SOPP704: Which of your studies do you recommend for learning repertoire within a short period of time?
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.
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V: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 704 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Leo, and he writes:
Good morning, Which of your studies do you recommend for learning repertoire within a short period of time?
So Ausra, probably Leo needs to learn more repertoire within a week, maybe for his liturgical organ playing or other responsibilities, but he doesn’t have a lot of time.
A: Yes, so…
V: So he needs shortcuts, right?
A: Well, do you think it’s possible to do things in shortcuts?
V: I don’t think so, yeah, I’m just trying to refresh my memory from all the courses that we have posted in the Total
Organist Training folder. But I don’t think there is any shortcut like this. For example, of course sight reading helps. If you are a really good sight reader, you could learn repertoire quicker or faster.
A: Well, I think if you would be a good sight reader and if you would be experienced organist, you wouldn’t ask a similar question.
A: So I get the feeling from this question that skills are not high enough and you still need to do something in a short time, but that’s not how things work. My best advice would be just choose very very easy repertoire. Very easy pieces. At your playing level or even easier. But if you want to work on substantial repertoire and to be ready in short time, it’s only possible if you already have good baggage - lots of pieces that you played in the past and you want to repeat them. Then it’s possible. If you are a really advanced organist.
V: That’s true. For example, if Leo looks at our Secrets of Organ Playing store, he could find collections, basically categorized according to the difficulty level - beginning level, basic level, intermediate level, and advanced level. So I don’t know if his level is beginners level or basic level, but certainly not intermediate level. So he could look at these sections and discover some options for himself.
A: Yes, because if there would be a secret shortcut, I think everybody would have discovered it by now, and it would not be a secret anymore, and we all would learn hard stuff and difficult pieces in like just a week or a day.
V: And that’s true, and when I look at our Organ Sight Reading Master Course, it’s a 40 week course, plus seven weeks of bonus material for legato playing. So basically 47 weeks you are sight reading very very thoroughly, spending quality time on the organ, and it’s still very difficult course, very strenuous activity, you have to commit for 47 weeks. It’s probably almost a year, right? It’s almost a year. So…
A: Really, if you want to play organ or any other musical instrument and you want to do it well, and be able to play repertoire at least medium in difficulty or advanced, you need to put a lot of effort into it and a lot of hours. There is no shortcut in things like these. Of course, there might be, I could give you some advice how to learn a piece faster. The tricky thing is you need to take it and to analyze it right away. And if you know how good your technique is or how bad, and what is harder for you and what is easier for you, then you analyze that piece in terms of the technical difficulty as well. And right away you will have to start working on the difficult spots. Not play it from the beginning to the end all the time. That might save you some time.
V: I also have a suggestion for the type of repertoire to study. A lot of people, when they start playing the organ, they know of a handful of classical composers, like Bach, maybe some Romantic composers…
A: Bach’s D Minor Toccata, Widor’s Toccata, yes? From the Fifth Symphony.
V: Yes. Some might know more obviously because they listen to the music more. But still it’s the classical works, standard repertoire. And these works are rather difficult to play for average beginner student. It’s definitely too difficult for beginners in general, but if you have let’s say a decent piano technique and you start to play Bach’s D Minor Toccata, it’s still too difficult when you get to the fugal section.
A: But for example, if you need a lot of repertoire, for let’s say service playing…
A: Then it’s easier, because there are many many contemporary religious composers who compose music specifically for the church services.
V: Exactly. I was going to suggest that instead of looking for Classical pieces, Baroque pieces, or Romantic pieces, people would look at contemporary stuff. Sometimes harmonium pieces from the Romantic period might be accessible as well. They don’t have obbligato pedal part - they could be played with manuals only. It’s possible. But more often than not, as Ausra says, contemporary composers pay attention to the difficulty level that majority of church organists have, and generally speaking, it’s not very difficult level, right? So it could be quite interesting music. If you look at, let’s say what composers like, I don’t know - Phil Lehenbauer - writes. Sometimes we write for similar level pieces also. Not necessarily religious music, not sacred, but let’s say meditations with solo voice in the right hand, like James Michael Stevens writes. It’s very accessible. And it could be effective for some part of meditative music as well.
A: But his music I don’t think is suitable for the church because it’s…
V: It’s not based on hymns.
A: Yes, it’s not sacred, so, it’s really very secular in its titles especially, too.
V: There are some exceptions to that, yes, where you could, he has collection called Cantabiles and you could select some Cantabiles. Cantabile is a general title which could work for offertory or communion. But you’re right, Ausra - he is more secular composer.
A: And of course, we don’t know what Leo needs. Is he going to prepare a recital program, like free program, or is he a church musician, so we are just talking whatever we can think of.
V: Yes, so probably the best suggestion would be to start improving your sight reading skills right away, and music theory and harmony as Ausra said, but also…
A: …I haven’t said that yet, but yes, you need to, yes.
V: She thinks about that.
A: Yes, f you are strong in music theory, then sight reading and learning new music is much easier.
V: It’s a different kind of sight reading, because you’re not reading notes only - you’re reading entire textures and you’re making sense of those textures. You know how the piece is put together while you’re just glancing at the score. And it’s revealed in front of you. It’s like the meaning behind the music is quite clear to you what composer did there. Not only wrote a bunch of notes which happen to sound nice, but how they are connected, right? But you need theory and harmony knowledge for that. And of course, choose contemporary collections and majority of pieces for solo right hand would fit in that category.
A: And of course, if you have quite good technique and quite good knowledge of music theory, you could also improvise. That would expand your repertoire as well.
V: It’s probably even more difficult than just playing contemporary repertoire, right? It’s entirely…
A: Of course.
V: …different set of skills.
A: You need to develop skills for any of these things that we have talked, and it all takes time. So if you want to be famous or to make lots of money, don’t play the organ. You will never be that.
V: Leo didn’t say that he wanted to be famous.
A: I know, but I just, generic observation. Because in this field of study, there are no shortcuts, really. I wish there
would be some. It would be so much easier.
V: Yeah, it’s all hard work and quite unrecognized work. You work in solitude, and people don’t see you unless the organ is in front of the church, so you don’t get recognition.
A: Of course, some people are more gifted from via nature, via birth than others. And for some people it might come faster naturally. But still even those people need to develop some sort of technique and have knowledge. They have to practice daily and regularly.
V: Okay, that’s what we do, too. Every day.
A: Every day.
V: Even if we’re not preparing for organ recitals, which normally we have once a month on different types of
instruments, different programs. We also keep up with our recording sessions, growing our YouTube channels, which requires constant practice and sight reading and polishing new pieces too.
V: To stay ahead of the pack, to stay relevant and helpful to other people. 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.
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