Vidas: We’re starting Episode 48 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Nadine, who writes, “What does it take to become a concert organist?” That’s a very broad question, probably.
Ausra: Yes, so let’s try to maybe narrow it down, to see the basics. First of all, I think you should be very good at the instrument. You must play very well.
Vidas: Let’s be specific. Let’s look at our lives. Can we describe ourselves, or consider ourselves, as concert organists?
Ausra: Well, yes, I think so.
Vidas: We do many things, of course. We teach, we perform...sometimes we even play for liturgy (when they ask us, but that’s not often). But definitely, concert playing is a significant part of our activities. So Ausra, what did it take for you to reach this level, that you are today in?
Ausra: Well, practicing for very many years. And, of course, knowing different styles; understanding different instruments; knowing how to make a registration...Having a degree, I would say, too.
Vidas: Is having a degree in organ playing and performance a must today, or not?
Ausra: Probably not so much today, now; but it was in previous times, definitely.
Vidas: Of course it helps if you have a degree, because you have formalized instruction, and hopefully, quality instruction, right? Because not in every college, not in every university or conservatory, do you have the best instruction, right? You might have a degree, but you don’t have skills!
Vidas: You definitely must have skills. And what Ausra is mentioning, that you gain those skills from constant practice, and then putting these skills into public performance situations, sometimes big, sometimes small. Maybe start small.
Ausra: Yes, definitely you will not start performing at Notre Dame in Paris! Start at your church, a local church.
Ausra: Put some of your videos on YouTube.
Vida: Now, nobody’s stopping you, right? Everyone has, probably, quality video editing equipment in your pocket--in every pocket! So just share what you can record with the world, and this will motivate you to practice even further, to get better, and to even deal with performance anxiety a little bit--because you know that somebody else is recording you, and will be listening to you in the future.
Ausra: Yes, and of course, never say no to any opportunities to perform, at first. Then later on maybe you can select what you want to do and what you do not want to do; but at the beginning take every possibility that is offered to you, because knowing new organists, new instruments, might open another door.
Vidas: You’re absolutely correct, Ausra. But at first, when you are nobody in the organ world, when you just practice-practice-practice, and you suddenly discover, “Oh, i have a few pieces of music that I want to play in public, but nobody has really heard of me...I have no platform,” right? So...do you have to wait for the phone call, or can you be more proactive?
Ausra: No, I think you should be proactive, because if you will wait, you might wait all your life, and opportunity will not come.
Vidas: Exactly, you have to find those opportunities. Of course not by spamming people, that’s rude. And people will flee from you.
Ausra: It’s like fishing.
Vidas: It’s like fishing! It’s no good, right? People even don’t look at those messages anymore, because the inbox is so crowded. But what you could do is simply network with other organists. Be friendly, be helpful--be helpful to other organists in your country, too, and be helpful to organists on Facebook and other social media sites. And when you share your work constantly, they start to remember who you are!
Ausra: Yes, I think these times there are many small opportunities to organists--
Ausra: --To advertise themselves.
Vidas: It’s of course a lot of competition…
Ausra: Yeah, that’s true.
Vidas: ...because everyone can do this, now. Everyone can post on Facebook and YouTube. But you can stand out. You can do things that nobody else is doing.
Ausra: Yes, maybe, you are playing specific repertoire, and you are interested in a specific country, let’s say, or composer.
Vidas: Become an authority on a specific angle of organ repertoire.
Ausra: This might help you to stand out.
Vidas: Like a brand. Become a brand, and your name will be associated with the thing that you do. If you do everything moderately well, you will be like everybody else, which is nothing, really--no good, because you will have to compete. But if you avoid competition and do something entirely different--let’s say, you play your own compositions. Of course, then you have to make sure your compositions have high quality, and people want to hear them; but, you know what I’m talking about, Ausra, right?
Vidas: Do something else that nobody else is doing. And that will lead you to the success of getting more recital engagements. At first you have to ask, right? Sending a lot of messages to other people, to concert organizers.
Ausra: And be prepared to hear a lot of no, and probably to play for free...
Vidas: And of course you’ll get rejected maybe a hundred times, but maybe one hundred and one will be successful. Never give up on this. As we say, don’t spam people; basically, format your message in a way that it would be foolish to refuse. That’s not spamming, that’s actually a favor; you’re doing them a favor by providing them a proposal that they would be actually foolish to refuse, because the entire community of their organ concert opportunities and congregation will benefit from this proposal.
Ausra: That’s a very good idea.
Vidas: Just turn around and think about what kind of benefits you can propose to the concert organizer. Don’t be selfish this way. Don’t just simply write, “Oh, I want to play in your church, I want to do this,” right?
Vidas: Think what’s in it for them?
Ausra: But I think the more you’re willing to give to people, the more you’ll get back, for yourself.
Vidas: For example, one idea would be: How about you collect donations, and give those donations to the church, or to the organ which needs restoration, right? And you think of a larger-than-yourself goal. Or maybe give to charity. Maybe you donate to some charitable organization, maybe an organization who tries to raise funds to get clean water for Africa; or food for starving children; or maybe invent some medicine for people who are having diseases today. Think bigger goals, and those will actually differentiate yourself from other organists who are simply selfish.
Ausra: Yes, and let us know how things are going for you--have you succeeded or not? And we wish you well!
Vidas: And of course don’t forget to share your work. And one of the best ways we’ve found to share your work is by writing a regular blog. Maybe a podcast, maybe a YouTube channel, those things that will help you create your own platform, and build authority over time. Not over one week, but maybe over several years.
Vidas: It takes seven years to be an overnight success, they say. Do you agree with this Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, I agree.
Vidas: Wonderful. Thanks, guys, 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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