SOPP427: My problem: I passed my Grade 7 for Associated Board Organ Exam about twelve years ago. Since then, my playing has deteriorated.
Vidas: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 427 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Marjorie. And she writes:
Thank you! You were very helpful. My problem: I passed my Grade 7 for Associated Board Organ Exam about twelve years ago. Since then, my playing has deteriorated. I play for church services every Sunday, but I am not challenged. I play a two manual tracker organ with limited stops, and only a bourdon in the pedal. I took my exam on a four manual Cathedral organ. My dream is to play fluently on the organ. Pieces grades 6 and 7 standard. Thanks -Marjorie
V: Marjorie probably refers to the English system, where they have graded organ repertoire lists and also exams for those grades.
V: And this is rather practical for students who take those grades, take exams and see their progress. So I guess Grade 7 was awhile ago for her. And she needs to pick up, not where she left, but where she is now.
A: True. So, she needs to know to think through, and to evaluate herself, to see at which level she is now, and where to move forward. Because now if we don’t make new challenges for us on a daily basis, on a regular basis, then, you know, we are just like standing water.
V: Mm-hm. Still water.
A: Still water, yes.
V: Mm, with certain odor.
A: (laughs) That’s right! So, in order to make things better, to improve, we need to be more like a river.
V: Flowing somewhere.
V: Direction. I could compare this with my pull-up exercises that I do every day. Before going to the French Alps, I could do 17 now. But after I came back, and during that time when were in the Alps, and after when we got back, I had to have some time to recover from the trip, and I didn’t exercise. So, a few days ago I started again doing my pull-ups, and I only could do 15, not 17.
A: But it’s still better, Because I remember when you just started to do them, you could hardly do one pull-up, and now you can do 15, so it’s not that bad.
V: Yes. It was, now it’s what, the beginning of April? So it was in last August I couldn’t do one pull-up. I could just hang for ten seconds while holding the bar. And then twenty seconds, and then thirty seconds. And then, after awhile I did one. After maybe three weeks, or two weeks.
A: So the same for organ playing.
V: Mm hm.
A: Like, Marjorie is playing the same instrument for many years now. Well, and it seems that it’s not a bad instrument. It’s a tracker organ. Even if a limited stop list, it’s still, you know, a tracker. So I think it’s much better than electronic instrument with a lot of stops.
V: She would take advantage of our recommendations for Two Part Inventions and Three Part Sinfonias easily on that instrument.
A: But of course, she wants to know to improve, and to know to take the next steps. So I think she might find some other instruments to, maybe not to practice on a regular basis, but maybe to perform some recitals. To travel somewhere else, to get new experience. Because I think it’s nice to change the scenery time after time. It gives some inspiration, and helps us to move forward to the next level.
V: Mm hm. If we have two manual organ, even with limited stops, she can practice just about any type of organ repertoire.
A: True. That’s true.
V: And then perform it on much larger instrument, for example.
A: And I’m guessing that you would have to have couplers to the pedal, too, I guess.
V: Right. Because just one Bourdon would not be enough.
A: That’s right. But with the couplers, you could manage quite a lot of repertoire.
V: Mm hm. We at home have only one stop, or no, two stops.
A: Two stops.
V: But we only use one.
A: Yes, because that second one is still too loud.
V: Yes. And it has two manuals, and we only use a Rohrflöte or Bourdon, I don’t know exactly. Maybe it’s…
A: It’s Gedackt.
V: Gedackt. Yeah, Gedackt. Eight foot.
A: Because that Rohrflöte is louder, we don’t use it so often. But you can still do a lot with such an instrument in terms of learning new repertoire. But then of course you wouldn’t want to perform on it for a recital. So you would search for a new venue.
V: And if you find one, do good research. Ask for photos from up close for this organ console, the position of stops, and layout of organ handles and stops. Where are they located? And when you practice your repertoire on your tracker organ at church or at home, maybe imagine yourself in a target situation. Maybe reach for some stops with left hand instead of the right hand. Of course, use the swell box with the right foot sometimes when it’s needed. Those things. Pistons – remember to do many motions with your thumb and toe pistons and studs. That way, you can mentally basically prepare for anything. Right, Ausra?
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: But it’s good that Marjorie wrote to us that she is lacking a challenge while playing at church. So of course, she only plays probably hymns every Sunday, because that’s what is required. Do you think, Ausra, that she could play something that is not required at church?
A: Well, I don’t know how the routine works in her church, and what the clergy is, and what the congregation is. But if it’s very conservative, then no, it’s risky to play something out of common way.
V: I’m not suggesting that she could elaborate in the service itself, but pre-service music and post-service music, like prelude and postlude, could be two places where she could challenge herself. And learn every Sunday something new.
A: True. I remember my last year of working at Grace Lutheran Church in Lincoln, when I had to know , I think I would have a couple Sundays to play every month, and a couple Saturday nights. Well so, on Sundays, I would do one of chorale by J.S. Bach from the third part of Clavierübung, one of the big ones .
V: Mm hm.
A: So, and at the end, I think we had like a hymn festival, and I performed Prelude and Fugue in E-Flat Major. And it was nice, I actually think, because it still gets me, you know,
A: Motivated. Yes, because it’s not that easy, you know, to play a big chorale for each Sunday.
V: Mm hm.
A: But it was nice, I think, for congregation to listen to such music. I don’t think they ever had another chance…
V: Hm. I hope so. I hope that they did. Maybe somebody else took our place and continued that tradition. But…
A: I’m not sure. I greatly doubt it.
V: Mm hm. All right. We hope this was useful for you guys, and especially to Marjorie. Always challenge yourself, and try to learn something new every week.
A: You know, you could establish some contacts with colleagues from other places, with organists from other places. And maybe you could visit them and they could visit you.
V: Do an exchange.
A: Yes, do an exchange. And that way you will try new instruments, and will have more interesting venues to perform.
V: If you have ten friends, you can have ten different organs to visit.
A: Well, you could start with one friend at the beginning. Vidas always, you know, wants to make as much as possible out of every situation, and I am more realistic.
V: You know what’s my vision in this? Reach for the stars, and then you can land on the moon, and that’s not too bad, either.
A: True. So, I think Marjorie will find her own way, somewhere between your and my suggestions.
V: Mm hm. Okay! 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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