Vidas: Let’s start Episode 124 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. This question was sent by Dineke, and she wants to know when you really need to stop learning a piece--when enough is enough, when you have made enough progress so that you could pick up a new piece. First of all, I think it’s different for everyone, right Ausra?
Ausra: I think so, and I think it’s never enough to stop, actually--I mean, the piece is never perfect enough. I think if once, after playing a piece, you can say, “Oh wow, it’s perfect!” then it means that you don’t need to perform anymore. And I don’t think that’s possible.
Vidas: Right. What about for you? For example, when you learned--remember the last piece you performed in public (it was a group of pieces, but), let’s say, Variations in D, Andante by Mendelssohn. Right? So, when did you decide to stop practicing this piece?
Ausra: I never stopped practicing the piece. That’s my point.
Ausra: Okay, I did it--I played in during a recital. But I will play it in the future, so I will still be working on it.
Vidas: With some breaks, right?
Ausra: Yes, with some breaks, yes.
Vidas: In between those periods, you pick up other pieces.
Vidas: Depending on your goals.
Ausra: Yes. And you know, after a while, I may be returning to that piece, and I will play it maybe differently. With new ideas. So polishing a piece--it’s never a finished process, for me at least. I don’t know, what about you?
Vidas: That’s a good question. I feel that whenever I’ve learned a piece inside-out (very deeply analyze it, write down fingering and pedaling, even memorize it--sometimes I go very crazy and transpose it to keys that have different accidentals)--so whenever I do this, I know that whenever I need to take a break, even a break of several years, I can pick up this piece with relative ease, and continue practicing relatively without any struggle and frustration. Of course, several days and weeks might go shaky; but then, little by little, my memory refreshes, and I start playing just like a few years ago--or even a decade ago, I would think, too. But first of all, you need to learn the piece very very thoroughly, in order to do that after a while.
Ausra: Yes. But in general, if you want to know if you’re over with that piece, you just have to be able to play in the right tempo without any mistakes, I would say, at least 3 times in a row. What about you? What do you think--would you agree?
Vidas: That’s an excellent point, I think. If you want to be more secure, I think 5 or even 10 times in a row would work for some people. And it depends on the occasion, and on the stress level, and the level of what is at stake, right?
Ausra: Because if you are playing for yourself, and you are making mistakes…
Vidas: Nobody cares, right?
Ausra: Yes--well, yes, but it means that definitely you are not done with this piece, because in public performance, it will be ten times worse!
Vidas: But if you are playing it for a competition, let’s say, and somebody who’s an expert will judge you, and 10 or 20 other high-level organists will compete with you, then you have to be really precise, and perfect this piece up to the point that you can’t even make a mistake. That’s how professionals are different from amateurs, I’ve heard. Amateurs practice until they get it right, and professionals practice until they cannot make a mistake anymore. That’s a big difference, right Ausra?
Vidas: So, I think you have to be strict with yourself, when deciding when it’s enough, when it’s okay to show to the public; and be realistic of your level, because stress and all the stakes will get ahold of you during a public performance. So you actually have to play automatically--
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: Be able to play with your eyes closed, in complete darkness, let’s say.
Ausra: Yes. And you know, it’s often the case with organists, that you practice on one organ, and then you have to perform on another organ. It also will make things harder, actually; so you have to be really really ready, and know your piece very well.
Vidas: And if you’re used to playing your RH on the upper manual, and the LH on the lower manual, it will make a big difference if you reverse the hands, if you’re not used to the reversal.
Ausra: Yes, so you have to be really comfortable, to feel comfortable with your piece, to be able to do all these additional things.
Vidas: It all comes quite naturally, I think, over time.
Vidas: You don’t need to rush those things; you don’t need to be in a hurry to reach perfection, I think. Right, Ausra?
Ausra: Well, sometimes you do, if you have a deadline very soon.
Vidas: What do you mean?
Ausra: Well, if you have a recital in a few days, for example.
Ausra: And you are not ready yet. So then you are in big trouble, and you have to worry.
Vidas: So maybe your planning, then, is not okay. Maybe a person like this chose all the pieces that are new, and all the pieces that are very long, and all that are very difficult. That’s a big lack of understanding how to plan, right? Because you don’t need to play everything that’s difficult stuff, and everything new, like you cannot repeat.
Ausra: That’s right. So, I don’t think there’s any one answer when your piece is ready. You just have to decide for yourself.
Vidas: And know that whenever you come back to this piece, you will find something new to work on.
Ausra: That’s right.
Vidas: That’s okay. Even after a while, after a few years, your level might have grown, and you will figure out some new things on how to perfect it even further. Your taste might change, right Ausra?
Ausar: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: Okay! Good luck, guys, in perfecting the pieces that you choose. You will never reach perfection--I will never reach perfection, and Ausra will--I don’t know, will you reach perfection, ever?
Ausra: NO. Never.
Vidas: Never? So, we have to live with that. But probably, the main point here is to become a little bit better each time we practice, than yesterday. Compare ourselves with ourselves yesterday--
Ausra: That’s a very good point.
Vidas: --And not to the masters and other virtuoso organists whom we hear from recordings and videos. Polished. And you never know, if you pick up a CD, if the CD is a live performance, or if it’s edited with many many takes, and glued-together fragments, right? It’s not live anymore!
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: So, how do you record pieces, Ausra? Do you record it in one sitting, or do you take multiple takes?
Ausra: Well, I record it in one sitting, actually.
Vidas: Mhm. You don’t edit things?
Vidas: You might stop, when it’s a big break, right? In an episode, or at the end of a movement?
Ausra: Yes, of course.
Vidas: End of a movement. But it doesn’t make sense to me; I don’t like editing too much. I try to play with feeling and with liveliness. Of course, some sloppy mistakes are not okay for official recordings...
Ausra: Sure, of course.
Vidas: And I need to redo it--retake it until I get it right.
Ausra: But then, I just record everything again.
Ausra: From the beginning to the end.
Vidas: Right. Thanks, guys--this is really interesting. Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. Right, 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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