SOPP507: I think in the service, soloing out the melody of a hymn, is a good technique to assist the congregation right from the organ
Vidas: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 507. This question was sent by Dan. And he writes:
Hi Vidas and Ausra, Hard to believe that you guys are almost up to 500 episodes already. Seems just like yesterday that you started the podcast. I’ve been a listener right from day one. To comment on this episode, another thing that an organist could do during service, if playing a hymn that’s less familiar, is to solo out the melody on a second manual, with a prominent reed stop, a couple of principals, or a suitable combination on that second manual, so that the melody could be heard. I’ve observed over the years that this is a technique that I’ve heard organist use, to assist congregations with new material. Our organist that we had when I’d first started going to the church I’m going to, back in 2000, if there was an unfamiliar hymn, before the service, he’d take maybe 10 minutes and go over it. Then during service, for the first verse, he’d solo out the melody, on the festival trumpet on the choir division of the organ there. I think in the service, soloing out the melody of a hymn, is a good technique to assist the congregation right from the organ.
A: Well, it is a good technique, and I think it might work in many cases, but in Lithuania, for example, we have many, many churches where an organ has only one manual, one single manual, so that technique simply wouldn’t work. And in that case, I would suggest if you want to really make a melody very prominent, you need to play it in octaves on that single manual.
V: No other chords?
A: No other chords, yes. No supporting harmony. Mainly to play the hymn melody in the pedal, and then to do it in octaves with your hands.
V: So for example, if the starting note of the hymn is, let’s say, treble C, your left hand would play tenor C, and pedal would play bass C, the lowest note.
A: That’s right.
V: In three octaves, basically.
V: Mm hm.
A: Because, this is like a dream, when Dan talks about Festive Trumpet. How many organs in Lithuania have a Festive Trumpet that is in shape good enough to be able to play it?
V: Yeah. First of all, reeds need to be tuned regularly.
A: True, true. But of course, you know, we are living in a different world. And each time when Vidas and I go abroad to give recitals, the most amazing thing for me is how well organs abroad are taken care of. Because, whenever you go to France or to Scandinavian countries, organs are in the best shape, although some of them stand in unheated churches, and still everything is right in tune.
V: Well, it’s very simple actually. Organist takes care of regular maintenance that you need to work on, for example, tuning the reed or a flute or two if it’s out of tune a little bit. But less often. Reeds are more often, right? Most often, organist has to have an assistant helping him or her. So just one person has to press the keys on the organ console. The organist has to go into the pipes and tune those reeds. Sometimes reeds are not far away. They can reach, he can reach it from the organ bench or from the ground floor, too. But, if organist takes care of regular reeds maintenance, then he or she has to have a good training in this. It’s not for everyone, right?
A: True. And in Lithuania, we lack that sort of training. Most of organists just have no idea what is inside of the instrument, and have no idea how to maintain it.
V: And no interest in it.
V: Basically no interest in finding out even how the organ functions.
A: And this is jsut too bad because we have so many beautiful churches. Especially in Vilnius, most of them are built in the Baroque style, and we have wonderful acoustics. But organs aren’t in good shape, many of them.
V: And for example, organists write their registration without any regard of what stops they’re using, right? They would write down numbers.
A: That’s right.
V: But they don’t know what those numbers mean. When they go to another organ, they have to start their registration process all over again. Because number 5 or number 18 doesn’t tell them anything.
A: That’s right.
V: So that’s one thing. They’re not interested into technicalities of the instrument. And another thing is that a church has to have a contract with an organ building firm.
A: Well, you need to have an organ building firm. Do you remember when we tried to get hold of some organ firm that would take care of our organ at St. John’s so that we wouldn’t have to do it regularly?
V: Nobody wanted it.
A: Nobody wanted it, nobody took that position. So we do everything ourselves.
V: Mm hm.
A: Basically, it’s because we don’t have many organ building shops in Lithuania anymore.
V: Only about two, I would say, are left.
A: Yes. It’s not enough.
V: There is some sign that one or two younger people are more interested in this, and in the future might open their practice.
A: Well, but you know, how will you make a living? It’s very hard. They would not receive many new contracts, and only take care of old instruments. Who will pay you for doing that work? Usually, you know, church doesn’t want to pay for it.
V: If you travel around the country just doing maintenance, let’s say on weekdays, right? Five days a week, you can travel to five organs.
A: True. And I think that what makes this all issue, is that so many people don’t understand about organ at all. And even well-educated people don’t. Because I remember maybe ten or more years back, we had this question risen in Vilnius, because of St. John’s church organ. I think the rector asked, “So, we built an instrument, we paid so much money, and now it needs tuning, it needs maintenance?” He couldn’t believe it. So, it’s just such a narrow-mindedness, I would call it.
V: Yeah. Organists have to do more education. Educating activities, showing for the general audiences how their organ works, how much is needed to maintain it, right? And even organ builders who are left here still active in the country need to open their shops for the society. For the general audience, once in a while. And invite and give tours to show how the pipes are constructed, how they work on new organs or restorations of old instruments. That would be very interesting.
A: Yes, it would be.
V: Excellent. So we started this conversation with a question from Dan, right?
A: And finished it very differently. But anyway, it’s so nice that Dan has listened to our podcasts since the first episode, and that he now wonders about us doing 500 already.
V: Yes, this is number 507. So we already passed number 500. By the time you will hear this, guys, we might be recording 520 perhaps.
A: Yes, that’s a possibility. But anyway, I think Dan’s idea about soloing out the melody is very appropriate. And if you have larger organ and have possibility to do it, then please do it, because it really works. Of course, the hymn has to be in sort of festival character. It shouldn’t be, you wouldn’t use solo trumpet for, let’s say hymn that is in a soft character
V: Yes, because…
A: ...or a sorrowful character, because reeds provide festive mood, festive atmosphere.
V: Yeah. If you need to solo out a melody on a gentle hymn, then maybe use some kind of principal combination.
V: Or maybe flute combination with flutes 8, 4, maybe Tierce or a 5th, or like a cornet.
A: Yes. I thought about cornet if you don’t have a trumpet, for example, you can use cornet instead of it. It will sound probably more gentile than trumpet, but would still work really well.
V: You mean gentle.
A: Yes, gentle.
V: Good. Thank you guys. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: 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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