Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 402 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Ariane, and she writes:
I started with week 3 of my hymn improvisation course and tried to play my current organ pieces at a faster tempo (which I saw on YouTube- St. Sulpice...). But when I play faster it just sounds rushed, irregular and without any real feeling.
V: Let’s discuss, Ausra, first, those Hymn Improvisation Course exercises that she is working on in week three, because the first four weeks is created like note against note counterpoint, so against one note of the chorale, the student has to add one note of the counterpoint, and vice versa, and they switch, bass-soprano, soprano-bass. Does this sound reasonable for four weeks in a row?
A: Yes, I think that’s very good for starters.
V: I think there is no need to rush, because of course, you could do each week, one more difficult set—two notes against note, one note or three notes against one—but that would be, I think, too fast.
A: Especially if you are a beginner, because usually exercises like this are done in the written form before playing them and practicing them, so…
V: So, she’s in week three, and next week, she will get a set of exercises, too, and then in week 5, we will start practicing improvising the second voice in 8th notes, for the selected hymn tunes, which means two notes against one. And that will be another level. I think by that time, she will have some fluency over the first level, note against note, and she will be ready to jump in and get started with 8th notes.
A: Yes, if you go step by step, then yes.
V: It could be even a nice introduction for your hymn of the day when you are introducing your hymn, you can play with two voices and improvising the lower part, or improvising the upper part, but just note against note in church.
A: Yes, it’s possible, although, maybe you don’t want to play an entire hymn as an introduction. It might be too long.
V: To make it sound more appealing, you can add more gravity to the registration. Maybe, I would say, Organo Pleno with Principal Chorus and Mixtures. That’s sounds sometimes convincing.
A: Well, that’s possible, yes, especially if it’s an opening hymn.
V: And then, Ariane has, I think, a problem of playing faster, her pieces, because she looked at YouTube recordings of her piece, and played at St. Sulpice, and she probably felt that she could also try out at a faster tempo, but she writes “The playing sounds rushed, irregular, and without any feeling.” Why is this, Ausra?
A: Well, there might be different reasons. First of all, she did not mention what she thought about that YouTube recording at St. Sulpice, but I guess she might have liked it, because after she listened to it, she tried to play faster, and then it sounded bad for her. So, what that might mean, my guess as a professional musician, could be that she simply is not ready to play faster.
V: You know what I wrote to her on Basecamp is that slow practice leads to fast progress, I think.
A: It makes sense, of course.
V: I like playing pieces very slowly for a long time without rushing. And if I need to rush, I know there is something wrong with my planning. Right? If I’m still playing slowly, and my recital is three days from now, I know there is something wrong with my preparation and scheduling and planning in advance, because as I say, it has to be ready, for concert tempo, two months in advance, I think. That’s a safe zone. Don’t you think?
A: True. And in general, I think that picking up the tempo is very individual for each person. Because what works for one could not work for another, and for different reasons, and not only because of ability to play, but also because of the temperament, too. For example, when I heard for the first time how Joris Verdin plays Franck, well, it sounded really impressive! I was basically very much surprised, and some pieces it works pretty well, like in the Finale piece, for example, I think that that tempo worked pretty well, and no ritenuto at the end, but some pieces sounded just ridiculous for my taste.
V: And you have to remind our listeners, for which reasons Joris Verdin is famous.
A: Actually, for playing Franck very fast.
V: Because his theory is that the metronome markings of the day for the 19th century were meant for 19th century metronomes, and those were made a little bit differently, and therefore, the tempi should have been faster. And Franck would sound more virtuosic, then!
A: Well, yes, but why I wouldn’t play as fast, is because Franck’s harmonies are incredibly rich and incredibly beautiful. And, when you are playing them so fast, you basically don’t have time to enjoy them, to listen into them. But it’s a matter of taste, too.
V: Right. Sometimes you need to lean on dissonances, as our former professor Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra said, and….
A: Well, you know, Americans very often talk about dissonances, and I have heard in Europe, that somebody laughs at Americans, because they always lean on the dissonances, and sort of exaggerate the role of dissonance in music, but the more I live, the more I agree with the Americans, that it’s really very important to lean on dissonances, because why are all suspensions written on the strong beats? It means something to you.
V: Right. So, when I’m going to play today, I’m going to lean on dissonances even more. You will hear it!
A: Okay! I’m looking forward to it!
V: And, you know, I’m playing Ad Patres Sonata by Brunius Kutavičius in preparation of my Notre Dame recital in the summer, and you know, this piece is entirely made of dissonances.
A: Well, but that’s another story! It’s a modern composition in minimalistic style, so that’s completely another story. What I was talking about is music written in a common period.
V: I will still lean on dissonances, you will hear it!
A: Good luck with that! Then your sonata will take forever to play!
V: Yes. Thank you guys for sending 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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