SOPP698: My dream is to be able to sight-read hymns well enough that a last minute change to a hymn in a church service doesn’t worry me
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Ausra: This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better organist.
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A: ...and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene.
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V: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
Vidas: Let’s start episode 698 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Rebekah, and she writes:
1) My dream is to be able to sight-read hymns well enough that a last minute change to a hymn in a church service doesn’t worry me.
2) What’s holding me back is time - I just started playing the organ a little less than 3 months ago, and I can only get to the church to practice 3 days a week. I do practice on my piano at home on the other days.
Vidas: What do you think, Ausra? Is this reasonable to hope that Rebekah can sight-read hymns well enough without preparation?
Ausra: Well, it’s reasonable, but not with practicing on the organ only three times a week.
Vidas: You mean it requires more practice than three times
Ausra: Sure. Of course. And more time, you know, you cannot work out miracles without doing enough.
Vidas: Mhmm… yes. So hymns are like small organ pieces. They last about one minute, and there are repetitions of each verse, maybe three, four, or five verses per hymn, and you can change manuals, change registrations. That requires extra practice. Right?
Ausra: Yes, and at home, she practices only on the piano, so the solution would be either to get a cheap electronic organ or at least to print out a paper pedal board and put it on the floor near the piano, and then when she practices hymns on the piano pretend that she is playing pedals, too.
Vidas: And even without pedals on paper, she could approximately push the feet on the ground approximately where it is on the left or on the right, in the middle, just muscle memory. It requires a little bit of imagination, right?
Ausra: Yes. Sometimes if I would be a beginner organist and I would have to play, to sight-read hymns in the service, maybe I wouldn’t use pedals in the church. For example, if she has more than one manual on her organ, maybe she could play the bass line with 16’ on the other manual.
Vidas: Yeah, yeah! Probably it’s a good idea not to risk making mistakes in public with pedals at first, so I agree. Playing just manuals would be a good solution.
Ausra: Yes, and in that case what would you omit, tenor voice at all, and play, let’s say, alto and soprano in the right hand and bass with her left hand on the 16’?
Vidas: Right. I would play a three part harmony and omitting… probably tenor would be a good idea, because playing two voices in the left hand requires extra skill, extra strength, but you know, what helps is actually to work on a hymn like it’s a four-part piece, and actually play the tenor line and play the pedals, the bass line on the pedals, but on your own. Not necessarily in public right away. When you feel ready, you can add one extra layer of difficulty.
Ausra: Yes, but she doesn’t have access to an organ so often so she could experiment and play the tenor voices you just mentioned. So, but basically in time, I think it will be easier and easier, because the hymns will start to repeat themselves. So probably, the first year of her work at church is the most difficult.
Vidas: You would actually make a goal the first year. You could play three parts without the pedals, and then…
Ausra: No, no, no! An entire year without pedals I think that would be inappropriate at all!
Ausra: Because you need to play with the pedal in order to improve, not to postpone it for one year.
Vidas: No, no, I’m saying in public. If she’s not ready yet, she could do an entire year just with manuals.
Ausra: No, no! I don’t think that’s a good idea, because if the congregation sings along, they need a strong pedals part. That’s a crucial thing in the hymn accompanying.
Vidas: Okay, then a month or two?
Ausra: Yes, maybe a month or two?
Vidas: And then after that add the tenor voice? But also add pedals! You need pedals.
Ausra: Of course, definitely.
Vidas: So, when you add pedals, don’t play the bass line in the left hand. Don’t double the bass line in the left line and pedals.
Ausra: Yes, because what I suggested, playing without pedals, was just in extra cases when you have a change of the hymns unexpectedly and you haven’t had time to practice it on the organ! Then you can do it manually.
Ausra: And actually, if you are in a real hurry and in real trouble, what you can do actually is you can accompany the hymn in octaves. That’s also very handy and a useful tool to have and to know. So you can do it, either play both hands on the manual in octaves, or you could play only the right hand playing melody and to double the same melody with the pedals. And usually, if you are not using your left hand, you should be able to work on the pedal part. It’s much easier that way.
Vidas: Actually, you could do three voices at a time, three parts at a time maybe. Right hand, left hand, and pedals, all of them playing the same melody in octaves.
Ausra: Yes, that’s true.
Vidas: That would be very powerful. Of course, you need a powerful registration with a principle chorus and mixtures.
Vidas: And reeds in the bass.
Ausra: So I think this kind of hymn accompanying would work well for opening and closing hymns. Maybe not so much for hymns in the middle of the service.
Vidas: Or very festive occasions like Christmas and Easter. What about some help from our courses? Would she benefit?
Ausra: Sure, of course!
Vidas: So, I think Rebekah could use our “Hymn Playing Workshop” or “10-Day Hymn Playing Challenge.” They are very helpful in their way. The “Hymn Playing Challenge is a PDF based course, and “Hymn Playing Workshop” is a video course. Right, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, I think it will be very helpful. Also, you know, if, let’s say now the Advent will begin soon, you can start practicing Advent hymns, you know, the most popular Advent hymns in advance, and then when Advent will come, you may start working on the Christmas hymns.
Very good idea. So, guys, thanks so much for listening, for sending us 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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