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 619 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Brigitte, and she writes,
The variations of the Genevan Psalms are of interest to me. Can I find them somewhere together to come back to them?
I enjoy following you and learning from you.
V: So we need to clarify a little bit what Brigitte means. Currently, I’m in the process of improvising various contrapuntal variations based on Genevan Psalms, and posting them on my YouTube channel, Secrets of Organ Playing. So probably Brigitte means these uploads. First of all, the answer to the question, if she can’t find them together, I made a playlist called “Genevan Psalms” on my channel so everyone can find them in public as well, but I will link to the playlist in this conversation as well. So shall we talk a little bit, what is this Genevan Psalter and how it started, and what’s the idea behind it?
A: Well yes, let’s talk about it. Do you like Genevan Psalms?
V: Yeah, you know why? Because first of all, they are very uniform collection. 150 Psalms. And I bought this edition for Canadian Reformed churches, which is in electronic PDF format, and I use my iPad to play from it, and ForScore app on the iPad as well, to turn pages. It’s very very convenient. Genevan Psalter, also known as Huguenot Psalter, is a metrical psalter in French, created under the supervision of John Calvin for liturgical use by the Reformed churches of the city of Geneva in the 16th century. That’s what Wikipedia writes. And there were several editions. The first one was from 1539. And it contains 150 metrical psalms, and later editions have probably more than psalms, more popular hymns and several canticles. So John Calvin learned about metrification - versification - of metrical psalms in German from Martin Luther, and he made his own French version in that separate collection which became the basis of all the hymnals in Reformed churches throughout the world. And for example, the Dutch Reformed Church is using them even today. Can you guess, Ausra, how I came into contact with them?
A: Of course, I think through Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra, don’t you? Or not?
V: Yes and no. The first mentioning of these psalms were by our professor Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra. She wrote her DMA dissertation about, I think about the rhythms in Genevan Psalter. But more recently, I’ve heard the Dutch organist and improviser perform and improvise on various Genevan Psalms, Sietze deVries. And he’s very famous for his improvisations throughout the world, and improvising on psalms is one of his signatures, signature works.
A: Well, I think these psalms work perfectly for improvisation. Because if you wouldn’t just improvise and sing them as a hymn, I think they, at least for my taste, they sound really boring. Don’t you find them a little bit boring?
V: Define boring.
A: Boring is boring. B-o-r-...
V: You mean like you want to sleep during my playing.
A: Well, a little bit yes.
V: Maybe I’m playing it wrong.
A: Well, you know, those tunes seem so plain to me that you really need to add things to improvise on them, to improve them.
V: But I’m sure if Sietze deVries was playing, it wouldn’t be boring.
A: And I’m sure that maybe many of people from Reformed Church will start to hate me after this podcast, but I surely I prefer the Martin Luther’s tradition in hymn singing.
V: Some of the psalms are known in German as well. Like An Wasserflüssen Babylon. Schmücke Dich, O liebe Seele, and others.
A: Well maybe do you know who took them from whom? I think Calvin took them from Luther.
V: Some of them, yes.
A: So they are basically not the psalms, they are actually Lutheranische Chorӓle.
V: But also, the ones I mentioned are written in major keys, and many genuine psalms are written in church modes, in ancient modes. In Dorian mode, in Phrygian mode, let’s say, in Aeolian mode. So they’re kind of very ancient sounding. And to modern ears, they’re not necessarily very relevant, you see.
A: Well you know, I really like Gregorian chant which is even more ancient, so.
V: Well yes, you could improvise in modal techniques using those modal chant and psalm tunes as well. And Sietze deVries improvises very well on, in variety of styles. Not only in early music styles. He takes, I think into consideration, more not his thematic material, but more the instrument on whom, on which he plays. If the instrument is baroque instrument, he would improvise in the baroque mode. If the instrument is romantic, he would gladly and joyfully create let’s say Mendelssohn and Rheinbergian and Reger style of improvisations as well.
A: That’s what I’m thinking, you know, about most of these sounds that they are so plain that you can do anything out of them, actually.
V: He even creates sometimes even modern-sounding pieces. But of course, the bread and butter for him is contrapuntal improvisation.
A: Yes, he's a real master.
V: The first time I heard him play, I’m not sure, I think it was from his website. He has hundreds of audio recordings uploaded on his website. And it was before the time of YouTube, before the video, and the first time I heard them, I thought it was surreal. I thought I heard Johann Sebastian Bach play some unknown work of his - it's the same thing. Or like German music, maybe Buxtehude or Heinrich Scheidemann, he could recreate the same styles. And remember how we couldn’t believe that he was doing them live at first?
V: Because it sounded written out.
V: But apparently he reached that level where he is, where he can think that fast. And create what he is thinking in real time.
A: I think he has a phenomenal music talent, like memory and pitch, and all other stuff, you know, reaction.
V: On his website, he writes sometimes a blog post once in awhile, and about improvisation he writes that he regrets that current musical education focuses on written music performing repertoire, and not so much from your ear, not so much develops the sense of listening to the music and recreating what you hear. Because he would for example listen in his childhood to some recordings of music on the radio, and he would recreate them on any instrument that was at hand by ear.
A: But you see, to do, in order to do that, you need to have a pitch. For example, you know now many students come to our school, which is sort of the most prominent school in the Lithuania.
V: The most prestigious, you mean.
A: Yes, the most prestigious and the most prominent in the musical field.
V: Mm hm.
A: But you know, some students really they have trouble hearing. They don’t have good musical pitch. I’m not talking already about perfect pitch, far from that. And what could you learn in that case? Because when you are playing keyboard instruments, we have sort of a fixed, fixed….
A: Fixed C.
V: Fixed do.
A: Fixed do. And that’s it. You don’t have to have a really good musical pitch to play a keyboard. Because you will press the key of do, and it will sound. And if you would play from the pitch everything, not looking at the music, you will need to have really good pitch.
V: Which can be developed also.
A: Yes, but…
V: To some degree.
A: To some degree, but you know the more I live, the stronger I believe that if you don’t have, like, talent, maybe then do something else. Because it’s really maybe not for you. Because I just pity those people, who are sort of very poor musical talent, or mediocre. Because I know how hard in life it is to be able to make your living with music.
V: But what about as a hobby instrument?
A: I think to have it as a hobby is really wonderful, I encourage people to do that.
V: Because if you have a different profession than music, you earn your living by doing other things, at the end of the day you need some kind of release. And many people find music to be a perfect release.
A: And that’s what I think about being organists - that it’s very good for people with other professions to be able to play the organ. Because it’s perfect solution for your relaxation time, and for your hobby, or even to make a little extra income. Because most of the church services, they are on the weekends, or sometimes very early in the morning, very late at night. So basically you could have a regular job somewhere else and do some of the church playing.
V: And additionally of course, if you start developing your own YouTube channel and get 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours within the last 12 months, you can get invited to participate into Amazon, into, I’m sorry, YouTube partner program where you could allow ads on your videos and get also some kind of income stream. Not much at first, but it adds up if your traffic increases.
A: Well you know don’t sort of have like too much of the hopes, because I’m trying to reach that 1,000 subscribers and I think I never will. So don’t entertain these false hopes.
V: Our friend James Flores recently reached 1,000 subscribers. There is no reason you can’t.
A: Well, he does a lot of that, but I’m teaching full time, so I cannot spend so much time recording organ music.
V: I think you will reach , but slower than him. That’s okay.
A: Yes, and maybe like in 10 years I can buy a bird for myself to eat.
V: (laughs) We’ll see, we’ll see. All in good time. So yeah guys, if you’re interested into Genevan psalms and how I’m playing them and documenting them through my videos, go ahead and check out this playlist with my improvisations, and I really enjoy playing them and increasing my skill in contrapuntal variations and improvisations. I can easily improvise not only on those ancient tunes, but on any other hymns that you have find, you find in the hymnal, any type of melodies, based on those ancient techniques. So it’s a perfect lab, musical lab for me. And I encourage everyone to find a lab for themselves to create musical experiments as well.
A: Yes, and I enjoy Vidas doing that. Because I have to listen to what he is doing.
V: You mean you enjoy that I’m doing it, not you?
V: (laughs) What are you doing when I’m playing? How are you, are you studying what I’m playing, or you’re shutting your eyes and ears?
A: Well, I listen sometimes, but not always.
V: Just before we recorded this conversation, I played Psalm 22, and before that, we also practiced Bergamasca by Marco Uccellini, fun piece together with Ausra. So did you listen to my Psalm as well?
A: Well no, I wasn’t at home at the time. I was working outside.
V: In the garden.
V: Work is fun. We both work in different ways.
V: All right. So guys, 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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