SOPP588: My main difficulty are the unexpected changes in rhythms and jumping notes
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V: We’re your hosts Vidas Pinkevicius...
A: ...and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene.
V: We have over 25 years of experience of playing the organ
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V: Let’s start episode 588 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Amir. He’s taking our Organ Sight-Reading Master Course. And when I asked him how his organ playing is going so far, he writes:
“It was not that bad, my main difficulty are the unexpected changes in rhythms and jumping notes.”
V: Hmm. I think this is a fairly common challenge. Right Ausra?
V: Why is that?
A: Because people don’t like to count.
V: That’s what I suggested to him. Count out loud. When you’re playing, of course, it’s better to play really, really slowly, maybe half as fast—maybe at the 50% of concert tempo, or even 40% or 30% if you need. But more than that, you need to count out load. If you have a 4/4 meter, the best way for me to count out loud is simply divide the beats into 8th notes. “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and.” Would that help, Ausra?
A: Yes, I think it would be very helpful. Right now, I’m working on recording Buxtehude’s Chorale Preludes, and even after having the experience of playing music for...I don’t know for what… but really many years, because I started when I was five, I still have trouble sometimes if I don’t count, because what Buxtehude does, he likes to change the rhythmic formula very abruptly, suddenly and unexpectedly. And if you were not counting before, you might get in real trouble, because you sort of lose the sense of the rhythmical flow.
V: Yes. I think the first one that you recorded, Chorale Prelude by Buxtehude, “Ach, Herr mich armen Sünder” I think. It has very intricate ornamented Chorale melody in the right hand.
A: Well, and not only this one; I guess he likes to do it in most of his Chorale Preludes. Very few of them are even, but most of them are very varied.
V: For me, what I last recorded, Brahms’s Chorale Prelude, “Mein Jesu der du mich” from Opus 122, this is number 1. And the rhythms are okay. They’re not…
A: Yes, I think Brahms is pretty much very even in rhythms—at lease in these Chorale Preludes.
V: Yes, unless you’re playing one of those Fugues, where you have to change between duplets and tuplets and triplets.
A: Yes, that’s a different story. But now we are talking about Chorale Preludes.
V: So I didn’t need to count a lot. At this stage of my career, it comes naturally most of the time, but sometimes I do need to double check.
A: Well, I’m not counting Buxtehude out loud, but I do it in my head.
V: But consciously, right? Doing it.
A: Yes. Definitely.
V: If the tempo is really slow, sometimes you need to subdivide it even more up to 16th notes.
A: Yes, that’s what I did when I learned the *** Icarus. I subdivided into 16th notes.
V: Instead of saying “one-and-two-and” you would say “one-ee-and-uh-two-ee-and-uh-three-ee-and-uh-four-ee-and-uh.” It’s like a tongue twister! What would it be in 32nds? People have asked me that, but I forget.
A: Better not go there!
V: If you need to subdivide in 32nds, this means you’re playing music that is too difficult, basically. Right? If you still need to do this. I think 16th notes are the limit for me at least. I wouldn’t subdivide into 32nds.
A: Probably not.
V: Right. So that would be helpful, of course, to Amir and others who are struggling with unexpected changes in rhythms.
A: What about jumping notes? I am not exactly getting what he means by this question. Is it difficult for him to hit the right note after a big leap or what? Or to follow the score if it’s a jumping melody?
V: Maybe both! Yeah, if you have leaps more than a fifth, yes, you can easily reach a note by a fifth because you have five fingers and an interval of a fifth requires 5 adjacent keys. But if you have a sixth or seventh or an octave or even above an octave, you have to switch position. How do you do that, Ausra? How do you adapt? Or do you not do it?
A: Well, you know, if it’s Baroque music, then it’s very easy. You just have to articulate. You have articulate each note, and it shouldn’t be a problem, because you don’t have to stretch your arm to reach it to play legato.
V: You move the entire wrist!
V: But try not to do upward motion with your hand. Slide to the right or to the left.
A: Yes, you need always to keep the contact with the keyboard.
A: Touching it, yes, or almost touching it.
V: You know, there was an account about Johann Sebastian Bach playing organ, and people have observed him, that he almost doesn’t depress the keys. The organ plays itself, basically, it seems, in his case. Right? Do you, can you elaborate a little about that?
A: That’s a true mastery, you know, you have to be really economic about…
A: ...efficient about using your motions. It helps to play in a fast tempo, I would say, and to avoid mistakes.
V: It doesn’t feel like work, then. It feels like a natural flow. Remember, we have observed a great Chinese cook back in the States when we were observing him prepare our steamed vegetables, I think, how he moves with his pan and with his vegetables and chopping knife, everything was so efficient, fast and barely noticeable. This is true mastery, right?
A: Yes, it is. It’s interesting that you decided to compare Bach and a Chinese chef!
V: Well, I mean if you do the same motion over and over again like a thousand or ten thousand times, you get really, really efficient! Right? You peel like an onion those layers of inefficiency.
A: Yes, or you would get over use syndrome in your wrist for example.
V: Yes, if you do it with tension! If you don’t relax muscles after using them, right way. Alright? So, Amir, with jumping notes, try to use this sliding motion with your wrists and then you will be fine! So guys, we hope this was useful to you. 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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