Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 383, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. And this question was sent by Gena, who is our Total Organist student. And, she wrote in the Basecamp communication channel as a reply to the question, ‘What are you struggling with the most this week?’ And she wrote:
Forcing myself to practice slowly to be very accurate
V: And then, she received a few comments, obviously because our students are writing there too. For example Dianne wrote:
This is my biggest struggle too, week in and week out. It is so hard for me not to want to rush ahead. Still working on my patience!
V: And Jay wrote:
I agree too. I think I could learn some things quicker if I could be more consistent in slow practice. I’m glad I’m not the only one struggling with this.
V: And Jeremy wrote:
The struggle is real. Keep being persistent.
V: And I wrote
Even after 25+ years of playing the organ, I have to be careful with this too. Don't worry! Slow down 50 percent and you will be fine. It's easier than it sounds.
V: And Ausra said later? (Laughs). Okay! Ausra, could you add your comment now?
A: Well, it’s a very common struggle for many musicians. Think about your childhood. I can guarantee that if you took piano lessons when you were a child, your teacher told you to practice slowly.
A: But did you do that? I’m almost guaranteed that you did not follow his or her advice. Because that’s a human nature—we want to get things as fast as we could.
V: Because if you did, you would never need our advice, by that time.
A: That’s right. So it’s a common human nature, to rush things through.
V: Mmm-hmm. We need instant gratification. Not need, but maybe want.
A: For example, most of the teachers tell you that you need to play the hard spots first, and don’t play everything from the beginning to the end, and you don’t need to rush in the tempo, and be mindful, but who listens to your teacher. Maybe some but I guess that not too many.
V: And it takes me to the idea that everybody needs to make their own mistakes and learn from their own mistakes, not from mistakes of others, right? Of course it would be wise to learn from others mistakes but that’s human nature.
A: I think this psychology of human nature—we think that if we will play things fast, we will learn faster, but that’s actually quite an opposite effect. Because you need to internalize that the slower you practice, the better results will be at the end.
V: And talking about Gena—she needs to ask herself, ‘what is forcing her to practice faster than needed’, right? What keeps her from practicing slowly? There is some kind of maybe stress or something—anxiety.
A: Well, this might be one of the issue, but there might be that maybe she doesn’t have enough time and, if you don’t have enough time to practice everything slowly, just work on one piece or on one episode, at that practice session. You don’t have to play everything at once.
V: I can imagine if, for example Gena has planned a recital, or a few recitals in a row, and they’re approaching faster than she wanted to, and she feels those deadlines, and that is very stressful, and when she gets on the organ bench, this stress level arises and she feels the need of speeding up, maybe practicing everything. If that’s the case, I think there is an issue with planning.
A: True. And also I thought that all the people might be divided into four groups of different characters.
V: Oh, okay. Interesting.
A: I think everybody knows that.
V: Okay. What group would I belong to?
A: Well, I think you know.
V: I don’t know exactly what you mean, so there are many groups in my mind.
A: Well, but two groups are, lets say faster and two groups are slower.
V: Uh-huh. So I’m faster, right?
A: No, I think you are slower.
V: Uhhhh. Okay.
A: So if you belong to those faster group people…
A: It might be harder for you to play…
V; Oh, I see.
A: in slow tempo too. And you don’t have patience to...
A: do slow practice. But in such a case, you need to overcome yourself.
V: Can you change your own nature?
A: Well, you cannot I think change it completely but you can, well, a little bit influence, you nature...
V: Or I would…
A: As a mature adult.
V: I would say you could learn to live with the strengths of your nature and ignore the weaknesses, right? Develop the strengths of your own character that for example, if I’m a slow person, I have the strengths of that character and weaknesses of the same character too, so I could develop the strengths more, like maybe calmness, maybe stability, right, that would be my strength. And weaknesses would get in the way less then, I would say. And for quicker people, this might be the opposite. For example, what your strong points will be, Ausra.
A: That I do things quick.
V: Quick. Exactly. And you can develop that even further by doing them quicker, even quicker. No probably…
A: No. I need to do them slower.
A: And to be calmer.
V: Ah. But what gives you pleasure, when you for example, practice the organ—faster or slower, tempi?
A: Well, that’s a good question. When I was young, I think faster tempo gave me more pleasure. But now just the age—I think I’m slowing down.
V: When you were young and beautiful.
A: That’s right.
V: And now you’re only beautiful.
A: If you say so.
V: (Laughs). Okay
A: Look guys, what I have to…
V: Put up with.
A: Put up with, yes.
V: Am I beautiful too?
V: Am I young?
V: Forever young. Excellent. So I’m really am glad that the people are supporting each other in our Total Organist Community, and have the way to interact with each other through Basecamp. And just when I think about it, I had an idea that maybe people from not Total Organist Community in general, but from our Secrets Of Organ Playing Community, right? People who don’t belong to Total Organist sometimes write letters to us and in response to the questions that other people send to us, and they want us to sent their answers to these people, so we are like mediators of this conversation, being in the middle. And sometimes it’s really inefficient. Ausra, do you think that having a way to communicate as a community of Secrets of Organ Playing would be better, like a group chat? I’m thinking about Telegram for example?
A: Well, sometimes yes, I think it would be beneficial to have that direct contact…
A: with people.
V: Because emails are quite limiting in direction, right? You can easily communicate with one person, or two, right? But as a group, it slows things down. So let us know if this initiative would be appealing to you. Would you be willing to join our, for example, communication channel on Telegram? Telegram is a desktop and phone app that works very fast and it has encrypted messaging services, and your messages are secure, and stay on your device, right? They’re not stored anywhere else. And it’s very quick. People from around the world can join in conversation. Okay, thank you guys. We hope this was useful to you. Please keep sending us your wonderful questions. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice...
A: Miracles happen!
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 380 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by John, and he writes:
Thanks so much for the podcast and chat today, you are incredibly inspiring! I feel so motivated after that chat.
As we discussed, I really want to go to the next level with my organ playing, but you are right this needs to be part of a balanced lifestyle, I have a full time job, I play hockey plus training, and Eliza and two young boys to care for and a new baby on the way, my family is top priority.
Could you please discuss this with Ausra, and give me your advice? It could be a podcast discussion if you want, I don’t mind the general questions being discussed publicly.
I would like to write up a practice plan for say 60 minutes a day Monday to Friday, and maybe 90 minutes on Saturday & Sunday.
To summarise how I feel:
I think I’ve hit a wall of being able to self diagnose what I’m doing wrong. I have done well so far to be aware of what I’m doing, and ask you the right questions to get your help, and then correct it. But right now I don’t know what I don’t know if that makes sense. I don’t know of a ‘better’ way of doing things.
For example, sometimes my choice of fingering isn’t good, but I don’t really know what the rules are, or what other options I have.
The older retired organist has been helpful, but his communication style isn’t great, he is quite dry and uninspiring, and we have a lot of arguments over historical fingering and pedalling. And although he is retired he only seems to be available about once per month for 1 hour.
Do I need a local teacher? Or should I go to a teacher in Melbourne once a month? (Cost is around $50-80 per lesson, plus 4 hours of my travel time). Do you think my progress studying with you online is satisfactory and just keep going this way? Personally I trust you guys so much because you have helped me with every problem. Other organ teachers might be dry and boring too.
I don’t know what I should do next, but I think it’s something like:
Rebuild foundation of finger technique (start with Hanon exercises, but what else??)
Work on improving focus / staying in the moment / get in the zone and stay in the zone from the start to the finish of the piece.
Breathing and phrasing of music.
I have the book “The Organists’ Manual” by Roger Davis, should I be working through this at my own pace or follow a teacher?
Understand why I am so slow at learning new pieces, and improve. My sight reading is poor, I might start on another 30 day challenge of sight reading a hymn each day.
Broaden repertoire, I need some help with deciding what to play next. I would like play pieces I enjoy if possible, and pieces I can play in public that will engage and inspire audiences).
I’m thinking Suite Gothique by Boellman, Fanfare for the Common Man by Lemmens, O Mensch BWV 622 by Bach, maybe Bach’s Little Fugue in G minor BWV 578 or the Prelude and Fugue in C Major BWV 531?
I have started on Hanon, at the moment I have been doing exercises 1-10, repeating each one four times, but this is taking me 40 minutes, which doesn’t leave much time for anything else, and sometimes I struggle to focus the whole way without going into autopilot and messing it up or not doing it properly/precisely. And I haven’t done any scales or arpeggios yet.
Maybe I could do:
5 mins sight reading for warm up
25 mins Hanon
15 mins learning hymns for church services
15 mins learning organ solo repertoire
Extras: music theory and harmony? Improvisation? Scales/arpeggios? Pedal scales?
I like the idea of submitting videos to you as part of the organ competition, as I feel I really need some more specific help and critiquing, and I want you to feel free to tell me how I can do better and what to work on.
I really need some specific instructions not just a general idea.
Thanks again so much for your time, and for being such wonderful friends and mentors!
V: This is something that I really enjoy that people do. You see, Ausra, how John not only asks us for advice, but he is also thinking about his own plan, and lists some choices of possibilities, and we can say whether this works or not this way. Otherwise, if we prescribe some medicine for him and he just follows it blindly, then he will never learn to plan for himself. And if he does like he is doing today, he’s writing a plan for us, and maybe we’ll adjust this plan here and there, if we think we need to do so, then he’s already on the way to becoming independent, and I think that should be his goal.
A: Sure! And I think this plan that he made: 5 minutes for sight reading warm-up, 25 minutes for Hanon, and so on and so forth, actually sounds for me like a good plan. Because, what I noticed from his performances from his DVD is that right now, what he needs the most is to strengthen his finger muscles, you know, to strengthen his finger independence. And, I think that the Hanon exercises and the general playing exercises will help him a lot.
V: And do you think that 5 minutes of sight reading, 25 mintues of Hanon, 15 minutes of hymns, and 15 minutes of repertoire is a good plan for weekdays?
A: Yes, I think it’s a good plan for weekdays, and I think then, on weekends, when he can practice more, he could, you know, that last section of playing and learning solo repertoire, could expand that.
V: Or learning extras, like learning music theory, harmony, improvisation…
A: Yes. But I think that building up the technique is crucial right now, because even when you are 80 years old, you can still be able to work on music theory and harmony, but building up the finger technique is crucial, because the sooner you do it, the easier it gets. So, I would not suggest for him to go to Melbourne right now, to take lessons with somebody, because if it would take him an hour to go back and forth, then I would say, “Of course, do that.” It would be very beneficial. But now, it would take just too much time!
V: An entire day!
A: I think it’s much better to spend that time at home, practicing.
V: Yes! Imagine what he could achieve once a month if he practiced for the time that he has to commute to Melbourne—several hours. Obviously, it doesn’t make sense. Four hours of his travel time is not worth it, I think.
A: I know, it’s much preferable to spend that time practicing.
V: And, plus, it’s a $50-$80 investment per lesson. I’m not saying the investment isn’t wise, you get what you put, right? If you put some money up front, you get much more, because you value your hard earned money, and then you try to take the teachers advice much more seriously. That’s why people who subscribe to our Total Organist course tend to progress much faster, because they have invested their own money!
A: That’s right.
V: Whereas others rely on free advice, and that doesn’t necessarily give them the strength of will to persevere every day, because they always can feel, “Oh, I can make it up tomorrow,” because it’s free. But when you are paying, you strive to do the best you can every day, because it’s your money! You need the results! You’re paying for results, basically. Not for our time or anything. But you need results. So the same is with John. I think he could improve so much while learning those pieces that he lists. All of those are wonderful! He needs to play a diverse repertoire, basically. He needs to learn legato playing, which is Romantic music and Modern music, and also Baroque articulation, which is Bach and other composers of that day, and maybe earlier, too. So, what he lists, “Suite Gothique” by Boëllmann is wonderful! “Fanfare” by Lemmens, and then Chorales and Fugues and Preludes by Bach, wonderful! They are not too easy, but not too difficult at his level.
A: That’s right! I think they are quite well fitted for him at this stage of his learning.
V: Do you think, Ausra, that he might supplement his menu with some modern music, as well? Not only Romantic, but Modern? Or not necessarily, at this time.
A: Well, each of us has his own…
A: …connection with the Modern music, so… Somebody loves it, somebody hates it, so I don’t know what John feels about contemporary music, so, I cannot really tell.
V: And probably, he’s not into it as much, because he never really played it, right? Never displayed interest, I think. More of a Romantic and especially English Romantic.
V: It doesn’t hurt to have variety, but with the limited time that he has, maybe he can do it later.
V: It doesn’t matter actually. Whatever he decides is fine. And in general, whatever plan you have, don’t look for us for salvation. We’re not gods, and we don’t know everything, but if you think that you need 5 minutes of sight reading, or 10 minutes of sight reading, or 1 hour of sight reading, if it’s your passion, go for it and stick with it for a month, or 2, or 3, or a year, and you will see results this way, too!
A: True, because it’s the same when people realize that, “Oh, I need to exercise. From this day on, I will continue doing my physical activities.” And then, they will make this unrealistic plan, and let’s say that they will be running every day for let’s say and hour, and then they will do whatever. And they cannot keep to that plan because it’s unrealistic. So whatever you choose to do, it needs to fit your general lifestyle and your life plan—your schedule. Because the most important thing is that whatever you do, you do it on a daily basis.
V: Exactly. Exactly, Ausra! This is very well put. And, just look how many things I have dropped—many physical routines didn’t stick with me. But, I’m doing those pullups now, since last summer, every day. And at first, I couldn’t do even 1, but now I can do 11! It only takes me...what...1 minute to do?
A: More than that.
V: More, a little bit, yes? But I do it every day, maybe in the morning before breakfast so that my stomach isn’t full. Maybe I could do more, other exercises, stretching, of course I could do more. But if I feel like I’m overextending myself with too much training, I might just quit! And now, with this short pull-up routine, I know I can do it, even on a rainy day.
A: Well, of course, practicing organ will take more time than doing 10 pull-ups, but still…
V: Yes, at least 15 minutes a day. That’s our rule. And even the busiest person in the world, I think, can sacrifice something that they would find 15 minutes a day. Because, if you don’t have enough time in your day, what’s the rule? You should have enough money, because you are working, working, working. But if you don’t have enough money, and you don’t have enough time, that means that somebody is abusing your time and energy. You have to think about your priorities. Ok, thank you guys, this was Vidas!
A: And Ausra!
V: Please keep sending your questions; we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen!
Thank you everyone for participating! You all made us very happy with your entries.
Ausra (@laputis) and I selected the following winners:
Trio texture is not easy to play. This is a beautiful elegant setting and you did it almost perfectly. I wonder how well other registration combinations would sound?
This is a very fun piece! I wish you could have some organ pedals to play too...
Congratulations to the winners! I have already sent them the prizes.
We hope to see even more entries next week! Here's a link for Week 4:
Do you want to participate but don't have the Steem account? No problem. I can create one for you in a second and delegate some Steem Power for 90 days to get you started. Just let me know your desired username. Yesterday I have created an account for @andyradtrad.
And remember, when you practice, miracles happen!
SOPP379: I need to recognize the patterns, so rather than playing the progressions in all sorts of keys I try to stick to one at a time
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 379 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast and this question was sent by Ariane and she writes:
“I have been working on chord progressions in F Major and tried to find the right chords for hymns in the same key. I need to recognize the patterns, so rather than playing the progressions in all sorts of keys I try to stick to one at a time.”
V: Wow Ausra, it’s so nice people are actually practicing harmony exercises.
A: Yes, that’s so rare.
A: But to be honest I’ve not quite comprehended this question. Could you explain it to me how you understood it?
V: Yes. It doesn’t mean that I am understanding it correctly but I will try. So let’s say Ariane is working on hymns, right? And she needs to understand the chords that are built for the hymns. Maybe she even wants to harmonize those hymns. So she practices chord progressions in F Major because a particular hymn that she is working on is written in F Major and she then takes some of those chords from the progressions in F Majors and applies to the hymns in the same key. So she needs to recognize the patterns basically and stick to one key. Does that make sense?
A: Well, yes and no.
V: What does make sense, Ausra?
A: That she tries something from F Major to apply to F Major of a different melody in F Major is what you are trying to say.
V: Yes, yes, exactly. It’s a long way that she’s taking, right?
A: I don’t think that’s the right way to the harmony and to learn things because it doesn’t make sense to me.
V: It reminds me of how I was approaching improvisation actually at first when I was studying Jan Peeterszoon Sweelinck’s treatise on counterpoint and composition. It’s called Composition's Regeln and it was notated or written down by his students. I believe it was Weckmann and Reincken and maybe even Jacob Praetorius who joined in writing them down but basically those rules come from Sweelinck. And at the time I was so fascinated by this polyphonic writing and this treatise that I thought if I for example take a piece by Scheidemann, which is in a similar style, right? And I deconstruct the motives and fragments and memorize and transpose them into different keys that I would be able to recreate Scheidemann’s style on my own hymn tunes or chorale melodies and remember I did this lecture-recital when I played 4 or 5 versets based on one Lutheran chorale and my patterns and polyphonic texture was entirely based on Scheidemann’s works. Did that work Ausra?
A: Well I think it worked for that occasion. But I still don’t think this is the right way to learn improvisation, to learn harmony.
V: Right, because if I understand correctly Ariane also for example tries to recognize the patterns from chord progressions, take those patterns and apply to F Major hymns, right?
A: Well if you would learn keyboard for once you wouldn’t have to do that.
A: Because if you would learn certain patterns you could apply it to any given key.
V: Exactly. What I didn’t understand at the time when I was trying to teach myself improvisation was that this treatise teaches me how to think in musical ideas, take a motive and how to develop it, take a polyphonic texture and how to compose it or improvise it so it sounds convincing in that particular style. It teaches people how to think in musical ideas, right? It doesn’t teach us how to imitate the same thing but to think basically, to work with our brains. The same thing I believe happens with harmony. When we teach people how to harmonize first of all they play progressions and we don’t require them to memorize those progressions in a way that they won’t understand what is going on but basically for themselves they will be able to think in musical terms and figure out other chords that fit that particular hymn. Does it make sense?
A: Yes, it makes sense.
V: It’s not an automatic way, you have to think about it but I think it’s much faster and more musically pleasing too.
A: I think so too, yes.
V: And you are not stuck to one particular pattern or progression that you know. You can come up with 10 or 20 or more different patterns on the spot. Whatever comes in front of you, you can react, right?
A: Yes, that’s true.
V: It’s sort of free thinking in musical ideas which is much more applicable to real life situations when Ariane needs to harmonize a real hymn tune or a chorale. OK. Do you think this idea will help Ariane and others?
A: Yes I hope so.
V: So guys please keep sending us your wonderful questions, we love helping you grow and remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
Have you ever wanted to start to practice on the organ but found yourself sidetracked after a few days? Apparently your inner motivation wasn't enough.
I know how you feel. I also was stuck many times. What helped me was to find some external motivation as well.
In order for you to advance your organ playing skills and help you motivate to practice, my wife Ausra - @laputis and I invite you to join in a contest to submit your organ music and win some Steem.
Are you an experienced organist? You can participate easily. Are you a beginner? No problem. This contest is open to every organ music loving Steemian.
1. It's sort of open mic contest for organ music - no limitation to length, level of difficulty, genre etc.
2. It can be any organ piece, any hymn, any improvisation or any organ exercise.
3. It has to be performed by you without editing.
4. Be sure to clearly state Secrets of Organ Playing Contest, the contest week number, your Steem name, and the random contest entry word of the week. This week's word is "birds".
5. Upload your entry to YouTube.
6. Make a post about your entry on Steem.
7. Performance on pipe and electronic organs are valid.
8. Use #secretsoforganplaying as your first tag.
9. Upvote and Resteem this post on Steem.
10. Comment this post on Steem with link to your entry so people can see and listen to it.
11. The contest is open until Monday, January 28, 2019 12:00 PM UTC.
Every participating entry will receive our upvotes. Additionally, 3 winners will be rewarded some STEEM in the following manner:
1st Place: 10 STEEM
2nd Place: 6 STEEM
3rd Place: 4 STEEM
@laputis and I will serve as judges. We will pick winners based on what sounded the most interesting and best performed to us.
Our goal here is to support the community while motivating you to practice, inspiring to create some amazing music and adding more smiles to everyone's day.
Questions, comments, ideas? Please let us know your feedback about this contest.
Support our fellow contestants - upvote, resteem and comment their entry to let them know specifically what did you appreciate about their music.
Also stay tuned for the post about winners from Week 3!
We hope to see even more entries next week!
And remember, when you practice, miracles happen!
SOPP378: I find it quite challenging to bring out the melody of BWV 613 and other similar compositions by Bach in the Orgelbüchlein
Before we go to the podcast for today, I'd like to remind our listeners that there are less than 24 hours left to participate in Secrets of Organ Playing Contest Week 3. The details are here.
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 378, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. And this question was sent by May. And, May writes:
I was working on BWV 605 and BWV 613 yesterday. I find it quite challenging to bring out the melody of BWV 613 and other similar compositions by Bach in the Orgelbüchlein (for example, BWV 606, 623, 630 etc).
V: So Ausra, we have just checked what those pieces are, right? And it appears that they all have some things in common.
A: Sure! They all have quite a thick texture. Most of them are written for organo pleno registration, and are played on one manual with the pedals. And usually the cantus firmus or the choral tune is in the soprano, but it’s not alone on the soprano clef.
V: Mmm-hmm. Not to be played on a separate manual?
A: That’s right. It’s not like ornamented choral, for example, like Schmucke Dich or something like this. Well, since in organ, we doesn’t have the capability of playing louder and softer on the same manual at the same time, unless it’s divided keyboard but it’s another matter completely. It’s not a piano but you could sort of put more emphasis on that solo voice—upper voice. So what can we do actually to articulate everything as it should be? And since in most of these cases that the hymn melody is written in a longer note value, and in the upper voice, you will still be able to hear it. And there is no other way to project it, only to articulate everything and listen to that upper voice...
A: Maybe try to sing it. Because we listen from recording. Obviously it’s not so profound as in the, let’s say ornamented choral version, but you can still hear it quite clearly.
V: Mmm-mmm. And the way this constructed is that the lower three voices basically talk to each other, imitate themselves, based on one particular figure, and that figure could be based on some rhetorical symbol, or on the choral motive, from the choral, from the excerpt of the choral. And so the bottom three voices—sometimes the inner two voices, like alto and tenor—imitate themselves, and the pedals have something else because they usually are moving in slower note values. But not always. Sometimes all three parts in the bottom, they imitate themselves while soprano plays the tune in larger note values. And from time to time, joins in imitations with the lower three parts too.
A: So I guess that cantus firmus might not be heard as good as it should, if you will not articulate other voices, that have smaller note values.
A: This is very important. Because if you will play everything legato, or almost legato, then yes, definitely will not be able to hear the melody.
V: Mmm-hmm. So just observe the general rules of baroque articulation, which we call articulate legato…
A: Or ornamented touch, probably, too.
V: Yes. This is how it was called back in the day. And what we mean probably is to try to play the top notes with one finger—top melody with one finger—as legato as possible, but not connected, obviously, and not to choppy. Make it sing. And then, imitate the same thing, same articulation with normal fingering, with fingers that you use in the piece. And then you will have ideal articulation, and this is how you will bring out the melody.
A: Yes, and don’t forget that rules that you are applying for top voice, you need to apply for other voices as well.
V: Yes. Sometimes we observe our students make this mistake—that they pay attention to the soprano only, and middle voices and even the pedals get slurred to much.
A: And that way you will really lose the sense of the melody.
V: And the best way I know to solve this problem, is probably to start working on solo voices first, not jumping to four part texture right away. Start practicing soprano, alto, tenor and pedals separately, and then work on two part combinations, once you are ready. And then three part combinations after that. And after fourteen combinations you will have reached the level when you can play all four parts correctly with desired articulation and understanding what’s going on in the middle parts as well.
A: That’s right!
V: Great question, right, that May sends. And please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember, when you practice...
A: Miracles happen!
This is the ending of the episode 377 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast where I talk with John Higgins, the organist of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Morewell, Australia. If you haven't seen the beginning, check it out here. Here is the 2nd part too.
John: Thomas Heywood is the most famous Australian professional concert organist touring around the world. The two DVD’s that he has made, he spoke about the pieces before he played them, and as a listener I found that was very engaging and added more contest and I thought I would take a risk and have those introductions before the pieces and I hope that makes it more meaningful for the listeners.
Vidas: You’re exactly right. A simple DVD where an organist just plays the pieces through like in a recital setting, would be fine, but there is not human-to-human connection without introductions. Of course you could write the text in the linear notes, but seeing you talk about them, those pieces, and your experiences and what you suggest listeners listen to when you play, right, sometimes. It gives an enormous, I believe like warm feeling, human connection, basically. And I remember when you played here in Vilnius, you also introduced those pieces in a similar manner. I translated them, right? And it was really nice. People connected to you, and actually you went downstairs to take your bow, right? And one person from our studio, Unda Maris Studio, gave you a box of sweets, right? And a few days ago when we received you package of DVD’s, you wanted us to give one copy of the DVD to that organ student, right? His name is Marek by the way, and he travels through several European countries after his favorite organists. He tries not to miss any organ recitals. Not only in Vilnius but any other cities in Lithuania too. But also he travels to Latvia, to Poland and sometimes even to Germany. So Marek will be delighted to get your DVD. Also I’ll give one copy at your request to Paulius Grigonis, who is the organist of St. Joseph Parish here in Vilnius. He is my best friend and colleague and he will be appreciating it very much. By the way, Paulius is also participating in our Secrets of Organ Playing contest. So John, I know you have Steemit account, and are planning to do this, so wonderful will be for our little community competing from around the world too. And then the next copy is already on it’s way to England to Mindaugas, our former Unda Maris member, who left us because he’s now working in England, and he also has experience in organ playing and he appreciated you play very much in Vilnius. So he will be enjoying this too much, your playing very much. So thank you so much John, for your generosity, for sharing those ideas about you recording this DVD and wish that you do the second version, a second volume of your DVD in the not to distant future.
J: Yes. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed my trip to Vilnius and meeting some of your other students. The profound impact on my life, and to friendships were formed there that were exciting and it’s a real privilege for me to share the DVD with you and the other students.
V: Wonderful. What would be your last advice for organists who would like to record a DVD?
J: I think it’s the most important thing is to understand why you want to do it. And I think I shared with you once before that I was fascinated that I found this seminar on Youtube from a famous opera singer. And they said that the turning point of their career was when somebody said to them, that you need to be convinced, that somebody should pay 50 dollars to come and listen to you sing. And at first this opera singer was very apprehensive and full of self-doubt and thought, "I don’t know why people would pay that much money to come and see me." And they went through quite a journey to understand, why were they going to sing. I think it would be great for any other organist to think about, why do you want to play and why do you want to record the DVD? Once you understand what those key goals and aims are, and that will drive you through the whole process.
J: If you’re not sure about it or if you’re doubting then you give up cause it takes you so far out of your comfort zone.
V: Well exactly. You have to answer this deep why question. The deep reason behind you are actually doing this project. And if you’re not sure then in a deep struggle when the darkest hours will hit you, obviously you will give up probably. So I’m so glad that you persevered and you continued to play, even though it took many hours to record, but it’s a first DVD, your first achievement. The second I guess will be a little bit easier, right?
J: Yes, and I think if you have that faith in why you’re doing it and that you’re doing it the right ways, that there’s so many possibilities that come out of this exercise, that regardless if you don’t—even if you make a financial loss, the benefits to you as a person, what you learn and the new skills you develop, opportunities that might open through other faces, or to do further recordings. I’m so humbled because it’s only been, it’s over four weeks since I released the DVD, and I’ve already sold nearly 50 copies, and I’ve given nearly 30 copies away in gifts and presents, and they were for people who really wanted them. It wasn’t just giving it to them as a token to people who have been very interested in my musical journey. My initial run’s a hundred copies, and only twenty left...
J: full weight. I find that’s very humbling.
V: And it’s also very good promotional material, right? Because when you apply, for example, to some organ recital series, or organ festival in Australia or abroad, it’s best to send them some samples of your work. It doesn’t have to be a physical DVD or a CD these days, right? It can be a link to your Youtube channel, for example, where you would give them a sample of your work or the best pieces that you have recorded. And since you have released entire hour of music, you can pick and choose or put all of them in on Youtube, or just part of them, as an example of your work that is, really, I think, number one reason why people should record themselves. Not necessarily to have this physical DVD but to have an archive of their work.
J: Yes. And that’s one of my next steps I need to complete fairly quickly, is having, creating my own Youtube channel and website. That’s something that I’ll be working on this year.
V: Mmm-hmm. Great! And John, if people are interested in getting to know you a little more, and even getting your DVD’s, where and what’s the best way to reach you?
J: The best way would be by email, and I’m sure that you’ll be putting a link in the podcast to my email, and it’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
J: I also have a Facebook page under John Higgins. I don’t have an active presence on there so email is probably the most effective.
V: Mmm-hmm. So yes, as you mention, your Youtube channel and website could be probably your next, even before you record second volume, probably. It’s good to have a place where you could have your presence online. Not necessarily only email, but people would look at your photos, right? At your resumé, at your recitals schedule, or maybe even your blog. You could start writing about your day, about your, documenting your day. And it doesn’t have to be just organ, right? Because organ is just a part of your activities. Wonderful! Thank you so much, John. It was delightful to talk to you, and I hope people got the message that you were trying to transmit, that first of all, it’s worth doing—recording your own DVD. But before you do it, you have to answer the question—why!
V: Mmm-hmm. Okay, and I’m delighted to talk to you and I’m sitting now in my church and I’m ready to go and practice for my next recital which is coming up in about, less than two weeks. And I hope you will practice also something too.
J: Yes. Yes, I’m busy practicing this week, ready for the church service on Sunday, and I’ll also been picking out the new records file that I’ll lend you. And if anyone would like a DVD, it would be my pleasure to send it to them.
V: Excellent! So just email John and he will write to you very gladly.
J: Thank you so much, Vidas.
V: Have a wonderful 2019, creative, healthy for your entire family, and talk to you next time.
J: Thank you so much. Have a good day!
V: Alright, guys. This was Vidas.
J: This was John.
V: And remember, when you practice…
J: Miracles happen
SOPP377 (Continued): The first 30 seconds of the DVD out in front of the church we had to do that 9 times to get it right
This is the continuation of the episode 377 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast where I talk with John Higgins, the organist of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Morewell, Australia. If you haven't seen the beginning, check it out here.
John: Because there were so many details that we needed to get right, learning how to move my hands and move them at the right time. For example the first 30 seconds of the DVD out in front of the church we had to do that 9 times to get it right and I said to my cameraman I need your help because I’ve never done this before and he was really fantastic and he said John just relax, every time we have a new journalist at the news station they all have the same problem you have speaking to a camera because it was a rather strange experience that when you play in public a recital your very happy to be there and very happy to give the gift of music to the people and you draw energy off of them and you want to be your best for them but playing in an empty church and speaking to a camera without listeners. And my cameraman Cody was absolutely superb. He coached me through it and we’d do a couple of run-throughs and then we’d look at the footage together and he’d say “See how you stopped smiling there or see how that spot there needs to have more energy or he’d stop me and he’d say “Say it like you really mean it, not just going through the motions."
Vidas: Right, right. This is really important to understand because when we rehearse sometimes we forget that we have to do our best, right? And by this I mean that we have to play like it’s maybe our last try, the last time we are playing the organ and sometimes we don’t remember this and think “Oh maybe next time I will get it right” which of course is not necessarily true, right John?
J: Yes, that’s right. Another difference is that initially I was trying to read from a script or repeat it from memory because I wanted to say exactly the right words. After a few tries that wasn’t working for me so that was quite a lesson. Sometimes you might have a plan of how you want to do it but sometimes you have to be flexible and so we decided that I know the pieces well and I know the history well, I know it word by word. Just relax and have the conversation if it was with a friend. And once I started doing that the quality improved dramatically.
V: Exactly and I think I’d like to ask you about “What was your worst moment in the entire recording process? What was your lowest point?”
J: I think there were two lowest points. The first lowest point was when I was listening to all of the recordings of the music and sometimes it took 3, 4, 5 times playing through the piece and I still wasn’t happy with it.
J: And that was when I listened to all of those run-throughs afterwards I was quite discouraged because I thought “Why can’t I get this right or I think when I recorded it that sounds OK but then when I listened to it afterwards it appeared I made a mistake here or a wrong stop change here” so that was difficult and then the other most difficult part was to record the pieces.
J: Because I was running out of time and I really wanted to have an image done. My friends who I trusted said “I really think you should do it again” and that cost me more money to pay the cameraman again and also mentally I sort of closed the chapter. I thought “I finished all the recording, that’s it” and I just wanted it done and it was quite painful having to go “well you haven’t got this right and you have to try again.”
V: Umm-hmm. Yes, it’s really discouraging to see those mistakes when time is of the essence, right? You are paying for the cameraman’s probably time and you try to do everything as fast as possible and as best as you can but those mistakes creep in and you have to repeat and repeat sometimes many times. As you say sometimes two or three hours are needed in order to create a clean copy of 15 minutes of music, right? That’s a process. Do you think John, that in the future you will be able to make a recording faster?
J: Oh yes, very much so. The lessons that I’ve learned that when I do volume 2, and even that was quite a difficult decision because when I was designing the cover and the artwork DVD case do I just leave the title on or do I put “Volume 1” because as soon as I put “Volume 1” that implies that there will be a volume 2 and so I thought “No, I need to be brave and commit to Volume 2.” I then have to commit to the date that I’m committing to volume 2 and I’m sure that that will be much more streamlined and I’m quite sure that it will be even better.
V: Umm-hmm. Can you tell us what you played in your DVD so that our listeners would know.
J: Yes, so I played the Toccata by Bach in D Minor, Prelude and Fugue F Major and G Major from 8 Little Preludes and Fugues, "Ich ruf zu dir", a beautiful prelude by Bach, then I played “Largo from Xerxes” by Handel, Priere a Notre Dame by Leon Boellmann, and then two my own improvisations on Judas Maccabeus which is the hymn tune Thine Be the Glory and Ein Feste Burg which is hymn tune “A Mighty Fortress is our God” plus Festive Trumpet Tune and Nimrod from the Enigma Variations, God So Loved the World from Sir John Stainer’s The Crucifixion, and O Savior of the World by Sir John Goss.
V: Umm-hmm. Wonderful program and I also have to add that you managed to introduce each piece so gracefully and listeners and people who will be watching this DVD will be enjoying your speeches before the pieces a lot.
J: Thank you very much. Very kind of you and that was an interesting decision how to manage that practically because there are many professional organists who make DVD’s and they tend to have each piece played one after another and then a printed section on the DVD they’ll have maybe 10 minutes talking about their program or the organ and the main DVD jumps from one piece to the next.
(This conversation continues in the next episode)
SOPP377: Recording an organ DVD was a very time consuming process, because there were so many details to consider
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas, and I’m so delighted to be able to start our 377th episode of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. And, on the other end of the line is John Higgins, from Australia. He’s the organist of Morewell Presbyterian Church in Australia. And he visited Vilnius and our church some months ago, maybe last year in the Spring, I believe in April. And he played a wonderful organ recital in our church. I have to emphasize that John is one of the first online students, and has been with us since, I believe, the beginning of 2012. So thanks so much, John, and welcome to the show.
John: Thank you so much, and thanks for your kind words of welcome.
V: And today, I have to remind our listeners that John has been a guest on our podcast conversations a number of times, and today we’ll be talking about his newest release of a DVD. He recorded and released a DVD recording, which Ausra and I gladly saw last weekend, and it has been recorded in his church, in Morewell Presbyterian Church. Saint Andrews Church it’s called, right? So wonderful, I think it’s an achievement in itself to publish this DVD, so we’ll be talking a little bit more about your process, about your struggles. Right, John? First of all, how did you come up with the idea to publish this DVD?
J: Many contributing factors. And, I mean, none of this would have even been possible without learning how to play the organ, first, and I’ve been on such an incredible journey, being your student, and learning over the Internet, and apart from learning how to play, also having the belief and bravery to try to make the DVD, because, I’ll say one of the hardest actions I had to do was doing this recording for other people. And then a number of other things came together that I would say were providential, that we had wonderful historic organ in our church, which I’m privileged to play regularly, and I made a friend who works in local TV channel in our area. And so, he had all of the expertise and all the equipment, such as professional TV camera equipment and microphones, so it seemed to me that all the pieces of the puzzle came together at one time.
V: Yes. Wonderful. You know, not too many organists do this! They continue to play the organ, sometimes play recitals, but recording a DVD or a CD, for example, is really a big achievement, I think, because every note that you record is like an evidence! It will be there with you 10 years after this recording has been published—maybe 20 years, maybe for your entire lifetime. Right? So it’s wonderful that you committed to this. Was it very strenuous work for you, or did you record it in a few sittings?
J: That’s right, it was a very time consuming process, because there were so many details that I didn’t consider, that I had in the back of my mind that the hardest challenge was going to be playing the music, and yet I found that I was stretched and challenged in so many other areas of my life and having to learn new skills for the first time, that, for example, learning how to speak to a TV camera, learning how to move your hands at the right time, how to walk slowly and leisurely, and then all the video editing process, how that’s done and the art work design, and then dealing with the DVD manufacturing company and making sure that they made it exactly right, and checking it at all times. There’s a huge amount of work and lots of things to manage that I had thought about.
V: Right. So, I’ve seen you play in Vilnius, and I have seen your DVD here in our living room with Ausra, and we were so impressed that a person who has started playing the organ literally 7 years ago could do things like that on a large 3 manual organ in Vilnius, but also on your two manual instrument in Morewell. We were so impressed, and you are like a living example of what a person can achieve regardless of age. It doesn’t matter when you start. Right? It doesn’t matter that you didn’t start at six years old or seven years old like famous virtuosos would start. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t have a formal musical education. “Where there is a will, there is a way.” I believe this kind of saying fits you very well, because you had a passion, you had a dream, and you persevered and you saw it through.
J. Yes, thank you! Thank you very much. That’s very kind of you, and as I said at the start, I would not have been able to achieve any of this without the teaching and important coaching you’ve given me online, but I think even more than the coaching is the challenge and inspiration, because I think these experiences have been one of the bravest things that I’ve ever done, because there have been so many self doubts. For example, when I did the initial recordings, I played the music over about two days, and then I did the introductions of the DVD for each of the pieces at the end of that recording, and that was a big mistake, because I was so tired after all the playing, that I was very flat, I didn’t have energy to teach about pieces to the camera, and I took a copy of the footage away and started looking at it, and I looked at my playing and I looked at the teaching I was doing, and I thought, “oh, maybe I should quit this right now. It’s no good.” And I had some of my very close friends have a look at the initial footage, and they said, this doesn’t look like you. You’re not smiling, you don’t have energy like you normally do when we speak to you. So, then I had to spend about nearly two weeks agonizing over what I was going to do, and I thought, “Do I just push forward with this, and what it is is what it is, or am I going to strive for excellence?” And even though I’ve made a bit of a mess of that, had another go. So, I’ve had to pay quite a bit more money to the cameramen to do another recording session. And in the introduction to the church and pieces of 15 minutes it took more than three hours of recording to get 15 minutes.
(The conversation continues in the next episode)
SOPP374: I am only in my first week, but what I like already is the fact that I have some sort of schedule which I can work along
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas
Ausra: And Ausra
Vidas: Let’s start episode 374 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Ariane, and she writes:
I am only in my first week, but what I like already is the fact that I have some sort of schedule which I can work along. Practicing seems more focused and also, I feel part of something. I certainly haven't regretted joining! Thank you.
V: Ausra, why do you think Ariane feels that way about having Total Organist subscription?
A: I think it’s very important to feel a part of something—of a group, or people having the same goal.
V: Not to be alone.
A: True. I think it gives greater motivation to anybody.
V: Do you think our Basecamp communication channel has something to do with it?
A: Of course, yes!
V: And people get asked those questions at the end of the day. “What have you been working on today?” And they can respond, and moreover, they can read others’ answers—answers by other students from the same group—which is very motivating and empowering. To me, it’s really like a forming of a small community within the Secrets of Organ Playing larger community that we get questions from, several thousands of people. But here, this unique group of individuals who are rather tightly connected because they are taking the same courses, practicing the same pieces in many instances, and largely having the same goals, too.
A: Do you think it is possible for a person to achieve his or her goal without being in a group, without any support?
V: Certainly, I believe it’s possible, but it will probably take ten times as much energy to do this, and motivation, which has to come from within a person. When nobody is helping you grow, nobody is taking you by the hand, then you have to find this inner strength. Right, Ausra?
V: Would you, Ausra, play the organ if nobody else were applauding you after the concert? You might actually play the organ, but at the beginning, when you just started 25 years ago or so, would you do it?
A: Well, I don’t know, but nobody was applauding my playing at first.
V: Well, of course, it’s Lithuania, and people are not so supportive. What was your beginnings? A feeling?
A: Well, it was hard. It was a hard job. Hard, heavy work.
V: Without recognition and support.
V: How did your teacher support you?
A: Well, not very well, actually.
V: The situation with professors and teachers in general in Europe is different from, let’s say, America, right?
V: They tend to motivate you with a stick, rather than with a carrot.
A: Would a Carrot motivate you to practice more? Or do you mean candy!
V: Carrot! Carrots are… well, if I am a bunny.
A: Well, are you our bunny?
V: That’s the question!
A: But yes, I think this European system is very demotivating for myself, because I’m not that kind of person that if somebody will beat me that I will do things better. Rather, the opposite. I won’t do anything then. But if somebody will give me a candy or say a nice word, then I do ten times more.
V: So, the fact that you are still practicing after 25 or more years means that somebody is giving you candy.
V: Literal or not literal candy. What kind of rewards are you getting today from playing the organ?
A: Well, it’s a very complex question. Certainly I’m not doing it because of getting a candy from somebody. I’m doing it for myself, basically. Organ in itself is good enough motivation for me, now.
V: And obviously, that’s the kind of question that professionals would answer like you. They don’t need external motivation for the most part, but obviously, applause and a feeling of exhilaration after a recital gives you another boost of willingness to practice even more. To plan ahead for your next recital and next recital—to choose the music and sit down on the organ bench. Right?
A: Yes, I think that’s how a reward works.
V: What about me?
A: What about you?
V: Yes! Ask me!
A: So, how do you feel about it?
V: Well, when I first started playing the organ, it was kind of interesting. My former...the first teacher that I had in Klaipėda, called me on the phone and asked me if I wanted to start playing the organ, taking lessons with her at school, with hopes of applying to the Lithuanian Academy of Music in a few years. And, even with the prospect of studying with the famous professor, Leopoldas Digrys! And of course, Digrys’ name was very well known to me—I mean… even to me! Because I was little, but still my mom used to go to his recitals in Vilnius when she was studying art, when she was a student at the institute of fine arts. So, of course, she was very happy that I chose organ lessons. And then, of course, the reality was a little bit different when I started studying with Digrys. He was very strict and his students were afraid of him, actually. Today, I’m continuing to practice like you, probably, because organ in itself is a wonderful instrument, and gives me pleasure and joy. It’s like self expression; if I’m not playing something everyday, I don’t feel well. I have to play at least something, create something on the organ, at least improvise. Then I know that my day isn’t wasted.
V: Right. So, for Ariane, who is just joining our Total Organist community, it’s obviously important to get this feedback and motivation from the group, and from us, and feel like she belongs to a higher cause. Not like she’s practicing for herself, but she sort of has this passion, and actually a purpose. Without a purpose, it’s a very temporary hobby.
A: Yes, I think you always need to see a purpose and to have your goal.
V: Because when you don’t have a purpose, and it’s just a passion of yours, then the passion will probably fade as soon as you get the first roadblock.
A: Yes, that’s how many people will not finish up what they have started.
V: Right. Thank you guys, we hope this was useful to you. Please think about your purpose when you are playing the organ—the “why.” Why are you playing the organ? And this “why” will help you continue through the hard times. Keep sending your wonderful questions to us. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen!
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