SOPP613: "These problems occur when I am playing very slowly in rhythm. Faster tempos are not possible this week."
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 613 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Robert, and he is a student of Pedal Virtuoso Master Course. And he has a question which sounds like this,
I just finished the tenth week of your Pedal Virtuoso Master Class. Unlike previous weeks when I come to the last day, I still have issues maintaining a proper sense of balance while seated on the organ bench. This affects my accuracy (I either hit an extra pedal in one foot, miss a pedal, or slide off the correct pedal and into a non chord tone), playing legato (sometimes a major third in one foot is not possible to connect), and playing the pedals silently (as opposed to making a too much noise).
Regarding balance, I found in all the previous weeks that I could sit quietly on the bench and avoid having to pull myself back to my normal seated position by shifting my weight from one hip and buttocks to the other. This week, perhaps due to the fact that an octave arpeggio in octaves covers too much space on the pedals in such a short amount of time as well as the fact that two feet moving at the same time reduces the body’s range of motion, playing an arpeggio this week with confidence was not possible. My appearance on the bench was too active as I had to keep adjusting myself when my body would move closer and closer to the console as a result of twisting my body in order to reach pedals. For some of the arpeggios, like B Minor, E Major, and D Minor, not moving on the bench put too much of a strain on my legs and feet that in the end did not enable me to reach the desired pedal in one foot (and occasionally pedals in both feet) with confidence.
My remedy this week has been to shift my weight a little bit, however, a precise note to shift on (unlike scales and all previous arpeggios) or even which direction to shift into (left or right side) has not been possible for me to determine. These problems occur when I am playing very slowly in rhythm. Faster tempos are not possible this week.
Feel free to contact me.
Thank you for your time and thank you very much for designing a wonderful course as well as sharing your knowledge with me and every other organist.
V: And does it make sense, Ausra, what he’s talking about? Playing arpeggios in double octaves, very difficult to maintain balance.
A: Yes, it is very difficult. And I think when you have such a difficult exercise or a spot in a real organ piece, I think you might not be following rules so strictly and you might move a little bit more to help yourself to make it possible. Because other way, I’m afraid you might injure your back or your legs. What do you think about it, Vidas?
V: Sure. I think at first I wrote him a message that he doesn't have to worry too much about playing in perfect legato fashion or in a faster tempo these difficult exercises, because scales and arpeggios are not the end in itself, right? We rarely find a piece of music which has all the scales and arpeggios in it. It would be artificial and unmusical.
A: Sure. Plus I think when we are talking about arpeggios and fast passages, I think usually pieces with extremely difficult pedal part are written in a fast tempo, too. And often when you play in a really fast tempo, even if you won’t connect completely one note to another, it will still sound legato. And believe me, I know it. For example, now I’m thinking about Fugue in B Major, written by Marcel Dupre. You know that famous Three Preludes and Fugues, in B Major, in G Minor…
V: The middle one is in F Minor.
A: Yes, in F Minor. So I was playing the B Major Prelude and Fugue, and that Fugue really has a fast and complicated subject. And when it comes to the pedal and you still need to play it legato, it gives you a lot of trouble. But because the tempo is really fast, so even if sometimes you won’t play complete legato, as the final version it will still sound as legato.
V: So, he wrote back to me that it still doesn’t help, this kind of explanation. And he would like to have my own video demonstration of, let’s say E Major double arpeggio over the tonic chord, and the diminished seventh chord double arpeggio.
A: And you made a video, yes for him?
V: I made two videos, yeah, for him but also for other people who are struggling with this. So I put it on YouTube, and I will share of course the link in this podcast as well for people to see. Of course, it’s an exception. It’s not a video course, yet. And it’s a PDF-based course, and video exercises don’t belong to this course. They are just extra. I have two other videos - how to play C Major scale, for example, or D Major scale. But they’re extra, bonuses basically, not a part of the material. So I demonstrated, but you have to understand that it’s not the goal in itself to play those exercises perfectly without any glitch, without any hesitation. The goal is to go through these exercises, repeat them let’s say 10 times in a slow tempo, each of them, and then after 3 months, go back to the difficult pedal passages that you were not able to play like 3 months before and check, check your progress to see if you have advanced further. And I can almost guarantee that you will if you are diligently practice every day those exercises for 3 months. It’s like Marcel Dupre was a teenager I think, and he cut one of his wrists badly in a glass, and for 3 months he couldn’t practice with his hands on the piano, so he practiced pedals on the organ, pedal scales and arpeggios. And he wrote in his memoirs that he practiced them with vengeance. And that’s how he became basically invincible in his pedal…
A: Pedal virtuoso.
V: Pedal virtuoso, yeah. And the secret to pedal technique, perfect pedal technique he wrote is the flexibility of an ankle. Now we might have various different opinions about Dupre and his methods and his let’s say accuracy of historical performance practice, or lack of accuracy, right when he fingers and pedals everything in legato with pedal and finger substitutions for the music of Bach, let’s say - this was his time. But we cannot deny that for his time, playing legato technique, he was a champion of it. And we can learn a thing or two from his method as well. So in this course, the Pedal Virtuoso Master Course, we have a series of exercises over 3 months, with pedal scales and arpeggios of various positions, and people could really benefit from that. But never forget that this is not the end. It’s just the means to the end, right? It’s just an exercise to help you develop this ankle flexibility which will help you perfect your pedal technique and play real organ music.
A: So this is just a tool.
V: Tool, yes, tool. And I would even, like Ausra said, don’t worry too much about obsessing about perfecting those exercises. You better spend like 15 minutes or half an hour at the most with them per day, and then do something else with your organ playing that day if you have time. Like playing real organ music, mastering harmony, maybe improvising. Things like that. Hymn playing also. And watch for not straining your legs, your ankles. It’s very important to warm up before playing scales and arpeggios. These are strenuous exercises. We have to emphasize that.
A: That’s right. Especially if you are practicing early in the morning.
V: Right. So, go ahead and watch those videos. These will be very helpful for people to see how I play them myself. And 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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