As some of you might remember, last Sunday I played a recital of improvised music on the 19th century village church organ in Mosedis. I planned the theme of the recital so it would work like an organ Mass, with Prelude, Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Offertory, Communion, Postlude and other important parts of the Mass (total o 11 movements).
Today I would like to share with you Pastorale improvisation which could work as a Communion piece. This improvisation is modal in character and may also remind you a dance Siciliana because of its dotted rhythms and 6/8 meter.
Notice the reaction of some listeners - clearly it was the first time they heard modern sounding music on the organ. Also it was quite cold in the church (10 degrees Celsius) and I had to wear special gloves which was easy to make (I had to cut the fingertips out of the regular gloves).
Thanks to Jonathan for this important question which I received a couple of days ago. In order to answer it, you have to look at how your mentality and physique works. How long can you practice effectively before your mind and body feels tired? What do you want to achieve during your practice session?
It really depends on the individual. Some people have better endurance and some don't. In this case it doesn't matter. To my mind, people who get tired fast are just as worthy of progress as people who can practice for several hours straight.
What matters is this: what do you do when you get tired? Do you close the instrument lid, put down your music and do something else? Or do you keep on playing regardless of how you feel? Or perhaps do you take a rest, drink a glass of water, take a short walk or stretch, do some other short tasks and then come back to practice for some more? (That's the best solution, I think).
Of course you are aware that it takes some 10 minutes just to warm up the fingers and feet. So if all you practice is 10 minutes, then it will be difficult to accomplish much in organ playing because in reality, you are just repeating previously learned material and not learning anything new.
If on the other hand, you are constantly learning something new every day, then you don't have time to repeat what you have learned in the past during these 10 minutes.
From my personal experience I can say, that people usually get tired in doing one task after about 30 minutes. So if you practice for 30 minutes, then you get about 20 minutes of real practice after your body feels warmed up. That's not bad. You can still practice effectively in the long run if you spend 30 minutes daily on the organ bench.
By the way, don't forget that our practice is not limited to the organ only. Here is an article worth reading.
All of the above thoughts apply when you are practicing for your own pleasure only. If you are preparing for public performance and have a due date, then the situation is entirely different. Here other people depend on you preparing on time. Then you need a very effective practice plan with different length of practice sessions which would ensure you would reach your goal on time.
Because having a real plan means you are going to have a much better chance of reaching your goal, I highly recommend you think about your goals in organ playing and set some deadlines even if nobody else knows about it and even if you play just for your own pleasure and not for performance in public.
Please note that I'm talking about the scenario when you can choose the length of your practice session. A completely different case would be if you only have 15 or 30 minutes a day available for practice. Then it would seem you don't have much choice of how long should you practice. Even then, I recommend reading this article which perhaps would give you some ideas how to find more time for organ practice during your day.
So you can see that the practice length is a far more complex issue than simply playing until you get tired. It also involves planning and goal setting. Therefore, the time you spend practicing depends on answering these 6 questions:
1. What do you want to accomplish?
2. Why do you want to achieve this goal?
3. When would you like to reach this goal?
4. What is your plan of action needed to reach this goal?
5. What are the daily steps to fulfill this plan?
6. What is the time required to complete the daily steps?
If you think deeply about these 6 questions and you write down the answers on a separate sheet of paper, then you will find the ideal length of your practice session very easily after answering the last question.
By the way, if you would like to explore the topic of goal setting more fully, then the works of Zig Ziglar would be a great help.
What about you? How long are your daily practice sessions? Share your thoughts in comments.
A few days ago I received this question from one of my students in Harmony for Organists Level 1 course. The problem is with determining if the three-note chord is a root-position, first or a second inversion chord. I thought this question could be important to other people as well, so today I decided to answer this burning question for many organists once and for all in this article.
Most of the people know that the chord C-E-G (from the bottom up) is a root position chord. It has two inversions: E-G-C (a 6th chord) and G-C-E (a 64th chord). The theory behind this concept is very simple.
In root position chord, there are no intervals of the fourth, only two thirds. In the first inversion chord, we see a third and a fourth and in the second inversion chord, a fourth and a third.
The most dificcult part in determining the inversion of the chord is when the chord is presented in four-part harmony notation. In this case, one note of the three-note chord has to be doubled. In root position chord, we usually double the root, in first inversion chord - the root or the fifth, and in the second inversion chord - the fifth.
But we must not forget that the chords could be written in open or closed (or even mixed) position, too. In the closed position, the distance between the three upper voices is no more than a fourth. In open position, from a fifth up to an octave. If some intervals are a fourth or less and some - more than a fifth, then such a chord is written in mixed position. This normally applies to first inversion chords.
Depending on which chordal tone is in the soprano, the melodic position could be root, third or a fifth.
So you can see that even in root position chords there are 6 different versions: 3 in closed position (C-E-G-C, C-G-C-E, and C-C-E-G) and 3 in open position (C-G-E-C, C-C-G-E, and C-E-C-G).
So the key steps in determining the inversion of the three-note chord are these:
1. Take the bass note of the chord and build the three-note chord without any doubling.
2. Then you will see, if the chord has only two thirds (a root position chord), a fourth on the top (a first inversion chord) or a fourth on the bottom (a second inversion chord).
That's it. It's really that simple. If you apply the above steps, you will have no trouble in determining the inversion of the three-note chord.
Recently I have received a question from one of my subscribers about how to harmonize Gregorian chant melodies. In particular, he was interested in harmonizing the cadences.
As we all know, this type of music is modal, not tonal in nature. Therefore, some things which you read about tonal harmony can't be applicable here. Often the problems arise when we want to use D-T chordal progressions. Today I would like to share with you my personal recommendations which I hope you will find useful.
Here is how you can harmonize the melodies of Gregorian chant:
1. Figure out the mode of the chant.
2. Compare it with the major or minor by finding out which scale degrees are different.
3. Harmonize the chant as you would in major or minor but in chords which have different scale degrees don't use foreign accidentals.
4. This way your cadences will have a harmony which works with your particular mode.
5. If the phrase ends on II-I in the soprano and the mode is similar to major but has a lowered leading tone, then you can play a minor dominant chord and a tonic.
6. If in the same mode the phrase ends on VII-I in the soprano, then you can play the first inversion of the chord of the seventh scale degree and the tonic.
7. If the mode is similar to minor but has a lowered second scale degree and the phrase ends on II-I, then you can play the root position chord of the seventh scale degree and the tonic.
8. If in the same mode the phrase ends on VII-I, you can play the first inversion of the chord of the seventh scale degree and the tonic. Likewise, you can figure out other chords from the natural tones of the mode.
Try this approach today for yourself and share your experience in the comments.
If I was to choose just a single name from the Lithuanian history of art and music, that would be Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (1875-1911) - the most famous painter and composer of my country.
The style of his paintings is highly original - largely symbolic in nature. There were others who tried to imitate the way he painted but no one came close to the depth of his imagination and visions. His music, which started as simple Romantic-style compositions, grew into something which exceeds the limits of this period.
As many of my readers know, last week I spend a couple of days in Paris for a concert of organ, chamber and choir music at La Madeleine which was dedicated to the compositions of Ciurlionis. In addition to his music, I played some of my pieces which were inspired by his themes.
This Prelude (2013) is intentionally quite French-sounding. I used the blues mode in many of the sections in this work. The modal and rhythmical alterations make the practical recognition of the melodies by Ciurlionis largely too difficult.
The structure of the piece is quite simple - sections A consist of fast movement in octaves, sections B - from intervals of the thirds and fourths, and sections C - from three-note chords.
Although the piece is quite fast, it's not particularly difficult to play it. The main challenge is in reading various accidentals, complex rhythms and changing meters.
If you want me to share the score of this piece, please let me know.
A friend of mine asked me a question about the right way to play hymns. He described a couple of the most popular methods that he saw people doing but he wasn't sure which one he should strive to master.
In order to help him understand this issue and keeping in mind that this also might be something many other organists are struggling with, I decided to make a video about it. Hopefully it will help you decide on how do you want to play hymns on the organ.
Of course, there is no right or wrong way to do it. In fact, we can talk about as many as 24 different hymn playing techniques (and we would only be scratching the surface). The only thing which is important here is your willingness to experiment and your passion for discovery of something new and exciting.
So if you find a technique that you like, follow through and master it by learning at least 10 or more hymns to play this way fluently. Then you can look for something new to add to your "bag of tricks".
As many of you know, last week I traveled to Paris to play a concert at La Madeleine church on the choir organ. After the concert, I asked my friend Pierre Zevort, the organist from Dourdan to translate a few words about the history of the main organ which stands on the balcony in the back of the church.
So today, I'm sharing with you this video. I hope you will appreciate Pierre's translation also because you will see the original French text on the screen as well.
Matthias Weckmann (ca. 1616-1674), a student of Sweelinck and an organist and composer from the 17th century Hamburg left us an intriguing registration suggestion in his long and famous cycle "Es ist das Heyl uns kommen her".
I'm thinking specifically about the 3rd verse of this cycle in which he uses the so-called Sonaten Registration (more on this in Matthias Weckmann: The Interpretation of his Organ Music, Vol. 1 by Hans Davidsson, Gehrmans Musikforlag, Stockholm, 1991).
Weckmann's original registration combination looks like this (the language is also original):
Ruckpositiv Principal 8 fues Pedahl Trompet 8 fus u. Gedackt 8 fus oder trompet 8. und trompet 4 Fuss. In der orgel trompet 16 Fuss.
If we translate it into today's English, then we would get something like this:
RP: Principal 8'
HW: Trompet 16'
Ped. Trompet 8 and Gedackt 8' or Trompet 8' and 4'
The texture of this four-part chorale verse is such that the cantus firmus (choral melody) is played in the pedals in the tenor range, the left hand takes the bass on the Hauptwerk and the right hand plays alto and soprano on the Ruckpositiv (free voices).
I think you could also apply the same or similar Sonaten Registration in your hymn playing as well according to the above example. Of course, you would need a Trompet 16' in the manual to make it work (only really large instruments have this stop in the manual). However, in some cases you could get away with Basson 16' or Fagott 16'.
One thing is clear - your congregation will definitely be surprised in a good way how creatively you use colors of the organ.
By the way, this type of registration can easily be applicable to many other Baroque chorale preludes in four parts where the chorale melody is played in the tenor range with the pedals, for example Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 684 by Bach (in this video, the registration is different).
I hope you have found my video about various cadences useful and today I'm sharing this video about a special kind of cadence called the Deceptive Cadence. It is named so because it comes in a piece very unexpectedly, sort of like you would expect one chord but in reality you hear another chord.
It is very useful tool to have in your "bag of tricks" so I hope you will apply the Deceptive Cadence in harmonizing hymns, improvisations, and other instances where you need to invent four-part harmony.
A cadence is a short melodic or harmonic idea which brings a musical thought to a close. Today I would like to share with you this video about some of the more popular cadences because I feel it is important for organists to understand the differences and applications of each of them.
Once you know how each type of cadence is constructed, you will be able to apply them in your hymn playing and harmonization exercises. Because cadences are one of the main techniques which helps to create a form in the piece, they can be very handy in improvisation and composition as well as to discover them in real organ pieces.
In fact, I believe that after watching this video, you will want to go ahead and simply find different types of cadences in the pieces you currently play. This process of discovery can be very enjoyable and it can lead to real revelations.
Try to see the music you play with different eyes, like a structure which has many cadences strung together. Then you will begin to feel the same thing like composers did when they created it.
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Don't have an organ at home?
Download paper manuals and pedals, print them out, cut the white spaces, tape the sheets together and you'll be ready to practice anywhere where is a desk and floor. Make sure you have a higher chair.