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 637 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Sally, and she writes,
"Do you have a secret to playing melody in the left hand and harmonies in RH? I have a hard time with that. My brain doesn’t want to allow LH to take the melody, at least not for long."
V: Do you know what she’s talking about, Ausra?
A: Yes. I can guess probably she’s right-handed as I am and you are, and she has the same trouble as many beginner organists have. And not only beginner.
V; Sally is our Patreon supporter and she recently watched my Advent hymn improvisation recital. And in a lot of hymns, I place a tune in the left hand part instead of the right hand part. And if I want to play in the tenor range, then I play the melody in the tenor range with the left hand. But if I want to place it in the soprano, I could effectively cross my hands with the left hand playing high. I’ve seen Dutch organists do that and it fascinated me, this technique.
Instead of switching hands, soprano in the right hand and accompanying voices in the left hand, they do soprano in the left hand but the higher range, you see?
A: Well, I just feel sorry that you have been born in Lithuania and not in Netherlands. Lately you are so much impressed by what Dutch organists do, that I wish you could stay there and learn from them.
V: I started to understand Dutch a little bit. It’s a little bit similar to German, and a little bit to English, too. So, when they’re talking about organs it’s not that hard to understand.
A: Well, okay. So what could we suggest to Sally? One of my suggestions would be, maybe when she accompanies hymns, she could play the melody in the left hand, and accompany with the right hand and pedals.
V: Yes, exactly. So play the tune in the tenor range, right, on the solo registration - trumpet, let’s say.
A: Yes, so you need to basically to have at least two manuals in order to do that.
V: Yes. Do you recommend crossing voices at the beginning?
A: No, I wouldn’t suggest that. It might be really too difficult.
V: Not even voice crossing, but hand crossing, when left hand goes beyond right hand.
A: I wouldn’t do that at the beginning.
V: Yeah, it’s probably too difficult. And I wrote to her that it was difficult for me at first, and even today sometimes I struggle and it’s not that easy. But you just have to keep playing, Keep practicing, and sooner or later something will switch in your brain, right?
A: Yes, and if you want to have a real challenge and if you like music of J.S. Bach, I would suggest for you to work on An Wasserflüssen Babylon from the Leipzig Collection, or also called Great 18 Collection. It has this beautiful chorale with ornamented tenor in the left hand. Just as pretty as, for example, Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (video), or Schmücke dich, O Liebe Seele, but instead of having ornamented chorale in the right hand as in these two pieces mentioned, here in An Wasserflüssen Babylon, Bach writes down for the left hand, it’s ornamented cantus firmus, really beautiful.
V: And you can make it more complex by playing double pedal lines. Five voices, right? For hymns, I think.
A: Yes, because I wouldn’t do this in this chorale.
V: But hasn’t Bach written double pedal version?
A: Yes, but it doesn’t have the melody in the left hand so it doesn’t count. At least not in this case.
V: Mm hm. Right. Right. So you have to just keep doing, keep expanding your tonal vocabulary, and when you place the melody in the left hand, right, so what becomes in your right hand, you’re playing alto and tenor. But alto in your own place, but tenor is one octave higher, right?
A: Yes, usually that’s what you do when you switch voices. Soprano substitutes tenor and vice versa.
V: So maybe if you’re a beginner at this and you struggle with placing melody in the left hand, maybe you don’t need to play all four parts right away, right? What about just playing tenor line, single tenor line, one octave higher with the right hand? And then soprano line one octave lower, both voices together - those two voices only in your hand. Do one voice, solo voice practice, then two voice combinations, three voice combinations, four part combinations finally. Just like a small organ piece. What do you say, Ausra?
A: Yes, I think that might work.
V: So try 15 combinations in four part texture. And if you do that, you can master any type of hymn, either with the melody in the right hand, or in the left hand, or even in the pedals. How would you do in the pedals, Ausra? If the melody is in the pedals?
A: Yes, you could do that, but you have of course to register accordingly.
V: But would you use the same harmonies, or you have to reharmonize?
A: Well, you - of course it will still be same harmonies, same chords, but maybe different inversions.
V: Different inversions because if you have let’s say in the melody, 2nd scale degree, you can play the dominant chord, right? But if the 2nd scale degree is in the pedals, you no longer have the dominant root position chord, but you have 6/4 chord, 2nd inversion, right?
A: Or dominant 4/3 chord.
V: Or 4/3. And then 4/3 is allowed, but 6/4 is allowed very in specific cases only.
V: And therefore it’s better to leave it for more advanced users. So, instead of playing dominant 6/4 chord, you can effectively play 7th scale degree first inversion chord. In C Major, not DGB, but DFB. Make sense?
A: Yes, makes sense - I’m teaching harmony (laughs).
V: Good - good for you. Harmony never hurts. So, good luck Sally! Good luck whoever is harmonizing melodies in the left hand part. This is really fun. And it is complex at first if you haven’t done this before. And pay attention to what Ausra suggests. Play some pieces with the melody in the left hand part, right? This texture has to become less foreign to you. And this way, you will sort of remember those new positions in your hand.
A: Yes, and if you’re playing piano, if you love piano repertoire, I just remembered one piece I played many years ago. It was called Melody by Sergei Rachmaninoff. It’s sort of not too difficult piece, but not at beginner level. I would say somewhere in the middle. It has the melody in the left hand, and accompaniment in the right hand, and left hand always crosses the right hand. It jumps back and forth from the bass to the soprano range, and it also helps to sort of make your left hand more independent.
V: Good advice. So 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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