Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 386, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Rob. And, he writes:
Hi Vidas and Ausra,
1: My dream is to play two or three pieces very well. I’m currently working on Gigout’s Toccata; and, thank you for the excellent fingering. There were a couple of measures that I just couldn’t figure out!
2: a) time, I’m a 45 year old at-home organist with some college organ performance training with a Johannus coupled to Hauptwerk on a mac mini, b) haven’t figured out a good memorization scheme (although I plan to use Dupre’s – again thank you for that information), c) I have played full time in the past but with my current travel schedule, unable to so I play for myself, family and friends.
V: So the second part of the question is about his challenges, right?
V: Time? He doesn’t have enough time. Then memorization is a challenge and also he no longer plays full time but just for his family, friends and himself. And his dream is to play a few pieces really well. I think this dream could be probably reached in a few months, right?
V: Maybe six months from now.
A: Yes, it’s not like, ‘I want to play complete organ works by J. S. Bach, very well’.
V: Yes. Or ‘I want to become the best organist in the world’.
A: Yes. We receive questions like this and statements like this. So I think sounds very reasonable to play really well two or three pieces.
V: And the fact that Rob is using our fingering is a good sign, right? Because it takes a lot of time.
A: Sure. And since Rob doesn’t have much time, so I think it’s beneficial to have fingering written in.
A: Do you think that memorization is really required for organists?
V: No, but I can understand why people want to memorize. It’s enjoyable to be able to play without music. If he’s traveling for example and gets hold of another instrument, somebody says, ‘Hey Rob! Can you play the organ?’ And he doesn’t have the music with him, he could sit down and play from memory, Gigout toccata for example, or any other piece that he likes. Of course improvisation would help here too.
A: Yes. That’s what I want to know more about it.
A: But it’s nice to learn to improvise just to be able to play something on the organ at any given time.
V: Ausra, when you try out the instrument when you travel for example, do you prefer to improvise, or to play something from memory, or to play your famous harmony sequences?
A: (Laughs). Sometimes I mix all of those three together.
A: Play a little bit of everything. A little bit of repertoire, a few measures…
V: A little bit goes a long way.
A: Yes. Then a little bit of improvisation, but you always laugh about them.
A: Well, let’s not go into it.
V: Oh, let’s do.
A: No. No, no, no!
V: Tell me the last instance when I laughed at you!
A: Well, you are laughing even now.
V: No, I’m laughing at the situation. But when I do remember the time when you played something, and I laughed.
A: Well, no you do it in a more subtle way.
V: Oh! More mean way.
A: The motives that I used for my playing, you repeat them in not a very nice way.
V: Oh, so, I sit down afterwards and I try to copy you.
V: Mmm. So maybe you are my own inspiration.
A: I don’t think so. I think you just want to expose me to ridicule.
V: But nobody is listening, so there is no harm.
A: But I’m listening.
V: Maybe it’s our way to joke between each other.
A: Yes. That’s what I thought about too.
A: But anyway, those harmony exercises that your making fun of them, gives you some perspective what you could do on the unknown instrument when you don’t know any repertoire at all. You could definitely use them.
V: I remember a few years ago, my friend Paulius Grigonis who’s now an organist at St. Joseph church in Vilnius, he, I think went on vacation and asked me to substitute him in his old church—the Church of Holy Cross. And this instrument has just one manual and the pedals. And I was very strategic about that. I said, ‘Okay, I will substitute you, but on the condition that I will record myself, and put it on Youtube, all those organ pieces that I will be playing’. And I insisted that I’m specifically will be playing organ music and not singing hymns. I would sing just required mass parts, like Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, in every day mass, but not hymns. I would improvise my organ preludes, postludes, offertories and communions. It would be like organ versets. Ausra, do you think that was a good idea?
A: Well I think it was a good idea but I don’t know if congregation liked it. If those women, elderly ladies were used to singing…
A: hymns. Then I think they was shocked, were shocked by your improvisation.
V: The shocking therapy is also a therapy, right?
V: Maybe they will appreciate the real organist when he comes back.
V: But I didn’t play anything out of the ordinary—anything too modern or anything too dissonant. What I played were versets like I said before, but all improvised. And I would record myself before every playing, and I was doing this for about two weeks I think, every day. Imagine that! So in every mass, I would have at least four pieces, and for the first two weeks in a row I would have maybe fifteen times four, maybe sixty recorded videos. And what became of that was the basis for my course, which is called Organ Verset Improvisation Master Course, I think. I recorded everything, put it on Youtube, and then later analyzed my own playing, what I did, so that other people could improvise like I could. And what I was trying to say right now is that my improvisations at that time were very structural and they sounded just like expanded modulations and harmony cadences and sequences. Like you are teaching. You are teaching maybe eight measure long ideas, right? Or twelve measure long ideas. I would just expand it into maybe twenty-four or thirty-six or forty-eight measures long. A few musical ideas put together, but it’s just like a second step after harmony. And people who studied that course said that they helped them to improve too, improvisation skills. So that’s one of the suggestions also—how you can improve your own improvisation just based on the harmony skills, nothing more. And you can actually demonstrate this instrument various stops, tryout different combinations, purely on improvised cadences and versets like that.
A: True. So harmony never hurts. It only helps.
V: It’s a basis and it was the basis for any tonal music composed up until early 20th Century, for sure.
A: That’s right.
V: So if we’re talking about Gigout, for example, Widor, Gilmant, Vierne, although Vierne becomes more complex, but still the tonal harmony is still there, with...
A: Sure, sure...
V: some variation.
A: Although he uses many dissonance, but then still everything is very conventional...
A: In his music.
V: Right. So what Rob could do, well, is to simply analyze his Gigout toccata, for example, or pieces that he’s playing, and write down the harmonies, maybe above the pieces—above the music, or below the music. And then try to play the chords—just the chords in that key. And then later transpose them. That would be wonderful exercise.
V: Thank you guys for listening. We hope this was useful to you. Please keep sending us your wonderful 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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