SOPP510: My main challenges are accuracy in all parts, especially pedals and keeping correct tempo throughout
Vidas: Hi, guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra
V: Let’s start episode 510, of Secrets Of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Jay, who is on the team to transcribe our podcast conversations so we really appreciate his work every week. And he writes:
Accuracy in all parts, especially pedals, keeping correct tempo throughout.
V: So basically this is his answer when I ask him what is his main challenges. What are some things that he is challenging, what is he frustrated with, right? Things that are keeping him from reaching his goals. Let’s talk about accuracy, Ausra, or accuracy in all parts.
A: Yes. I always envy organists who can play without any kind of mistakes.
V: Always envy, or not so much anymore?
A: Not so much anymore, but of course there are organists that played without any mistakes, even the smallest ones, that you can always record their concerts and put them on CD’s. But that’s a rare case. Often you might not hear mistake because you don’t know that piece very well or you are not focused enough while listening to the piece, and you might miss it. Because, for instance, there are sometimes these moments when you are playing yourself, and you think that something’s very wrong, but then you listen to recording and it seems okay.
V: I did this. Remember my first organ CD with Giedrius Gelgotas, the flutist. I played D Minor Toccata.
A: Yes, I remember that, but it wasn’t a case. You played it and you thought it...
V: It was okay…
A: was okay, and I thought so too. And then we listened to the recording. We heard the mistake…
V: In the first page.
V: And I didn’t repeat this page. Therefore, my sound engineer had a very difficult time in eliminating this mistake. But he did it, I think.
A: Yes, he did it. So, do you think accuracy is the most important goal, the final goal, of each organist or not?
V: Accuracy, probably, is important for beginners, very much, because they are just starting out and struggling to play without mistakes. And if they make too many mistakes, the quality of the perception of the piece, or the performance gets distorted in your listeners ears, in your listeners minds. Therefore, it’s good to aim to play with accuracy and it’s good to aim to master the piece with this kind of accuracy, right?
A: Yes. I think it’s very important to play as accurate as possible. But I don’t think it’s the only goal, or the most important goal. I guess the most important goal is of course to play as accurate as possible but I think that even more important is to keep steady tempo throughout the piece, even if you made a mistake. And that’s what happens with the beginners, especially, we make a mistake, we got all stressed out and we stop keeping tempo. Or we stop...
A: in the middle of performance and might [want] to repeat it again and they make mistake at the same spot again, and, I have heard such performance.
V: Or they freeze and don’t know what to do.
V: Yeah. This kind of situation is the worse I think, for listeners.
A: True, because if you occasionally make a mistake—who doesn’t—we are no computers or robots. But if you will give a steady tempo then nobody will notice. Or maybe just a few professionals, but not the general audience.
V: Do you think people mess up more pedal parts or manual parts?
A: Well, I never thought about it. Never counted…
A: if I have heard more mistakes in the pedals or made myself, in the manual part. But I guess pedal part is still a challenge for many organists.
A: For beginners. But I guess if we would just relax and let it go, I think we would do [a] better job. I think it’s all mostly mental.
V: Yeah. And it also, I was going to say, depends on peoples ability to multitask, right? Because when you play the organ, you have to be able to do many things at once—play with your right hand, play with the left hand, play with the right feet, foot, and play with the left foot, at the same time. Sometimes really together, all those four parts. Sometimes in alternation. And this requires coordination of your various body parts. And beginners and people with less experience on the organ bench or less experience with different kind of instruments, usually get distracted while doing this kind of assignment of playing different parts together. And if they mess up someplace, in someplace, they can’t pickup from the same place seamlessly. They have to stop and start again. But I think that that’s very natural. And after a while, experience, if you don’t stop yourself from practicing over the years, practicing and playing in public, playing on different instruments, if you keep advancing, I think your experience will teach you all things that you need to know. And it will not be very challenging to pick up the music without stopping and keep going, just keep going, right?
A: Yes. It’s very important. And another thought that came to my mind while reading Jay’s question about keeping the correct tempo throughout the piece, that if it’s difficult for you to keep that tempo throughout the piece…
A: that maybe you picked up the wrong tempo.
V: Or the wrong piece.
A: Well, that’s [a] possibility too, but let’s not go into to selecting repertoire.
A: but maybe, it’s not the right tempo for you. Maybe it’s the right tempo for that piece, but maybe you still have to work on some difficult spots, and to strengthen your abilities, technical abilities to play it.
V: Quite often, the most challenging episode comes, not at the beginning, but towards the middle or towards even the end of the piece.
A: Well, it’s often the cadences that we are talking about…
A: in Bach’s music.
V: So even if this cadence is the first cadence that you meet in Bach’s music, it’s not in the first measure.
V: It’s after a few measures. And if you start at the concert tempo and it goes smoothly, like for three, four, six measures, and then you encounter a cadence and then you slip, right? You first have to think about this cadence and be able to play it at the comfortable tempo fluently. And then, pick this tempo for the beginning of the piece.
A: Yes. And sometimes I found out for myself, that if I pick up a new piece that I don’t know, then everything is just fine. But if I decide to learn some well known organ piece that I have heard many, many time, I sit down on the organ bench, and I want to play it in the right tempo, as I hear it in my mind.
A: And then it’s really [a] problem. Because you cannot pickup right away very difficult song, organ piece, and play it in a concert tempo.
V: No, not yet.
A: So I find it’s challenging sometimes, to slow me down.
V: Well, you have to, you want to have immediate results, right?
A: Yes, but it’s impossible I think, for anybody. If somebody tells the other way, maybe we just exaggerating their skills.
V: Even Bach was known to stop for several times while say, creating a piece on the harpsichord, while visiting his friend. This was documented in one of his letters. And then after that he exclaimed that it’s not possible to sight-read everything.
V: Mmm-hmm. So guys, don’t worry. Even Bach was a human being, even if it’s hard to believe. Thank 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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