Vidas: Let’s start Episode 120 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. And this question was sent by Robert. He writes, “I never had a teacher or lessons. I have been doing this on my own.” Self-taught organist, right Ausra?
Vidas: Is that a bad thing?
Ausra: Well no, I don’t think so. We have cases like this in Lithuania--I think quite a lot. Not so much nowadays; but we had it before, I’m sure, especially in the Soviet times. When we had such a period, then it wouldn’t be possible to learn professionally to play organ, because organ was related to the church, and church was forbidden during the Soviet times. So many people just had to teach themselves to play.
Vidas: I remember you recently taught a harmony seminar for church musicians.
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: How many of them do you think were amateurs and self-taught musicians? Quite a few, probably?
Ausra: Quite a few, I guess, yes. That’s right.
Vidas: So today, when information is so abundant on the internet, it’s just a matter of perseverance and really, inner motivation to succeed, rather than lack of information on how to do this, right?
Ausra: Yes. And you know, the important thing is to know what you want from your playing. If you want to become, let’s say, a professional, skillful organ performer, for example, and make your living by performing organ, then probably you would have to have a teacher and to get some sort of formal education. But if you are doing this just to enjoy it, you know, for yourself, then I think it’s perfectly fine to just teach yourself. It might be just your hobby, you know?
Vidas: And today, online, when you can find so much great advice and information how to play the organ, it’s better, I think, to learn from online sources which are “information” than from secondary teachers or crappy pedagogues who don’t necessarily have the right experience and qualification and broad, global vision of how to do this, maybe. They have learned this decades ago, right?
Vidas: Stuck in a rut.
Vidas: And have been teaching this for decades without any progress at all.
Ausra: That’s true.
Vidas: So I think it’s better to immerse yourself in the ever-changing global landscape, and to seek out the best of information yourself--
Vidas: --Than to be stuck with one teacher whom you don’t really want to trust.
Ausra: Yes. And especially if you live in the States, for example, and you want to eventually play in church, you don’t even have to get a formal education--to get, like, a university degree; because AGO has this wonderful certificate program, where you can take tests/exams and get a certificate.
Vidas: A church service-playing certificate, it’s called, right?
Ausra: Yes, yes, yes.
Vidas: So it’s even open to AGO members from other countries, too.
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: If, let’s say, Robert lived in some upper area than North America, chances are there are organizations which offer certain certifications, too. Like in Europe, in the UK, there is also a similar system. Germany has the same thing. I don’t think Australia has one, but it might. Maybe Australia uses the British system; it might, I’m not sure; we have to ask our students about this particular thing. So, it’s not a bad thing to be self-taught nowadays.
Ausra: Yes, yes I think so.
Vidas: Great. So, never stop learning if you are alone, right? Because in our case, this organ-playing community around the globe, 89 countries and growing--they support each other. You know, from these questions we get every day, it seems like these things matter to people.
Ausra: Yes, that’s right. And it’s very nice, actually, that organ still interests so many people. That’s fascinating, because I strongly believe that it’s one of the best musical instruments.
Vidas: Because it can imitate an orchestra; it can imitate a choir; it can imitate human voice; basically, it has the broadest range of colors than any other instrument.
Ausra: Yes, and think about all that repertoire that you can play on the organ, starting from the Middle Ages, and playing also modern music. So, no other instrument--no one else--has such a broad variety of repertoire as organ does. That fascinates me all the time.
Vidas: Is that why you chose this instrument yourself, Ausra?
Ausra: Well, at the time when I chose it, I didn’t think so much about it as I do now. And it’s also, for me, the organ is also a very beautiful instrument, if you think about all those historical instruments that are preserved--basically they are just, as Kerala Snyder wrote in his famous book, “The Organ as a Mirror of Its Time,” that it sort of preserves the history: art history, and history in general. That fascinates me every time.
Vidas: Organ is generally thought to be a counterpart of the altar, right?
Vidas: In a similar style--opposing the altar, or supplementing the altar (if this organ was fit and designed for that particular space, not brought from other churches).
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: Wonderful. So, me too; I think I, too, share those sentiments for this grand instrument, because of its aesthetics, of its complexion and construction and--seven centuries of organ repertoire! It’s unbelievable. If you wanted to sight-read every piece of extant or surviving repertoire, I think you couldn’t do this in one lifetime.
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: Even while using free online material, which is, you know, freely available on the Internet.
Ausra: Yes, it would take you too much time. It’s impossible to do. That you can choose from such a variety--that’s an amazing thing.
Ausra: And also, you know, each country which has organs, it’s like a different story each time; because from one country to another, organs are so different.
Vidas: And it’s never boring, because in one month or one year, you can focus on one country or one period, and the next one you can do the complete opposite, right? Take the opposite direction--French, German, English, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese--you name it.
Ausra: Yes, and even if you don’t want to focus on repertoire, even just playing hymns, it’s such fun. Because they are also such nice musical pieces.
Vidas: It’s like a prayer for the organist, too.
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: I think people who are deeply religious could basically sing the hymns together with playing the harmony.
Vidas: Right? That would count as a prayer--or a double prayer, because as St. Augustine says, “Whoever sings, prays twice.”
Vidas: Yep. That makes sense, because it’s twice as powerful.
Ausra: Yes, it is.
Vidas: Wonderful, guys. So I hope even people who live in remote areas--in the countryside, in rural areas, in countries who are just developing, which have limited Internet access, maybe have expensive Internet connection--they still can Google some things, play from PDFs instead of watching videos, which is expensive yet in those countries--
Vidas: And never, ever give up on this idea of learning and practicing for a lifetime, because you will get closer and closer to perfection, right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s right. Step by step.
Vidas: Do you think that your teacher, George Ritchie, thought he ever attained perfection?
Ausra: I don’t think so. He’s so, so, so particular about details, and wants clean, nice playing--to polish it, to do it perfectly. So I think he, as any excellent musician, is very self-critical. And that’s how we develop ourselves, and perfect ourselves.
Vidas: Mhmm. I think you inherited this sense of striving for perfection also from George Ritchie, too.
Ausra: I hope so. I tried to take it from him!
Vidas: Good. So, I hope you guys will go and practice today, right? I’ve been playing in the morning and Ausra was teaching, so it’s Ausra’s time now to practice a little bit.
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: Which piece will you be playing?
Ausra: Well, I have to select repertoire for my next recital, so I probably will work on that. Maybe sightread some pieces by Bach.
Vidas: Wonderful. The upcoming recital for the Bach birthday--
Vidas: In March.
Ausra: Yes. March 21st.
Vidas: Yeah. So, we’ll go now and select repertoire and practice. I will enjoy listening to you practice; this is my favorite time of the day. And you guys, go ahead and practice, also, at least for 15 minutes--it still counts! If you’re tired or exhausted, never give up; just do a little bit of practice today before you hit the sack. You will thank yourself later, and tomorrow.
Ausra: Go ahead and practice!
Vidas: This was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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