SOPP537: I discovered I am not growing to the level I aspired to get to in organ playing
Vidas: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 537 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Harris, and he writes,
As a little boy growing up, I started having great love, passion and zeal for church classical music. But there was nobody who could guide me, teach me and mentor me on what music was all about.
I also had no access to any musical instruments at home.
I had to join the church choir at age 14, and pleaded with the choir leaders to teach me music, but nobody had that time and patience to teach me music.
All I was doing back then as a choir boy, was to internalize the kind of notes and sounds I hear from the organ/keyboard.
I was learning how to sing tonic solfa as I hear the keyboard/organ sounds, each time we are having choir practice and during church services.
I did this for several years and got myself into hearing music and playing what I hear.
As time goes, I got a small phone and started reading small books about the rudiments of music, how to understand lines and spaces on a sheet music.
I was able to understand a little about the STAFF and tried to sight read as I play, but I discovered I am too slow and it’s sort of confusing to me.
As a result of playing by hearing, I became the organist of my local church and other churches I have served as an organist,
I have performed with several chorale groups back home in Nigeria, played for several concerts, church services, bands and also indoors.
I do play Hymns and classical songs to accompany the choir.
I discovered I am not growing to the level I aspired to get to, so I have been seeking for means to travel out to abroad where they do music so well, so I can be able to learn as well, but it has not been easy.
I have tried to register in some Organist forums, seeking for employment as an organist even its a small local church choir where I could start up from and learn.
But I hardly get a positive response.
Please sir, I really would appreciate if I can get great help from you in any way, to help me build my Christian music life, for I don't want the music fire in me to die off.
V: Well, first of all, seeking employment in some organist forums like he did, I don’t know if this is fruitful or not, in general.
A: Well, I think it’s a very hard way to get some position, don’t you think so?
V: Well, if I wrote something to an organist forum, and nobody knew about me, what is the chance that they would even reply to me?
A: I think very, very, low possibility.
V: Unless they are desperate, and nobody wants that position.
A: Sure, but if nobody wants it, that means that probably you also wouldn’t want it.
V: Yes. There is a reason nobody wants it usually. So, that’s not how to go about seeking employment. Maybe learning to play the organ well is the first step.
A: Yes, I think so. Because in order to get a job, you need to show your employer what you can do. And as I understood from Harris’ letter, that he is self-taught and that he still reads music very poorly.
V: Mm hm.
A: That it’s hard for him to read from the score.And I think that this is a crucial skill for any musician, especially church musician, because we have to provide new music each week for Sunday services. So I think knowing the musical notation and being able to sight read things easily, I think it’s step number one. Because if you only play most of what you are doing from your pitch, that’s not the best way to do it. I know musicians who do that, but we always feel amateurs and not become professionals.
V: You know, if we lived in Nigeria, for example, in a country where internet access is very expensive, and he wrote that he has a small phone from which he could get more information. Small phone meaning it’s not, maybe not a smart phone. It’s a regular, normal touch phone with a touch pad. And with that kind of device, it’s a nightmare, right, for people to get more information. I’m even surprised he’s writing to me. That he has enough motivation to go through those obstacles, you know? Other people just probably give up and wait for better times to come to their country, and better internet access, cheaper internet access, where information is more accessible, right? Think about how lucky we are living in a country where we can do all kinds of things online, and it’s not terribly expensive in terms of data, roaming.
A: Yes, but you know, I’m thinking about being able to sightread music, I think you don’t need much of technology to do that. You know, after you learn what the concrete notes are, you just need to acquire some sheets of music and just do it.
V: I would probably go to the local library. They usually have better internet access, even in Nigeria, probably. In a public library, I mean. And probably download some scores from IMSLP archives. Digital music library.
A: They are all free of charge.
V: Public domain.
A: Out of copyright, so you can use them freely.
V: Yeah, download some kind of collection that he likes, and then practice diligently, right? I’m not suggesting to Harris to sign up for any of our courses, because it’s obviously out of reach for him and not affordable, but he can really be self-taught organist, taking advantage of free material online, and without videos. Videos are expensive to download and watch, stream. And probably he would need just sheet music. How about those Dupre Chorales - no, Dupre is not online - maybe Orgelbüchlein by Bach.
A: That’s probably too difficult, don’t you think?
V: Too difficult, four parts is too difficult. But, if I had great motivation, I would practice just one single line for a month. And then after a month, I would add the second part, and after two months, I would add the third part, and so on.
A: But since he is a church musician, maybe practicing hymns would be a great idea.
V: Yes, maybe get hold of the hymnal from church, or maybe borrow a hymnal.
A: If he has hymnals. I’m not sure.
V: I’m not sure. Probably could be maybe just words, could be, or even if it’s a melody, maybe just soprano melody in many hymnals. I’m not sure what they are using in Nigeria. But there are many many sources of hymns online. He could simply download them and print it out from the library.
A: I think it would be easier for starters than Orgelbüchlein.
V: Like download 100 hymns, and start doing the same thing, like it was a small, but normal, musical composition. And learn each of those 100 hymns in separate parts. 100 hymns soprano part, then 100 hymns alto part, tenor part separately, bass part. And then do 2-part combinations after some months. 3-part combinations. All of them. And inevitably, he will start to sight read 4-part texture sooner or later.
A: That’s right.
V: That’s called, you bootstrap yourself, even if a poor country, even where everything is inaccessible but the publicly available materials. And then he could go into church and say, “Hey guys, I know how to play hymns. I can lead the service.” And he could play some examples, and people might be impressed and offer him a position. Maybe a smaller paying position at first, but that could be a start, right, which would lead to further opportunities.
A: That’s right.
V: In country where everything else is not accessible right now. Thanks guys, for listening. We hope you will take our tips and apply in your practice. And let us know how it works. 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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