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!
Vidas: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 649 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Doug, and he answered my question, What is your goal in organ playing, and what are some challenges that he faces when he tries to reach this goal. So the goal is to become a church organist, and basically advanced in hymn playing. And the challenges are three:
It’s interesting, right? Shall we talk about the goal, or about challenges first?
A: Well, it’s up to you.
V: All right, let’s talk a little bit about the goal: To become a church organist and excel in hymn playing. Obviously it’s a good goal if people want to apply their skills in a church setting.
A: Sure, it’s actually a very common goal.
V: And obviously hymn playing would be the bulk of what you do in church.
A: Sure, especially if you are like in the Protestant congregation.
V: Yes. Some other denominations require psalm playing, anthems, accompaniments. If you have a choir then even you have to direct the choir, lead the choir, accompaniments like that are also sometimes important. And it wouldn’t hurt to play some organ pieces, liturgical organ pieces for prelude and postlude at least.
V: If not for communion or offertory. But I guess hymn playing can substitute those things, too. But congregation would thank you I think if you played a short piece at the beginning of the service and at the end of the service as well.
A: But definitely leading the congregational singing and hymn accompanying is probably the most important tool for church organist.
V: Yes. Once you can play hymns, you can advance a little bit further in real organ playing, solo organ playing too. Talk about pedal techniques, I don’t know what he means. What do you think he means with challenge in pedal techniques?
A: Well, since most of us come to organ bench after having some piano background, usually the pedal is the most scary part of playing the organ.
V: So maybe it’s safe to say that he, in general, struggles to play pedals, right?
V: So what can we recommend? Probably recommending Pedal Virtuoso Master Course could be a little bit too advanced for him. If you only want to be church organist, maybe you don’t need pedal scales and arpeggios for that. But we have another smaller course, Pedal Playing, I think Workshop it’s called or Mini Course - 10 days I think Workshop basically, where you play for 10 days basic pedal exercises, and can afterwards, I think, play bass lines of any hymn without much difficulty.
A: That might be very useful.
V: So that’s one recommendation. Another challenge he faces is that he wants to take a hymnal, and his hymnal only has soprano line if I understand correctly, and then he needs to convert or harmonize it in four parts, swell, great, and pedals. First of all, you don’t need to play on two manuals, hymns.
A: Definitely not. You could do that with accompaniment sometimes but really not always.
V: Yes. Just one manual is fairly sufficient.
A: Because most often you play on one manual you do like soprano and alto voice with your right hand, and then tenor voice with your left hand, and bass line with the pedal.
V: Exactly. So for this, obviously we are talking about the skill in harmonization. Well, if, you are obviously an advanced harmony teacher, what would you recommend?
A: Well, I don’t know how well he knows music theory in general, but definitely that’s a challenge. If you are uneducated in music, haven’t had any music theory lessons, then I wouldn’t recommend for you to harmonize hymns for yourself. Because there are so many hymnals. Maybe you could use the harmonization for a particular hymn from the other hymnal that has all the four parts written in.
V: Well exactly. Let’s say you need to play four or five hymns that week. Your pastor or priest selected hymns for you, and you need to figure out the accompaniment. If you are proficient in harmonization, you could supply alto, tenor and bass parts yourself, but if not you could look up that kind of the same hymn setting, let’s say online. Just Google. Cyber Hymnal I think is one of those sources you could find a lot of useful hymns and different harmonizations too. So you just print it out and play what’s written over there.
A: Sure, because if you look at any given hymnal, you could find hymns written in, composed in various styles. And being able to harmonize them yourself, you really need to understand the difference between the styles. Because if it’s four-part hymn let’s say from 17th century Germany, it would be harmonized in one style, but if the melody is based on Gregorian chant, then completely different rules of harmonization would apply. So basically, it’s always a challenge, and if let’s say the melody of the hymn is composed at the end of the 19th century, then definitely your harmonization will have more advanced and more chromatic. So it’s a challenge really, even for professionals.
V: And we can’t forget contemporary melodies, right? Which work well with let’s say, jazz style chords or pop-oriented music chords. That’s also a different style, right?
A: So I guess the best suggestion would be really try to obtain those hymns that would be harmonized for you already and you wouldn’t have to worry about it. Because learning to harmonize them yourself, it’s a long process.
V: Yes, but if you really want to learn to harmonize, don’t jump into our I think Organists, Harmony for Organists Level 1 Course straight away if you don’t know basic chords yet. If you don’t know three-, four-note chords and their inversions and how they are resolved into tonic chords and the rules for resolution, then you need to take Basic Chord Workshop first, where I teach those chords in one hand setting, basically all those chords could be played with one hand, not two hands like in four part setting. In closed position basically. So that’s the preliminary skill you need to master, foundations of those course, and then you can move on to Harmony for Organists Level 1.
A: Yes. It’s very, it’s a long process, but it’s worth trying, because you will get really useful skill for your future.
V: And the last thing he struggles is to find Grand Orgue or Hauptwerk conversion for home organ to practice on. Obviously it’s very nice to have virtual organ, either Grand Orgue or Hauptwerk for home use, because you can listen and hear the sounds of real instruments produced virtually. Each pipe has been recorded, not generated synthetically like a synthesizer, but organ samples have produced and went to the church, recorded each and every pipe in several different ways: short, medium length, long length of each pipe and then created a sample set, which obviously encompasses the acoustics of the church as well. If it has reverberation, you would get the same feeling as being in the church while playing that sample set. So that’s what Hauptwerk or Grand Orgue uses today. Except Grand Orgue is no longer developed. The basic version of Grand Orgue was developed at first, it was like the first version of Hauptwerk I think, which was made open source, free of charge right now. And then it stopped being developed because it’s free. There’s no incentive for developers’ work on the software if you don’t get any reimbursement.
A: Well, but if you don’t want to play repertoire, perform recitals at home, only to learn hymns, then I think it’s quite sufficient.
V: Yeah, at least for starters. You don’t know what you will need five years from now, all right? So maybe if you start with free software like Grand Orgue, it doesn’t hurt right now. So you could look up at our tools what we use for Hauptwerk setup on our website we have: organduo.lt/tools and you will see how we have set up Hauptwerk at our home, maybe you will get some ideas for yourself.
A: Yes, why not?
V: Thank you guys, this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: 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.
Our Hauptwerk Setup: