourself, that musical gift, that Melodik Ohr, in order to interpret it. Not in a correct way, but musically.
V: That’s musical intuition, right?
A: Sure, because I don’t think that if you won’t have it from the beginning, from your birth, that this can be developed to a very high level. You could develop it a little bit, but probably never reach the heights.
V: Unless you have the talent.
A: True. I think you need to have the talent. And you know, I think J. S. Bach was just too modest, saying that, “Oh, all you have to do is press the right key at the right moment.”
V: I know.
A: And sort of denying his talent.
V: But, you know, this might sound kind of demotivating to our listeners, right? Because, they say, “Oh, I’m not as gifted, so there is no hope for me.”
A: Well, let’s be modest, you know, people! We don’t have to all be Mozarts or Bachs. Each of us have our own goal, and our own musical path.
V: And if you are still listening to this conversation, it means you are interested, it means you are curious about musical ideas, it means you are somewhat drawn to it. Maybe, you are not as talented or gifted as Mozart or Bach or Beethoven, but maybe you don’t need to be. You know, you are you!
A: Sure, and I think that what can really help is to listen to as many other performances as you can, and if you are interested in organ, it’s okay! Listen to other organists as they play, as they interpret music, but also, listen to other music—to other classical music, to other composers, you know, Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, all the others. It will broaden your perspectives and your horizons.
V: And that’s what students are taught in musical schools and art schools, and later in academies of music and conservatories.
A: Yes, and listen to different genres, listen to string quartets, listen to the solo instruments, to symphonic orchestra, listen to the opera!
V: Even if you are at the very high level, like pursuing your doctorate degree. Do you remember, Ausra, in Lincoln Nebraska, we had comprehensive exams, and a list of 25 pieces from various musical periods to present or to analyze, right? And those were not organ works at all!
V: Those were general musical gems from each area and musical period. So, the more you know, the more you can connect the dots.
A: True, and actually, with those 25 pieces, we were not allowed to put any of the organ compositions, because we were majoring in organ performance, so we had to also take our organ literacy exams during these comprehensive exams, but that list of 25 pieces, they were completely different.
V: Can you just list a few of the composers on your list?
A: Well, yes!
V: What you remember now?
A: Yes, I remember most of them, but just to name a few, for example, I have Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, I had Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, I had Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata for piano, I had Verdi’s Rigoletto, I had Dido and Aeneas by Purcell, I had the Vocal Cycle of Schumann’s Frauenlieben und -leben, and all these other wonderful compositions.
V: Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time
A: For the End of Time, and then of course, from the Renaissance, different pieces like Motet…
A: Gabrieli, the Sacred Concerto In Ecclesiis, like I had a medieval sequence Victimae Paschali Laudes.
V: What about Palestrina? Did you have Palestrina?
A: Yes, I had a mass by Palestrina.
V: Missa Papae Marcelli?
A: That’s right.
V: What about Medieval music? Oh, you said…
A: ...said, yes, I had a sequence out of his, yes, and well, of course, like modern music you mentioned, other than Messiaen, and I had also Arvo Pärt, and I had Luciano Berio Sinfonia, a fascinating piece.
V: What was… you studied by Arvo Pärt?
V: Passio! Oh, that’s a pretty piece.
A: And, of course, I had Bach’s Cantata.
V: Wachet auf!
A: Yes, that was the closest to the organ music as I could get.
V: Long list, right?
A: Well, yes.
V: Do you remember my list?
A: Well, you did some similar, but also some very different works, too, because we were not allowed to put the same compositions on our lists, because, you know, people understand at the University that if we would do the same lists, then we could just prepare both for once.
V: I remember having Mathis der Mahler by Hindemith.
A: I remember you had Verdi’s Aida.
V: Aida. Haydn’s, I think, symphony.
A: I had Haydn’s Emperor's Quartet.
V: I had symphony, which is the Farewell Symphony, right? What else did I have…. Maybe Ockeghem? No? Yes. What was by Ockeghem, Requiem?
A: I had Mozart’s Magic Flute! Yes, and you had Ockeghem’s Requiem.
V: What did I have from modern composers besides Hindemith?
A: You are asking me? It’s your list!
V: I have a smaller brain.
A: Ha ha!
V: Okay guys, this conversation is going to the funny direction now, so we should stop.
A: It just shows that we are getting old and want to talk about our memories.
V: Yes. We should make new memories, then. Thanks guys, for helping us to make new memories and preventing us from aging. And maybe we are a part of the same process for you. We hope so, right Ausra?
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: So keep sending us more questions. We’re all in the same boat, and 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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