Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 387 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. And this question was sent by Lukasz. He writes:
I suggest You a new subject, with a pinch of salt. Organ playing as a fitness. Yesterday evening I spent more than 1 hour the with Bach trio sonatas. When I've finished, I was completely wet. Maybe You could make a list of pieces that not only builds the skills, but also takes care of the physical form of the organist? ;-)
At the beginning of the list of pieces that make me wet I'll put of course Bach trio sonatas. What You will add to this list? What Yours friends from all over the world will add to it?
I am very curious to know what Yours experiences are in this matter?
V: So, do you think, Ausra, that playing Trio Sonatas by Bach is a good fitness?
A: Well, I misunderstood this question, actually. Because if, after playing Trio Sonatas for one hour, you are all wet, it means that you are doing something really, really wrong in your practice. It shouldn’t be like that, because Trio Sonatas are such elegant pieces. I agree that they are hard to play because of the coordination between the hands and the legs, but it’s very graceful music in itself, so you shouldn’t be wet after playing them.
V: Maybe the level of Lukasz, for example, isn’t yet suitable for Trio Sonatas, and therefore, it’s very demanding.
A: Well, I cannot judge or decide about that, because I haven’t heard him playing, but in general, I don’t think that any organ composition will make you sweat like that. It’s not a normal thing. I think you need to check up on your health state, because it means that something is really wrong with your body.
V: What about, well, let’s say Duruflé Toccata?
A: Well, I haven’t played Duruflé Toccatas, but I’ve played some difficult pieces by Max Reger, for example.
V: Max Reger, yeah, a good example.
A: Or other pieces by Maurice Duruflé, but I have never been wet after playing even an entire recital, unless it’s very hot and humid in the room. But, it’s not related with playing.
V: What if the instrument itself makes it hard to play, like depressing the keys.
A: Still! Have you ever been wet in St. Johns’s Church?
V: No, but I’m used to it. Maybe other people could!
A: Well, do you think it’s normal to be wet after playing Trio Sonatas?
V: Maybe... I’m just trying to guess… maybe there is something in the music itself that makes people sweat.
A: Well, but then it’s related not with physical, not with the body, physical things, but more with the mental issues.
V: Yeah, for example, your body is very efficiently moving, at least should be moving… remember how contemporaries of Bach describe his movements, that the instrument would play itself and he just barely moves his hands and feet.
A: That’s how it should be, because all the movements at the organ needs to be as little as possible, and another thing, you know, I got the impression that Lukasz thinks that after practicing organ, you don’t need to exercise, because the organ does it for you—practicing organ will replace the gym, and that’s a very wrong assumption. That’s…
V: Otherwise, you know, we would all be athletes!
A: Sure! Yes! Sure, but it doesn’t matter how many hours you practice on the organ, it will not replace the real exercise.
V: Movement of the body.
A: Yes! So, besides that, you really need to find some physical activities to do, because yes, it would be wonderful if you would just practice organ and that’s it, and you wouldn’t need to do any other exercises or what ever you do…
V: Pull-ups, push-ups, or whatever you do, yes, whatever works.
A: But you know, I don’t think it’s a good feeling that you feel on the organ as being at the gym.
V: But some energy is required when you play.
A: Of course, it requires a lot of energy. But I would say that it requires more mental energy than physical energy.
V: And this is evident from the fact that when you, for example, or I return to the organ bench after illness, after being sick for a couple of weeks, then it kind of requires a few days to get used to this activity. It’s difficult. It’s probably also physically difficult.
A: Sure, but when you are sick and not feeling well, then any kind of activities will give you a lot of pain and struggle. Like now, I had this sinus infection really bad, and had to treat myself with antibiotics, so even eating lunch was a challenge for me, because sometimes I would be so wet that I would have to change my clothes twice during my lunch.
V: You know, I would love to do a list of top 10 organ pieces to improve your biceps.
A: I don’t think you can find it!
V: Or top 10 organ pieces to improve your abs, to have six-pack abs, but it wouldn’t be fair.
A: But what I could tell you, and I think it’s true, if you have good muscles in your body, especially the abdominal area, it will really ease your playing pieces like Trio Sonatas.
V: Top 10 pieces that will make your yoga practice seem like a kindergarten! That would be fun.
A: But you know, I think that for different people, different pieces present different challenges. For example, for me, it was really never hard to play Trio Sonatas, and I’m saying this, not because I want to show off, but because it’s really easy for me to control three single voices. It can be hard but still be only three of them, and it’s pretty easy for me to control them. But, in the thick textures where I need to stretch my arm a lot, I struggle very hard. And, for example, for me, it’s much easier to play, let’s say Duruflé, than to play Max Reger, because some of his textures are just almost impossible for my hands to play and to reach.
V: What about Petr Eben’s Laudes?
A: Well, still it was much easier than I expected when I played it.
V: What about….
A: Of course that written gives trouble, you really need to learn how to count, but as soon as you really force yourself to count, then everything is just fine, because still, Eben played organ himself, and he knew what to write and what fits the organ, so he didn’t write something impossible to play.
V: It fits the hand.
A: Yes! It fits the hand pretty nicely, actually.
V: I see. You know what we could do, is to give the top 10 organ music for listeners fitness! Organ plays, and listeners jump around and run around the church in the meter of 3/4 or 4/4.
A: Well, and you know, for example, if I would like to torture myself, I would probably have to pick up and play a big cycle of Olivier Messiaen, especially of his late cycles, and then I would think I would not even be wet, but I would probably even cry, because, well….
V: You would sleep like a baby.
A: Yes, and you know, people often say that if you don’t like somebody, some compositions or some composer, you probably don’t know anything in depth about his style or his ideas, and with Messiaen, it’s that I really know his style very well, because I analyzed it so many times in great detail about all his compositional techniques and his philosophy. And sometimes, I like to listen to his music, but it’s such a challenge to play, because of his very very slow tempi, you need to be very patient, and of those rhythmic values added….
V: Added rhythmic values, yes….
A: It’s just so horrible. Try to count yourself….
V: It’s called additive rhythms, yes?
V: Thanks, guys! We hope this was useful to you. Please remember to exercise not only your mind, but your body, besides playing the organ, because in general, it’s a sitting activity, and sitting activity is not very healthy for your body.
V: And please send us more of 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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