Ausra: And Ausra
Vidas: Let’s start episode 365 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Neil, and he writes:
My big problem is confidence but last night it went very well probably because I practiced everything and marked up the service booklet and went through the service in my mind.
V: So, Ausra, do you feel confident when you play? Because, sometimes I do not feel that confidence, but I still have to play it, regardless of how I feel.
A: Well, I think that each of us are not having confidence every time we play, and the reasons might be various. We might be unprepared, or we might not feel well…
V: Or we might just lack experience.
A: True. So, there might be different reasons. But, if a person says that he or she has confidence every time, always, then I just think that either the person is insincere, or that something is wrong with him or her.
V: Or that person doesn’t challenge himself or herself enough. Right?
A: It could be true, yes.
V: Playing pieces that are too easy.
A: That’s right.
V: Then we can feel really confident.
A: Yes. But, as was mentioned in the question, I think it’s very important to have that preparation. And both physical preparation and mental preparation for an event. As Neil said, he studied the booklet—he circled the service booklet...important spots. And he went through the service in his mind. I think this is a very important thing.
V: So imagine this scenario. You have to play a church service, and usually people just show up and play. Maybe they know the hymns in advance, they practiced them, or prelude and postlude or communion piece, whatever, but other than that, they sit down and try to play the service as it happens in the real time. What sometimes happens, is that there are some changes—unexpected changes, and you don’t know what’s happening. You don’t know how to react. You are sometimes thrown out of the path, and some people are better than others with dealing with uncertainties. And, then, if you feel some stress, you can panic easily.
A: Of course!
V: And mess up… start to play the wrong hymn, for example, or with the wrong registration, or in the wrong tempo, or in the wrong key.
A: Or in the wrong spot.
V: Yes. Or just miss an entire hymn. Just miss it entirely. Did you have those experiences, Ausra, missing hymns?
A: Of course I had those experiences. But not because of a panic.
V: You just missed on purpose?
A: No, I was delayed.
V: By whom?
A: By a postman.
V: Oh, tell us!
A: I think I told the story that at Eastern Michigan University, not at the university itself, but I was subbing for Vidas during Lent services in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. And, there was a postman who came in the middle of the service, and since the pastor in front was busy, and at that time I was at the end next to the organ and I was not playing, he came to me, and I had to sign for some kind of parcel, and he looked at my last name and asked to spell it, because obviously it was the first time for this man that he saw such a long last name, and while I did that, I didn’t notice what was happening near the altar, and the postman left, and there was suddenly a strange silence in the church, and then I just noticed the pastor looked at me and said, “And now we will sing hymn number blah...blah...blah.” Then I started to play, but obviously, I was late.
V: But he wasn’t mad.
V: Interesting. I messed up my first, very first, church service, when I was just a kid, playing in my local parish, where my mom and I would go when we were on Summer vacations. And it was a wooden church, and the local priest noticed how I played hymns (I was maybe in the 6th or 7th grade), and he asked me to play a service for a wedding anniversary of an elderly couple. And I foolishly agreed, and I missed Sanctus—Holy Holy Holy part.
A: Well, I know why, because it’s a tricky…one of the most tricky parts in a Catholic Mass, to know when to play Sanctus.
V: So this was fun. The priest was really happy afterwards. He said it’s not a big deal, and he gave me candy!
A: Well, I messed up my first Mass. It wasn’t actually my really first Mass, but maybe my 3rd or 4th, and it was held by a Cardinal.
V: A Cardinal! Oh!
A: Yes. The only one that we have now, in the Holy Cross Church. It was the special service in February. I don’t know what that festival day is called in English. Do you know, Vidas, what I’m talking about?
V: Yeah, the day before Lent. Ash Wednesday?
A: No, it’s not Ash Wednesday, in Lithuanian, it’s called Grabnyčios.
V: It wasn’t Wednesday?
A: No, it wasn’t Ash Wednesday, I know what Ash Wednesday is. It’s the day when the candles are put around peoples necks. Do you know this occasion? Because it is believed that it will heal your throat if you have trouble with it.
V: Interesting. I think it’s not Lent, right, yet?
A: No, it’s not Lent. It’s before that. It’s always in February.
V: Baptism of the Lord? No?
A: I don’t think so.
V: You don’t think so… I’m looking on line… in February. Presentation of the Lord maybe?
A: Yes, I think this is what it is, but we never call it like this in Lithuania.
V: Mardi Gras, no? No! Mardi Gras is on Tuesday.
A: Yes, it was on Tuesday! If it’s always on Tuesday, yes, it might be.
V: Užgavėnės! No…
V: Mardi Gras is Užgavėnės… so then, probably it’s this Presentation of the Lord.
A: Anyway, so I missed The Lord’s Prayer. It wasn’t fun.
V: Right. And was the Cardinal’s name Cornelius?
A: No, it’s our bird name from Pinky and Spiky comics. Stop joking about things, because you might be kicked out of the church entirely!
V: I see! Ok, so let’s continue our conversation about confidence, right? You had confidence issues and I had confidence issues, and Neil has it sometimes, and probably everyone from time to time experiences confidence… and it’s a good thing, right Ausra? Because it means we are challenging ourselves with things that are a little bit beyond what we are capable of.
A: Yes, I think it’s a right thing to have this problem sometimes.
V: What Neil does, or did, to combat insecurity like this is he marked up the service booklet and went through the service in his mind in advance. Basically, he visualized the service from the beginning until the end, what comes next…
A: Yes, it’s very good.
V: It really helps.
A: It’s really how it should be. Maybe not always when he will play for services for 20 years, maybe he will not have to do it, but for right now, I think that this is the right way. And in general, I think that it’s very good that he has this good experience with having a service well done! Now I think that he has to stick to this memory, and I think it will give him more confidence next time.
V: Right. And for other services, which might be different from time to time, it’s a good idea to also go through it in advance, visualize it at home or on your organ bench, ahead of time, too. So, Ausra, tell us: if you will be playing a service any time soon, will you be confident or not?
A: Well, not so much, because it has been a while since I played in a real service, an entire Mass. I would have to refresh some parts of it.
V: But it comes back pretty quickly.
A: Yes, I think so.
V: Like riding a bicycle.
A: That’s right.
V: Sometimes, when I don’t play a service regularly, I get invited in the Summer for example, to substitute for an ensemble of some sort who is on vacation, I then sometimes forget some words from the prayers—maybe some Sanctus words, so then I have to double check the words—the lyrics. But generally, the order of the service, or the order of Mass is pretty set. But, if we both went to another denomination, like a Lutheran church or a Reformed church, or a Methodist Church, then it would be something new.
A: Well, but you know in the Lutheran church, everything is pretty much the same as in the Catholic Church. They have only one thing replaced comparing to the Catholic, so. It’s not a big deal.
V: Not a big deal.
V: Good. So it’s good that we have commonalities, because organists many times play for different denominations, right?
V: And, they have to change in their minds very quickly what kind of congregation this is. Am I in a Lutheran Church, or am I in an Anglican Church now, for example?
A: Or am I in a Christian Scientist Church?
V: Did you play for Christian Scientists?
A: Yes, for two years! This was my favorite church position.
A: Well, they paid well, and sort of I played hymns and one solo piece with a soloist, and then I did a few solo pieces by myself.
V: You told me that you had much freedom.
A: Yes, and they never complained. Whatever, they would appreciate everything that I have played and did, and it was just fun.
V: Yes, appreciation and freedom are the two big things.
A: And, I was actually very worried when I began to work for them, because I thought maybe they would try to convert me to their beliefs in Science and Health, but they never did it, and it was very nice.
A: And, to tell the truth, I wasn’t sick for those two years that I worked for the Christian Scientist Church, so maybe I need to go to the States, and find a Christian Scientist Church and start to work for them!
V: Okay, I’ll look for plane tickets now.
V: Going to America now. Okay, guys, thank you for sending those wonderful questions. Please keep writing to us; we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen!