SOPP668: I would like to master a variety of organ music to be able to give a performance
Vidas: Hello and welcome to Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast!
Ausra: This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better organist.
Vidas: We’re your hosts Vidas Pinkevicius...
Ausra: ...and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene.
Vidas: We have over 25 years of experience of playing the organ
Ausra: ...and we’ve been teaching thousands of organists online from 89 countries since 2011.
Vidas: So now let’s jump in and get started with the podcast for today.
Ausra: We hope you’ll enjoy it!
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas,
Ausra: And Ausra,
Vidas: Let’s start episode 668 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Mike, and he writes:
“I would like to master a variety of organ music to be able to give a performance.
The most important hurdles to overcome are:
Many of your podcasts and notes are extremely helpful. Thank you for providing them.”
Vidas: So let’s unpack this; okay? The first hurdle that Mike is having is being able to work on a consistent fingering to make passages flow smoothly.
Ausra: Well, in order to be consistent with your fingering, you have to write fingering down, and then to practice them in the exact order, because if you won’t do that and you will play the same passages every time with a different fingering, it will slow down your improvement. What do you think, Vidas?
Vidas: Is it even possible to discover the right fingering on your own?
Ausra: Well, if you have experience, then yes. If you are just a beginner, then probably not.
Vidas: Mhmm, then we could probably recommend our practice scores with fingering and pedaling written in.
Ausra: Yes, sure, because we have already quite a large amount of organ pieces with fingering and pedaling.
Vidas: Yeah, in many styles. In articulate legato style for early music, and in legato style for Romantic music. Right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: Okay, the second challenge that Mike needs to overcome is interpretation of music, registration.
Ausra: Well, in order to be able to do the right interpretation and registration, of course, you need to know about the style that you are playing, the composer that you are playing, and of course, about organ in general, and you need to be able to choose the right repertoire for the right instrument. Because even if you will play the… let’s say the Baroque piece with good articulation but you will play it on the, let’s say, Romantic instrument, it might not work, so, everything has its own rules. What do you say about it, Vidas?
Vidas: It’s kind of difficult to give advice generally without knowing what he is specifically playing. Right, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes! Yes!
Vidas: What piece he is struggling with right now, what piece needs a registration, for example. But in general, yes, you are right, because not every instrument can accommodate every type of music. I mean, you could play anything on a keyboard with pedals which has enough pedals and keys. Right?
Vidas: You could!
Ausra: And if you have an eclectic instrument you could probably play most of the repertoire, but not everything still would work for it.
Vidas: That’s why a lot of organ music sounds dull and boring on eclectic instruments—a lot of early music. Nowadays, of course, this can be adjusted, because a lot of people have virtual organs at their home like Hauptwerk or GrandOrgue, so they can really choose samples that are carefully fitted for a specific piece or type of music. And then, even pieces which would sound uninteresting on a generic instrument are quite colorful suddenly on the specific kind of instrument that it was designed for.
Ausra: Yes, but you know, not everybody has the Hauptwerk or GrandOrgue or whatever, this kind or type of instrument at home, and we are mostly talking about real instruments in a real environment. But basically, an eclectic instrument is good because you can play a lot of things on it, but in some way, it sounds sort of boring because it’s like an equal temperament, you know, you can play in all the keys, but they all sound the same.
Vidas: Exactly. If a person doesn’t feel the difference when I’m playing C or C# major chord, so then I could simply play the same piece up a half step and nobody would tell the difference. Right? Except maybe for some perfect pitch people. But that’s not the big difference. The difference is in character if each note is a little bit from each other sometimes in those unequal tunings.
Ausra: And the same with the repertoire.
Vidas: So the third challenge that Mike has to overcome is developing and knowing how to make a piece “artistically my own instead of just playing notes.” What he means by this is maybe…. We could talk a little bit about our own practice process. How do you transition from sight-reading to real performance—complete performance for a recording, let’s say. What’s happening in your mind, Ausra?
Ausra: Well actually you need to be really well familiar with your piece that you’re working on, because you cannot feel the right music and be artistically sufficient or to make this music yourself if you are not good technically at it and if you are still struggling, let’s say, with some spots on the piece. It means that you really need to be advanced with the particular piece that you are working on. Another thing, you really need to listen to other people play, and not only to organ music, in general you need to listen to other people performing, because, you know, when you are really deep into music in general, probably such questions wouldn’t even arise, because let’s say I play a piece and I see it’s structure, I know where I have to slow down, where I have to, let’s say, mark something, or you know, to do an accelerando, or to change registration or to do whatever. It just becomes natural.
Vidas: That’s because you know the structure.
Vidas: Or because you listen to other people.
Ausra: Well, it helps. Or do you think these two things are contradictory?
Vidas: No, I think the more you listen to performances of other people on other instruments, perhaps, or even your own instrument, like organ, the broader you have those experiences and musical horizon. Right? And the deeper connections you can make between separate things on the sheet of music is notes start to speak to you, how they are presented. If you don’t have any experience, like a beginner, then you are like a blank sheet of paper. Right, Ausra?
Ausra: Because yes, I once had a student and we were working on the “Little Prelude in F Major” by J. S. Bach, which is actually probably not a Bach, as we know now, but probably Krebs, but anyway, we were working on this piece and she would just keep playing like the metronome all the time and do the same things all the time, and I wanted her to show how the structure is made, and I actually marked everything in her score: where she has to slow down, which chord she has to hold longer, and all that kind of stuff. Basically I worked as a movie director or something. But still it didn’t ring a bell at all, and she still played like dull, measure by measure, note by note, and did nothing of what I was saying. Maybe if she would listen to herself, to her recording, maybe then she would realize how dull she is playing! Maybe that would have changed her attitude and her playing style, but I think that comes from general unmusicality, and that’s why I think the more you listen to the music in general, the better you will become with it, because the deeper your understanding about music in general will become.
Vidas: That’s why it’s so beneficial to go to concerts, not only to listen to recordings and videos, but to go to a real recital or a concert in a concert hall or a church, because when you go someplace, you are more inclined, actually, to focus than at home, because you made an effort to go there, and you want to take out as much as possible from that experience. Right, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes! And actually another helpful thing would be to sing your music—actually to sing each line—because it’s often the case that we can play unmusically, but we cannot sing unmusically. Somehow if you are playing you can just drop the end of a phrase not listening to it. But if you are singing, that usually don’t happen.
Vidas: And that’s why when I see a person play unmusically and ask to sing it, they never can sing. Never ever in my teaching experience, you know, that never happens.
Ausra: Because singing is so closely related to to breathing and breathing is so important because that leads to the right phrasing, so I think it’s really, really important to sing what you are playing.
Vidas: Then you can think about the right meter and pulse, and keep the steady rhythms. Right? But that’s because you hear yourself.
Ausra: Yes, that’s right. And another thing, often the instrument can teach you, also, how to play, and it can show you if you are taking a right tempo, if you are playing with the right fingering, because I’m talking especially about historical instruments, because again, they can teach you a lot about phrasing, about articulation.
Vidas: Right. Another last, probably, recommendation would be, for example, if you like some musician, some organist, and you find his recordings or her recordings, I think it’s wise to study them all from the beginning until the end, and then not only his recordings or her recordings, but find out who it was—that person, that organist, lets say—and start listening to other people’s music as well, and that’s how you broaden your horizons and general musicianship as well.
Ausra: That’s very true.
Vidas: Right? You are not alone in this musical universe. You have to go out and make connections.
Vidas: Thank you guys for listening to this conversation. We hope this was useful to you. Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And remember; when you practice,
Ausra: 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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