SOPP690: My dream is to be able to play the organ confidently in the liturgy and perhaps in recitals occasionally
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 690 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Andrew, and he writes
My answers to your recent questions:
1. My dream is to be able to play the organ confidently in the liturgy and perhaps in recitals occasionally.
2. The 3 most important things holding me back from this are:
- Poor sense of timing and rhythm
- Lack of focus and concentration in practicing
- My legs are both slightly twisted outwards, which makes some pedaling uncomfortable (especially around the middle of the pedalboard; I cannot place my knees close together without great effort)
Nonetheless, I am finding Total Organist a very useful resource and community. I find your daily emails especially helpful.
My best wishes to you and Ausra from England, Andrew
V: That’s very nice to have a Total Organist community member write a message like this.
A: Yes, very nice indeed. Thank you, Andrew.
V: And I know this Andrew writes sometimes in his daily responses to these questions in our community on Basecamp, which is very good.
A: Sure, that keeps community spirits up.
V: Yeah, if nobody wrote, only we, or even if we were silent, so it would be like an empty house.
A: That’s true.
V: Now a few more people are participating. Not everyone, though. Some people are just, you know, reading perhaps. Not actively participating and engaging. But those who are participating, I think they are getting quadruple results, because they are thinking about their own practice deliberately, right? The question, for example, ‘What did you do today in organ playing?’ right - sometimes if you don’t think about anything, you don’t have anything to write about if you don’t play. And if you don’t have an answer for this day, and you get the same question tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, maybe you start thinking, “Oh, maybe I start practicing, have to start practicing,” right? Because Vidas and Ausra are sending these questions for me. So that’s really nice that Andrew is an active member of the community. So Ausra, start with some recommendations, please.
A: Well, as Andrew says, three important things that are holding him back - poor sense of timing and rhythm. I think that’s the thing that you really need to work on, because if you are a church musician and accompanying congregational singing, then the sense of good timing and rhythm is crucial. And I think in general for musicians, sometimes people think that the right notes are the most important thing. And of course they are very important, but I think the rhythm comes above all.
V: That’s because in any given piece in any piece from the Common Practice Period, rhythm gives probably, we would say, ‘flow’ of the melody. And if you lose the sense of flow, you cannot understand the melody. If you lose a little bit of notes but you keep the sense of flow, the melody, the sense of the piece is still intact, right?
A: Yes. And you know, from my experience of many years playing myself and teaching others and listening to others, I could say that there are very few people with a really poor sense of rhythm. Usually, if you cannot keep good rhythm, it means that you don’t listen to what you are playing.
V: And a way of listening to your playing is actually actively counting. Counting the beats and subdividing the beats if the piece is difficult.
A: And yes, actually you need to do it aloud at least at the beginning. And later maybe you just use your tongue, subdivide with your tongue. And by subdividing, what I mean is the smallest value, rhythmic value in the piece is sixteenth, you need to subdivide everything into sixteenths. It might seem crazy for you at the beginning, but that’s a very good way not to lose the rhythm and be precise.
V: And one example would be like this: one ee and a, two ee and a, three ee and a, four ee and a, in 4/4 meter.
A: Yes, and it doesn’t mean you have to do it for the rest of your life. But for a while yes, until you get a good sense of the rhythm. Another thing, if you are accompanying the hymns for congregation, you really need to sing them. Because if you will sing with congregation, maybe not loud, but just for yourself in your head, then you will know where are the best spots to take breath, and naturally it will help you to be better while accompanying hymns. And of course with your solo pieces too, you need to basically sing each line. Remember with Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra, she pushed us to sing each line. And occasionally she would ask for us to sing. Not for example the melody, but tenor voice, let’s say.
V: While playing or while not playing?
A: Both ways. So I guess this should help you to improve on the timing and rhythm. Because some people will just say, ‘Oh, just put the metronome and practice with the metronome.’ I don’t think this is a good approach. Maybe sometimes just h to check if your tempo is correct, then yes. But not playing all the time with the metronome. I don’t think that’s the right approach.
V: Mm hm. And his second challenge is lack of focus and concentration in practicing.
V: Which could be improved regularly, by regularly doing the same thing over and over.
A: Yes, and I think if you start count and subdivide, and do all the things that we talked just before this, I think this will help on your focus and concentration. Because this constant counting and subdividing keep you concentrated in your practice.
V: I agree. And of course the third problem about his legs twisted outward, there’s nothing he can do, obviously.
A: I know, but you know, somehow people always complain about their legs, like they are looking inward or backward or whatever. I had a student at UNL when I was a doctoral student. He was majoring in piano performance, and he was also a doctoral student in piano performance. And he was a very tall man with really long legs. And he would keep complaining to me about his legs every single lesson. It just drove me mad, because I’m a sort of short person with short legs, but I never complain, although it gives me physical difficulties too. Remember the last recital on the Edskes organ, where you could not regulate the organ bench. You could make it higher, but not lower.
V: Mm hm.
A: And remember me playing that Druckenmüller piece , Prelude and Chaconne in D Major.
V: You had to literally, physically shift your body to the right.
A: Yes, basically I was jumping on the organ bench sometimes in order to reach the pedal on the lower level or the higher level. But I did it, and it was fine. It was clean and clear and everything was just nice. So you really have to adjust depending on what kind of body you have. But please don’t feel that you have to hold both knees always together. I think that’s such a wrong idea. And before going to the states, I didn’t even know that such a rule exists. But in America, everybody’s crazy about this idea, that you need to keep your knees together. And for me physically, that’s just impossible. Because basically my hips are too fat I would say. And to holding knees always together would make my organ playing and pedaling simply impossible. So basically I just don’t worry about it. And in Baroque music, while playing Bach, I just don’t know how this could help you to make a good articulation in the pedal.
V: The probably more important than keeping knees together is to try to play with the toes, the big toes of the feet in that portion of the feet. Not sure if it’s possible for Andrew, because he says his legs are twisted slightly outwards. But see what he can do, right? How much he can shift his feet, how much he can play with the inner portion of the feet.
A: Well, because you really need to adjust every rule to yourself and not to blindly follow it, but to see what works for you and what does not work.
V: Yes. It wouldn’t be placing knees together, but it would be in that direction a little bit. Whatever is comfortable to you.
A: Yes. And maybe you need to adjust the height of the bench better, or to sit closer to the manuals. You just need to experiment to find what works best for you. And actually your body will tell you, because if you are keeping your knees together and it’s causing you pain or really you feel very uncomfortable, then don’t do that. Don’t follow it blindly.
V: Yes. Always stop and rest before you’re tired. And that would be the best way to practice also. So thank you so much Andrew for your question and answer, and being an active member of the Total Organist Community. This is really precious.
A: Yes, thank you very much.
V: 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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