Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 504 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Vitold, and he writes:
This is Vitold from the organist school. Can you send or recommend literature to better understand organ harmony? Because I write those notes and I can't understand where and how those intervals are calculated. The hardest part I ever studied was the harmony I never understood. I played mostly from hearing and finally I would like to learn.
So Vitold is a student from St. Gregory’s organist school, where I teach, this semester, Harmony. And there are something like 14 students in this course. Two are on the second level, and the rest of them are at the beginner level. So Vitold is at the beginner level, and during the first lesson or class, I gave them five hymns to work on, but I didn’t ask them to supply 4-part harmony, yet. Only to supply the bass line to the soprano melody. But, I asked them to think about the sweet-sounding intervals of sixths, and thirds, and octaves and fifths, but to avoid parallel octaves and fifths, and mostly use sixths and thirds in alternation. And, in order to avoid forbidden intervals, aim for contrary motion between the hands. When the soprano goes up, the other voice has to go down and vice versa. So this the general instruction.
A: So basically, you are teaching it, not more like a harmony, what I understand is harmony, but more as about counterpoint.
V: That’s right. We are starting from there, because before there was harmony, there was counterpoint.
A: But, I think as an advanced musician, you need to understand that counterpoint in general is much more complex and difficult than harmony.
V: If you take it into consideration the next species of counterpoint, not only note against note, but two, three, four, five mixed counterpoint, right? This is difficult, but from what I assigned, they only have to supply one note in the bass against one note in the soprano.
A: But you know, what I understood from Vitold’s question, I think he is in much bigger trouble than he…
A: ...realizes, yes, because he cannot calculate intervals. It means he doesn’t know what a certain interval is. And, it means that he really needs, probably, elementary music theory, to learn before taking any courses of harmony.
V: That’s why I didn’t start with four voices. You know? And the next lesson when we meet, maybe I have to refresh what intervals are, what kind of intervals you can use…
A: But then, you know, other guys in that course that know what intervals are will be bored!
V: Yes! Yes, that’s true.
A: I guess they need to do some sort of entry examination into this organ school.
V: They didn’t.
A: I know! I remember, I taught there last year for a half a year, and then I quit it, because I had like 18 students at very different levels, and I had to teach all of them harmony.
V: So, to help Vitold and others who don’t know what an interval is, I took my camera yesterday and recorded a video about intervals, basically listing all those intervals from the unison up to a perfect octave from the note C, and I calculated their distance in terms of half steps and whole steps.
A: Another thing that I was thinking while reading Vitold’s question was that he seems to have some musical training in the past, but hasn’t learned much out of it. So these are the hardest students, I believe, that have some formal training but haven’t learned anything, because, they seem to like to complain about things, resist things that you are offering them, and it’s just really bad.
V: If he were a fresh beginner without any training, like a blank sheet of paper, you could write on a blank sheet of paper. But if you have a paper with something written in, you have to first erase incorrect things on that paper, and then rewrite everything from scratch.
A: That’s right. So good luck for you, Vidas. I’m glad I’m not teaching harmony there this year.
V: Yes, you can laugh at me, now.
A: No, I’m not laughing. I feel really sorry for you.
V: Or you can build a monument for me. After this semester.
A: You haven’t built a monument for me after last year!
V: Let’s build a monument for each other.
A: Yes, ok. But anyway, harmony is not such a hard thing. If you can count to ten, you can learn harmony, too.
V: Obviously, only the first twenty years are difficult. Afterwards it’s easy.
A: But, you know, by having an understanding of harmony and about chords and how they are connected and all those things are a big help for a church organist. I cannot imagine being a good organist without having at least a basic knowledge of harmony. Especially if you are working in a Catholic church.
V: In Lithuania. Because in more civilized countries, musically, they have hymnals and supplements, and harmonizations of melodies they have to play, and people sometimes can get away without harmonizing things. But in Lithuania, there are only a few hymnals with harmonizations, and the rest is up to an organist.
A: So basically, if you are a church organist in Lithuania, you need to be an organist, a conductor, a composer, and cantor.
V: Total organist, right?
A: Yes, basically Total Organist.
V: Like we teach! Excellent. So guys, 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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