Yesterday one of my organ students at National M.K. Čiurlionis school of art, Eglė participated in the Festival of Ciurlionis piano and organ music where she played the Fugue in C# minor. This was a good overall performance but I want to point out a particularly peculiar episode that happened during her performance. I'm sure many of my readers will know what I'm talking about because this experience concerns us all (myself included).
This is a piece which starts with a subject performed with a soft Flute 8' registration in a slow tempo (here is a video of it I played at Vilnius University Saint John's church). As the fugue unfolds, the two hands start to play with Flutes 8' and 4' on a different manual. Gradually the tempo, tension, and dynamic level begins to increase but at Flute 8' and 4' episode the music is still gentle and slow enough.
So even though it was technically quite an easy spot, Eglė's fingers slipped in a couple of places. This probably wasn't noticeable to the listeners out in the room but since I assisted her with page turns and stop changes, I knew something was going on with her mentally.
Something that happens to us when we know that it's easy, when we know that the finish line is near, when we know that the battle is almost over.
And then we slip. And then we play the wrong notes. And then we lose focus. And then we panic. And then we blame ourselves.
Luckily Eglė is an experienced enough to know better. Those couple of slips didn't throw her off balance not a bit. She finished strong as if nothing happened.
In the words of the legendary American organist Marilyn Mason, "your recital is not over, until you are in the parking lot".
The trick is to keep focusing on the current measure you are playing no matter what.
Yesterday I shared with you a video with my improvisations based on the fresco above the organ from the recital on October 10. Today I'd like you to listen for the first time to Festive Sonata-Symphony (2015) by Teisutis Makacinas which was premiered at the same recital.
This is a big 3 movement work. It has a very complex polyphonic texture, some harsh sounds, lots of modal thinking taken from Lithuanian folk music, and in general quite colorful and unpredictable design because of constant variation of melodic and rhythmic materials which is a signature style of Makacinas.
Enjoy this video.
On October 10th I played an organ recital at my church where I premiered Festive Sonata-Symphony (2015) by Teisutis Makacinas and improvised a suite from 3 pieces based on the 18th century fresco above the organ. The fresco features 3 episodes from the life of Saint John - Saint John with the Chalice filled with poison, Tortures of Saint John, and Saint John Points to His Tomb.
Watch this video
Welcome to episode 12 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast!
Listen to the conversation
Colin Andrews is an internationally acclaimed concert organist originally from England and currently living in the US. He's mostly known for his extensive concert tours - about 40 a year and he recently recorded 7 CD series of complete organ works of Olivier Messiaen. In this conversation he shares his advice and insights about practicing and preparing for recitals physically and mentally, especially because he will be travelling on a large concert tour to Russia and Italy shortly.
"We have this person who wants to sabotage everything and they call it Self One. But then there's the person inside that knows what to do, the Subconscious, the Inner Computer. And that's Self Two. So if you allow Self Two to take over, then you can get in touch with your absolutely maximum potential and all your musicianship and communication is completely without interruption."
Concert Artist Cooperative
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Want to know how to create a melody and harmonize it from scratch?
Here's how I do it:
1. I first write in the treble and the bass clefs with the accolade (a brace which joins several staves).
2. Then I decide what the key of the melody is going to be and write in the necessary accidentals next to the key.
3. After the accidentals have been written in, it's time to choose the meter and notate the meter signature at the beginning of each stave.
4. Decide how many measures will your melody have and cross all necessary bar lines leaving some adequate space for the notes (usually 4 measures in one system). A period (one complete musical idea) often has 8 measures but the numbers might vary quite a bit.
5. After that you are ready to write in the soprano line - your melody with the stems up in the upper stave. If you are the beginner, use only the notes of the scale without any additional accidentals. If you know what you're doing, alterations and chromaticisms will spice up the color quite a bit.
One of the easiest ways to create a melody is to use question/answer approach. Measures 1-4 start on the tonic note and end on a different note (that's the question). Measures 5-8 can repeat the rhythms and even the melodic contour of the question but will end on the tonic note.
6. This step is crucial - you will create a smooth bass line moving in every beat with the stems down in the lower stave. Use the notes of the 3 main chords (T, S, D) that go with each beat in the soprano line. Aim for the contrary motion with the melody as much as possible. This will help you avoid unwanted parallel 5ths and 8ves.
7. If you wrote your melody in various rhythms, feel free to leave out any non-chordal notes that can go without their own chords.
8. Supply the missing middle parts - alto and tenor. Alto part - with the stems down in the upper stave and the tenor - with the stems up in the lower stave.
9. As you are writing in the alto and tenor, think about the T, S, D notes. In root position chords double the root, in the 1st inversion - the root or the 5th, and in the 2nd inversion - the 5th. If you use 7th chords and their inversions, no doubling is necessary (except for the 7th chord which can have a double root without the 5th).
Try this approach and you'll be creating and harmonizing your melodies and tunes in no time.
[HT to Mindaugas]
So you like Louis Vierne's Final from his 1st Organ Symphony but feel that the technical requirements are so much above your current level of abilities?
You can play the hand parts very slowly but inaccurately, the pedals remain a mystery to you and putting it all together - it simply goes over your head. You love listening to this piece but seem to have stuck in choosing the right articulation - which notes should be detached and which - played legato.
What to do? Can you still learn this fabulous piece, can I give you some magical words of advice which would help solve all your technical and mental challenges you would meet in the Final?
Yes, but probably not the way you expect.
You see, if this is the first piece of Vierne you have ever practiced which is quite likely, then I would recommend mastering first some of the easiest and slower compositions of the same composer.
But you might say, that you love only the Final so much that it's not worth the time and effort to learn the easier pieces. In other words, you dream of playing the Final and nothing else.
But I think it's worth it, if you're serious. If you're learning the organ playing just to show off, then of course you want some flashy sounding fast and loud toccatas to impress others.
However, there's no one to impress, really but yourself because nobody cares.
Therefore, I recommend you take up 8-10 easier pieces before attempting to play this Final, from Messe Basse, Op. 30, Allegretto, 24 Pieces en Style Libre, Op. 31, and ALL other movements from the Symphony No. 1. All of these compositions can be found here.
Practice and master these pieces. And perform them in public to know just what it takes to get ready for this Final.
[HT to Andrew}
In certain Romantic organ music (especially of German tradition) composers write the signs to speed up the tempo (accelerando) in addition to increase the loudness (crescendo). This happens in many of the pieces by such composers as Reger, Karg-Elert, Schumann, Brahms, or Liszt among others.
Even when the accelerando is not written in, it might be implied - the organist can speed up the tempo in places which carry developmental character and increase of tension. This comes from a German Romantic tradition to think in waves, such as in tides - the alternate rising and falling of the sea, hence crescendo and diminuendo or accelerando and ritardando.
But here's the thing - where is this boundary when the accelerando might begin to sound too hasty? In other words, when does your playing might show the signs of rashness?
I think you begin to feel the signs of hastiness when you stop listening, when you stop noticing what's happening in your piece and only are concerned with speeding up the tempo.
Such playing might appear deceivingly virtuoso to the untrained eye but deep down we all know that the performer is simply making a mess out of the composition.
There is no attention to detail here, only speed is the ultimate goal.
Make no mistake - when you fail to notice harmonic nuances, dissonances, modulations, and structural points in your piece (also when improvising), you will also fail to communicate the musical story to the listener that the composer encoded with these musical ideas.
Hence you will be remembered as an organist who plays fast and loud. We all have our examples of such players, don't we? And you don't want that to happen to you.
What you really want is to be remembered as someone who talks to the heart and soul of the listener through music.
Are you struggling in playing pedal scales? I know those heels and toes in alternations might be confusing. And sometimes people in my Pedal Virtuoso Master Course need a little visualization. So here's a video I made on how to play the D major scale with your feet over one octave which I hope you will find useful..
I recorded this video at the request of Dominique Morin who is in my Pedal Virtuoso Master Course. He wanted to know how to visualize some of the directions I give before each week's exercise. I hope this video will help and other organists who might have problems playing in extreme edges of the pedalboard and changing direction quickly so that neither their knees nor back would be in pain.
In response to my recent organ hymn playing exercise, Sylvia Wall asked me to comment on reading the words and punctuation, as well as knowing which verse you are playing.
I know it can be frustrating for organists to play the hymns and at the same time to read the words. While doing this, sometimes your tempo might become unstable and sometimes you can forget which verse the congregation is singing.
However, when you play hymns, I don't recommend reading the words too much because you have to focus on music (studying the text beforehand is a must, though).
One way to know which verse you are playing is to prepare the different registration in advance for each verse. If you remember the order of stop combinations for different verses, you will know which verse you are on.
Here's a video I made with demonstration of how not to get lost between the hymn verses.
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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.