Vidas: And we’re starting Episode 59 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Today’s question was sent by Minori, and he has a challenge with articulation and phrasing in the pedal part. He writes, “while playing the organ, I just can manage to coordinate my hands and feet but it is not easy for me to care about articulation and phrasing in the pedal part.”
That’s a very common problem with beginners, right?
Ausra: Yes, definitely.
Vidas: Not beginners in general playing the instrument, but beginners at the organ. Because organ articulation is very different from other types of instruments, I would say; that when people first try to articulate on the piano, they manage to play everything legato, I would say, rather easy. But then, when they transfer to the organ, somehow they forget that you can do all kinds of articulation with the organ.
Vidas: What’s your experience with this, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, the same, actually. Organ is quite a tricky instrument to play well, to articulate well. Because the principles of its mechanics are so different from the piano, because it’s a wind instrument, you must not forget it. And also you have such a different way articulating notes when you are playing early music and when you are playing later music. And also when you play piano, you just have to think about how you press the key down, but not so much how you release it; but in organ, playing organ and articulating organ, it’s very important, both the beginning of the sound, and the end of it. So you have to be very careful about it.
Vidas: Good idea, Ausra. Beginners tend to forget the ending of the chord a lot, and sometimes even the beginning. They tend to depress three or four notes not necessarily together, at the same time. Precisely. But I would say there’s another issue with Minori here, I can read between the lines, because he is having difficulty with coordinating hands and feet, and then articulation and phrasing becomes a challenge, right? It’s sort of like he first thinks about the notes, and about articulation afterwards only.
Ausra: Well, when you are learning a new piece, you have to start with the right articulation right away. Maybe the process will be a little bit slower at the beginning, but it will give you a much better result at the end. So just work slowly, think about articulation right away, work in combinations. Play just a single pedal line first; then do right hand and pedals, then left hand and pedals; and only when you are comfortable by playing all these combinations, only then put everything together.
Vidas: Hey Ausra, what was your first piece that you played on the organ?
Ausra: Well, that was G minor Prelude and Fugue from the Eight Little Preludes and Fugues.
Vidas: So you had like, twelve years of experience of playing piano, before that? And now, you’re starting to play the organ, right, and your teacher assigned you this g minor Prelude and Fugue from the Eight Little-cycle...And did you try to coordinate your hands and feet, or you thought about articulations right away?
Ausra: Well, I had so many challenges at that time: everything was so new, with all the articulation business, and pedaling business, but I don’t think I learned in a good manner right away. Nobody talked with me what I had to do first and what I had to do later. So I just tried to play all together and do everything at the same time--and it wasn’t easy, and I think I wasn’t successful. The biggest challenge for me in this piece was to go in the pedal from a low G to C, to connect those two beginning notes of the prelude. It seemed like an impossible thing!
Vidas: And for me, my first piece--it was a little bit earlier than yours--I started playing a couple of years earlier in my school in Klaipėda, and it was “Jesu, meine Freude” by Bach from the Orgelbüchlein. And my teacher, gave me to choose any chorale prelude from this collection that I wanted. I wasn’t a very good sightreader, and I didn’t have recordings then, there was no YouTube to listen to. So I just flipped the pages through and maybe chose the most understandable one that I could comprehend at the time. And as yourself, I tried to play everything at once, and everything legato! So when September came, I think I had a couple of weeks of practice at home; and then in my first lesson, I came to my teacher, and she was so angry with me! She said it’s better not to practice this prelude at all, than to practice it incorrectly, with legato touch. Now I had to redo it, and relearn it the right way.
Ausra: Well, how could you know about articulations at that time?
Vidas: Yeah, she wasn’t very specific about how to make spaces between each and every note (and I wasn't as motivated to learn and think back then as later). Plus, of course, as yourself, I also didn’t know that the best way to manage four-part texture is actually to practice each line separately, and then two-part combinations only after I can do each line separately, you know, without mistakes.
Ausra: Yes, that’s the best way to do it.
Vidas: And three-part combinations comes only after two-part combinations. And so on. So, Ausra, do you think that Minori should despair, or is it an easy problem for him to overcome?
Ausra: I think he will overcome it in time. It might be hard at the beginning, but I think he will make progress in time. Just don’t give up.
Vidas: When you learn new music today, Ausra--Baroque music, let’s say, which has all kinds of articulation, and even Romantic music, which also has legato nuances and you have to coordinate legatos in various voices which are not necessarily together at the same time--remember in modern music, in legato, we have to shorten certain notes exactly, and make them exactly half as short.
Ausra: Yes, repeated notes. That’s the most challenging thing.
Vidas: Or staccato.
Ausra: Yes, in Romantic music, when you have a few voices, and let’s say two voices in one hand or even three voices in one hand, but you have to play like two voices legato and one voice has repeated notes that you have to shorten by half, so that’s a challenge.
Vidas: So today, when you practice new music or when you sight-read new music--is it difficult for you to articulate?
Ausra: Well, not anymore, but now I know what to do.
Vidas: When did you first discover that it’s not a challenge anymore--that you have different challenges now?
Ausra: Well, it was maybe thirteen years ago.
Vidas: Also in America?
Vidas: So how many years by that time you were playing? In Lithuania, you played maybe six years?
Vidas: In Michigan, you played two years with Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra?
Ausra: Two, yes.
Vidas: But then, in Lithuania we had one more year.
Ausra: So, about ten years.
Vidas: About ten years, guys. After ten years it becomes easy.
Vidas: So, Minori and others who are listening to this, please be patient. Please be patient at least for ten years.
Vidas: If you can do this, then everything becomes easier after that.
Ausra: Well, but of course, you have to practice hard during those ten years.
Vidas: Exactly. And enjoy the process, because each day you will notice some improvement. And that is the most important thing: to be better today than yesterday. Not to compare yourself with the masters; but compare yourself to yourself, of yesterday. Okay guys, this was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And you can do this by subscribing to our blog at www.organduo.lt and replying to any of our messages.
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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