SOPP581: Thanks very much Vidas. This should also be interesting as a pedal exercise technique.
Vidas: Hello and welcome to Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast!
Ausra: This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better organist.
V: We’re your hosts Vidas Pinkevicius...
A: ...and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene.
V: We have over 25 years of experience of playing the organ
A: ...and we’ve been teaching thousands of organists online from 89 countries since 2011.
V: So now let’s jump in and get started with the podcast for today.
A: We hope you’ll enjoy it!
V: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
A: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 581 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Amir, and he is taking our Secrets of Organ Playing course called “Sight-Reading Master Course,” and he writes:
Amir: “Thanks very much Vidas. This should also be interesting as a pedal exercise technique
And I wrote to him:
Vidas: “You are right, Amir! Almost everything that can be played by the hand, can be played by the feet too. In fact, the feet often can be regarded as the third hand in organ playing.”
V: I should give you a little bit of context about this question. Amir is studying this sight-reading course over maybe 17 or 18 weeks now, and sometimes he sends questions about it, and sometimes he struggles with things when he has to count rhythms. But this particular question, I wrote to him that he can actually transform any type of keyboard exercise into a pedal exercise, too. Do you think, Ausra that could be applied in organ playing, let’s say, in the Baroque period?
A: Yes, I’d say it’s possible.
V: Like if you take a Trio Sonata by Bach, and you play a manual part, but not with your hand, but with your feet.
A: Well, it would be really hard. It’s possible, it would be really hard.
V: Or a Two-Part Invention. You could play one part with your hand and another part with your feet, and then switch.
A: Well, you could do all kind of tricks, because there is even one chorale from the Schubert collection where you can play the same voice with either the feet or with the left hand, so it’s up to you.
V: I think sometimes it’s good to experiment with those techniques of placing any particular voice in pedals, let’s say. Because the organ is, back in the day, used to play chorale preludes or variations interchangeably. You used to place the chorale tune in the soprano, alto, tenor, or bass, and be able to play the bass not on the pedals, but let’s say with the left hand. This is simpler, right? But sometimes they do the opposite. Let’s say they play the tenor voice with their feet!
A: Yes, you can use a 4’ stop, and it will work just fine, or you can do the same, to put a 16’ stop for your left hand, for example, and it will sound like you are playing it on the pedals.
V: Have you tried it yourself?
A: Yes, I have tried it.
V: Was it difficult for you at first?
A: Well, no, it was different! You have to get used to it.
V: For me it was a challenge, because when you are not used to doing this kind of trick at first, you mix up your left hand with your pedals, and your left hand wants to read the lowest staff!
A: True, and another problem that you might encounter if you are playing the cantus firmus with your feet, it often has the trills at the end of the phrase, so you have to trill your feet, so it’s not very comfortable, but it’s possible.
V: Like in one of the Schubert’s chorales, the last one. You have trills in the cantus firmus, which is played with the feet.
A: Yes, but you could also do another arrangement. You could play that left hand with your feet, and you could play the chorale melody with your…
V: ...left hand.
A: ...left hand. I have seen two versions of this chorale, and actually I think I have played them both.
V: Which one do you prefer?
A: Well, probably I would do that fast part with the feet. It’s easier for me. It seems, maybe, very scary because you have so many notes in the pedal part, but that way you don’t have to trill with your feet. So basically, if you do this version, it’s more like “Wachet auf.” from the Schubler collection.
V: And “Wachet auf” also can have two versions!
A: Sure. Definitely. Because they are sort of similar in texture.
V: And this is BWV 645, and in one version, you have a cantus firmus chorale melody in the tenor, played by the left hand, and the bass line with the feet. But in another version, you switch parts, you flip parts, basically, playing the bass part with your left hand, and the tenor line with your feet, with a Trumpet registration, maybe.
A: Yes, so that’s just another possibility. So try and explore it, and see if you like it.
V: Again, it’s a challenge sometimes at the beginning, because you’re not used to this kind of disposition, but it only takes a few of the chorales to be played this way where you free your mind from previous preconceptions, and then simply sight-read or practice any other way you want. Right?
V: That’s a good brain exercise.
A: It is! It is!
V: Like solving a musical Sudoku. Do you like Sudoku?
A: Yes! I used to do quite a lot of them. Not now, I don’t have so much time.
V: And what has taken up most of your time today?
A: Well, basically recording organ and grading my students’ assignments! “Distance education,” so called.
V: Do you prefer playing organ and recording to grading papers?
A: Well, playing organ is fun. Recording is not so much fun, because sometimes it gets frustrating and stressful.
V: But you know what I like about playing organ and recording is that when I record, it’s like the finished product, finished result, and you can be a little bit satisfied, be a little bit proud of what you did today. Basically, you achieved something. When you practice, you don’t know if your level is suitable for recording. But when you sit down and force yourself to play the piece without mistakes during a certain number of takes… I know it’s difficult and time consuming and sometimes stressful when you make a mistake in the penultimate measure and have to start all over again, but it’s fun when you have the results.
A: Sure. You know, it’s good exercise for your concentration, too, so it’s worth doing it—at least trying to do it.
V: So guys, lots of different ideas to think about. Not only about playing with your feet, what can be played with your hands and vice versa, but also about practicing and recording your own organ music, and sometimes even sharing with the world! That’s another skill set that we can talk about later. Thanks guys, for listening, for sending your wonderful 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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