Vidas: Hi, guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 426, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by John, and he writes:
I have struggled to get much quality organ practice in the last 2 weeks, but family has to come first. Prior to that I have been diligently practicing the first 10 Hanon exercises with a metronome, starting at 60 bpm and working my way up to 80. I started noticing a few small issues where I was drifting off beat. I have also tried practicing pieces to a metronome as I am subconsciously changing the tempo without realizing.
I have learnt the first 2 pages of Wachet Auf from Schubler chorales, and playing it ok, it took quite a while to get the chorale tune, it certainly tests my coordination and independence of RH, LH and pedals. Page 3 with the modulation to minor mode is taking even more work, but slow practice is working.
I am playing for our church service on Sunday, I am really excited as I haven't played at church for since January due to Isaac arriving. One of the hymns is a new one, and when I practiced it, I had a special moment of realizing how much my skills have improved. After 3 days of very slow practice, I was able to play all four parts together with hardly a mistake! I reckon even 2 years ago it would have taken 7-10 days to achieve this. In fact 2 years ago I remember emailing you saying I was struggling with playing all four parts of hymns when I had only 1 weeks notice. I think I have finally reached a point where I am committed to trusting the learning process, whereas sometimes I would skip some combinations, or try and play at performance tempo. Now I really focus on slowing the tempo right down, and sometimes practice each fragment 10 times instead of 3 times.
I wanted to thank you and Ausra for being the reason for my first DVD sale in the USA from one of your subscribers Paul Anderson!
I had a go at organizing the payment and shipping through PayPal, and so far so good.
Also could you and Ausra give your advice on a podcast on some practical strategies to improve my phrasing, this could apply to hymns but particularly Bach pieces and music in general. How do you incorporate pauses/breaths while still keeping a steady tempo.
It is getting close to 1 year since my Vilnius trip, the memories are still fresh, and I would love to come and visit you guys again one day! I hope the weather will soon warm up and bring you more energy!
V: So, Ausra, it’s very nice to receive a letter like that from John from Australia, who exactly one year ago played a concert in our church.
A: Yes, I think I saw it on Facebook today that it’s exactly one year...
A: since he performed at St. Johns, in Vilnius.
V: By the time our listeners will hear this conversation it might be more than one year. But still, the memories are fresh, and we were really amazed at the, John’s improvement over seven years of training. And, now, he writes that he was able to master a hymn in four parts with hardly a mistake, after three days. And this is achievement in itself, because two years ago, he remembers that he had to do this in maybe, seven to ten days.
A: Anyway, hard work always gives its results, at the end.
V: Mmm-hmm. I, you know, it’s so nice that he made his first sale of his DVD to one of our subscribers—Paul Anderson. And I guess it’s not easy to sell something online, right! And I’m very happy that from our discussion when we mentioned John’s DVD, people picked up. If anyone wants to get a copy, the best way would be to contact John by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A: True. And I think it might be interesting for somebody to see what the organs look [like] in Australia. Because for many of us, it’s still such an exotic and far away country.
V: Right. So, John is wondering about advice on improving phrasing, maybe incorporating pauses and breaths. In Bach’s pieces, not only in Bach’s but also in other stylistic influences. Do you think that phrasing is important, Ausra, first of all?
A: Yes, of course! It’s very important.
V: What would happen if we didn’t include phrasing in our playing?
A: Well, all the pieces of music would sound very dry and mechanical, and lifeless.
V: Have you ever listened to that 18th Century mechanical organ? Remember, I think in Nebraska, somebody gave us a recording of Handel’s Concerto, as recorded on that particular mechanical organ.
A: I don’t recall it right now, but you do.
V: Yes, I do.
A: Evidently you do, so maybe you could explain what you mean.
V: And it was very virtuosic. Absolutely stunning passages, and ornaments. But I found it quite unmusical, actually. Because to program a piece on a mechanical device like that, in 18th Century, would have been really difficult. Now you can play back, play something on a media equipped organ or keyboard, and it would playback exactly as you were performing.
A: You know, in some sense, it seems that it’s harder to learn all the technical stuff, to develop your technique, in order to be able to play in the right tempo and without mistakes, with the right articulation. But, on the other hand, I think phrasing and playing musically things, is probably the hardest thing to do, especially if you don’t have it from your birth. And by telling this I can tell one example. I had recently, have had a student, with whom we were working on several pieces, and basically I was arranging each measure for her—what to do and how to play it and where to slow down and which chord to listen to more carefully than another one, and explain that all. Basically, I arranged it sort of like a, I don’t know…
A: Like a, well, not exactly like a show, like a theater…
A: And still at the end, it all sounded just like chopping the wood sticks with an ax. She couldn’t pick it up.
V: Hmm-hmm. She needs musical intuition. But that comes I think, with experience also.
A: So, what would help in case like this? I think you need to listen to a lot of music in general.
A: All kind of music. Not only organ music, but organ too—by various performers.
A: And you will find out that after comparing, let’s say, some of different people playing, let’s say the same piece, you would feel that you like one recording more than another.
A: And you will develop a musical taste and musical intuition. And later on it will be easier for you to adapt it in your pieces that you are playing.
V: I would say the more you notice something happening in the music, the more you can show it to your listeners. And that includes phrasing, breaths and pauses, all those things, in certain places. Not in all episodes, but where something important is happening in music. So you have to dig deeper into the composition itself, analyze it, and notice it.
A: Yes. I think that this musical logical background is also very important—in knowing structure, in knowing style.
V: One last think I want to say, is, that I remember when I was a student, my professors would tell me sometimes that I’m playing statically. Especially if it’s a slow tempo piece, that, the music doesn’t flow. Did you ever have this experience?
A: Yes. I have had it.
V: Mmm-mmm. Earlier.
A: Yes, it was a way back.
A: Now, it’s hard for me even to remember it, already.
V: And exactly. And I was thinking about your performances, my own performances, but probably I’m a little bit, less objective about myself. But you could tell me about me. I never once noticed static performance from you. What about you?
A: I also haven’t noticed a static performance of you. I think you have just changed a lot...
A: over past what, 25 years.
V: We never think about it—playing statically or not statically, right? We make music.
A: Yes. It comes naturally.
V: We make music. It’s like telling musical story. If you don’t know where the story ends, then you might tell your story statically, right?
A: True. I think it’s very important to sing your pieces.
A: Because very often we might play unmusically, and dull, and statically, but people rarely sing unmusically—unless we don’t have musical pitch.
A: Sort of it’s hard to put an accent, let’s say, at the end of the face if you’re singing it. It comes naturally because it’s all related with the breathing, and somehow, I think, it’s in everybody’s insight.
A: This gives you that right feeling of right phrasing. So just sing what you are playing.
V: Good advice. Thank you guys. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: We hope this was useful to you. 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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