Vidas: Let's start Episode 36 of AskVidasAndAusra Podcast.
Today's question was sent by John and he writes the following question:
"Do you think it's achievable for me to learn Widor's Toccata by March next year? My youngest brother has just announced his engagement and the wedding will be in early April next year. Several years ago, he told me he would love to have this piece at his wedding one day. It's probably beyond my technical capabilities, but I really want to give it a go for my brother.
I played for the church service last week and everything went really well. You remember last time you ran the question answering series ... I asked about struggling to learn Tenor voice. You would be pleased to learn that I learned Tenor voice for all four hymns. So, I played all four parts for all the hymns now. It felt like I was struggling for a week with no progress, but I kept practicing the left hand and the pedals' combination. Then it just clicked, and it became together really well.
Thanks for all your great podcasts, answering people's questions. They're great questions and great answers. John."
So, Ausra, for starters, we're very glad about John's progress in church hymns.
Ausra: Oh, yes. Very much, yes.
Vidas: Because we've been communicating with John over a number of years now and he's been our most loyal subscriber, right?
Vidas: Right from the beginning, starting from 2012. He started to play hymns in churches regularly, but his challenge over the time was to play four parts together. He's been practicing three parts, so he's been missing tenor voice.
Ausra: Actually, tenor voice gives the most problem, I think.
Vidas: But you know what he did right, he didn't double the base with the pedal like many people do. They play four part hymns with the hands. Plus, they add the bass line with the pedals, which is not right. It will slow down your hand and feet independence process.
Ausra: Sure. I'm so glad to know that John achieved this independence. That's a very good sign.
Ausra: Because he has patience and he's such a hardworking man, I think he might get to that Widor's Toccata in time because he still has a lot of time. So, if he will start to practice now and will do it every day, he might be able to play it for his brother's wedding.
Vidas: Right, right. Now, it's the end of July. So, let's think about August. August, September, October, November, December, January, February, and March, eight months for one piece. Well, it's a little bit disappointing to learn only one piece over eight months, don't you think?
Ausra: Well, it depends on your goal.
Vidas: If it's a big goal like he has, maybe he can persevere but a lot of people will quit, I think.
Ausra: Yes, I'm sure and I'm just thinking, wouldn't it be possible to find an adapted version of Widor's Toccata? I'm not sure. I don't think I have heard about it but-
Vidas: I haven't, and it would be actually counterproductive because later maybe three years from now, he wants to repeat this Widor Toccata and his technique will be better by this time. But this easier, adapted version, I think you can find it online. You can find just about anything online now. So, for people who are really struggling but want to play it, sort of Widor Toccata adapted version, they can find, but perhaps we don't necessarily advise that, right?
Ausra: Well, yes. John will manage to play it, then he will have an excellent piece for many occasions because you can play it for weddings, you can play it for service, like as a prelude or as a postlude. That's a great postlude actually.
Ausra: And of course, for organ recitals too.
Vidas: Yes, and memorize. Above all, memorize this piece because you will love it and want to keep it in your repertoire for a long time.
Ausra: Yes, and I think it's a good piece to play from memory.
Vidas: I think the most challenging part with Widor is hand part, not the pedals and not together, hand and feet together combination, but the hand part, this toccata movement. But remember, Widor didn't like people playing his toccata too fast.
Ausra: I know. Sometimes, people go just like crazy, just playing like Harley Davidson tempo.
Vidas: Maybe not even Harley Davidson but let's say, Yamaha, on this race.
Ausra: Yes. It's really too fast. It makes that piece sound so mechanical.
Vidas: So, slow down when you practice. Practice in fragments, just like we always suggest with hard pieces. Even practice hands separately now.
Ausra: Sure, definitely.
Vidas: That's the first step probably.
Ausra: Yes, I think so.
Vidas: In John's case, I think he has to make a plan. Eight months, right? But for his situation, I recommend to be ready not one month before wedding, but three. Three months will give him enough time to be secure with this piece. So, maybe to be ready by February, that would be great. February, March ... Or maybe even January.
Ausra: March is actually the wedding, I think.
Vidas: Yes, so maybe by the end of this year. By the end of December 31st, he has to really play this piece for his friends or family without stopping at the concert tempo. That's his goal. With mistakes, don't worry about mistakes by that time. He will have three months to get rid of those mistakes. But make sure you really make a plan to learn enough fragments for each day and refresh your previously mastered material each day so that day by day, you complete this piece. I think it's doable, even if you learn just one line per day.
Ausra: Sure, yes.
Vidas: One line is maybe a couple of measures in this edition.
Ausra: Because in toccata, in the movement like this, there are lots of repetition.
Ausra: So when you will manage to, let's say, page or two, it will be a key to the rest of the piece.
Vidas: Yes, it's like an exercise. Your fingers will get used and adjust to the difficult level of this exercise and will get stronger and stronger each day you practice. But Hanon exercises would be beneficial too here. Don't you think?
Ausra: Sure, sure.
Vidas: Just like in any virtuoso piece.
Ausra: Also, I think it would be very good way to practice it on the piano, just do the hand part on the piano. That might help to. Because I found that with composers like Widor and Vierne and our great French composers that practicing from the piano helps a lot.
Vidas: Because piano was the basis, basically, of the organ technique at that time.
VIdas: Yes, good advice. So, find a usable piano and not the keyboard, not synthesizer, not electronic.
Ausra: Yes, not a synthesizer.
Vidas: But real mechanical piano.
Ausra: Because that mechanical feeling of a keyboard will help you to strengthen your fingers actually, to strengthen your muscles.
Vidas: If your church has a piano, practice on the piano too.
Vidas: Maybe you have a choir room, which has a piano. Not necessarily in the nave, but maybe in the choir room you can go and practice.
Ausra: Because if you will be able to play the hard parts of the piano well, it will be well on the organ too.
Vidas: Oh, yes.
Ausra: And it shouldn't be so hard to actually add pedals.
Vidas: No. You practice pedal preparation, of course, also.
Vidas: Pedal lines, that's a big key. But other than that, just a slow, persistent and regular practice, that's the key.
Wonderful. I hope this was useful to you, John, and other people who want to play Widor Toccata and learn to play it in eight months, let's say, from now. Make sure you don't worry about fingering. Ausra and I have prepared the fully-fingered and pedaled version of this piece. So, you don't have to write down every finger. We've done the hard work for you so that you can jump in and get started right away with correct, efficient, and persistent practice.
Please send us more questions. We love helping you grow, and the easiest way to do this is by subscribing to our blog at www.organduo.lt. Then you can reply to our messages and send or ask the questions this way but please be patient. We get tons of questions. We get to your questions eventually and answer them, but maybe not the next day and even not the next week because we have a line of people waiting really for help.
This is great, guys. Make sure you practice today because 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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