#AskVidasAndAusra 63: When do you usually register a piece: before or after you learn to play all the notes?
Vidas: And let’s start Episode 63 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Kae, who is helping, actually, to transcribe our podcasts for us. And she’s very helpful, and a very accurate transcriber. So thank you so much, Kae, for doing this.
And now, back to her question. She asks, “When do you usually register a piece: before or after you learn to play all the notes? I think registering a piece can be the most fun part of preparing a performance, but maybe it should be saved for last? If my piece is very loud, I will usually practice using softer registration, but this means I get used to the quieter sound and start to prefer it. I don't know. What is your opinion? Thank you for all your work, it's wonderful to read all of your posts. I especially like your new podcast feature with text instead of just audio.” She’s wonderful, right? Because without her help, it wouldn’t be possible!
Ausra: Yes, and an excellent question, actually, a very interesting question.
Vidas: Let’s start with how we do it. It’s not necessarily the only way, because some people advise to analyze the piece, and know how the piece is put together right away, and even to figure out the registration just before you learn the notes. And some of them do the notes first, and decide on the registration later. So how do you do it, Ausra?
Ausra: Well, usually, I learn the music first, actually.
Vidas: But while learning notes, don’t you sometimes think, “Oh, in my upcoming performance on this particular instrument, I’m going to use this combination. Or that combination. Or manual change--I will go the third manual instead of the fourth manual or eighth manual instead of the ninth manual:).”
Ausra: Of course. I always keep that in mind, because otherwise I would not know how to play. But for example, as Kae mentioned, if it’s a loud piece and she practiced it on soft stops, and she will get used to that sound and she will prefer it--I would still suggest to play Organo Pleno pieces on softer stops during just regular practice. Not always, not all the time, but most of the time. Because otherwise, you could just hurt your ears, and that wouldn’t be good. But while playing even on the 8’ flute, you can still imagine you’re playing Organo Pleno. Because then even your touch will be different--a little bit different.
Ausra: But I often register the final version of the piece when I’m on the actual organ on which I will be performing that piece.
Vidas: Do you sometimes register on the table in your head?
Ausra: Yes, I do that sometimes.
Vidas: To save time?
Ausra: Yes, and then I just have to adjust some things when I get to a real organ. Because you are in sort of a luxury situation if you know the instrument on which you’re performing in advance, and I mean, in a practical way, that you have played it. But most often--for concert organists--you can only imagine what you will get! Of course, you see the specification lists, but you still cannot hear the actual sound until you get to the organ; and most of the time, you have one or two rehearsals, sometimes even almost no rehearsal before your actual performance. Life is life. So, you sort of do your imaginary registration; and then you do the real one, when you get to the real instrument.
Vidas: And the more experience you have with pipe organs, then the more closer to reality your mental preparation will be.
Vidas: Although there are exceptions, right? You discover that, let’s say, this principal is not loud enough; or this flute is not making sound that you want.
Vidas: So you need another combination. Or when the reed is out of tune...
Ausra: Yes, sure. And especially when you are learning pieces where you have to use two manuals at the same time, try various combinations when you practice on your home organ or your school organ. Because otherwise, it might be very hard for you to switch--to change the manuals, for example. Imagine you’re playing a Trio Sonata by Bach. And you always play the right hand on the second manual and the left hand on the first manual. And when you go to the real organ where you will be performing this piece, you see that it has to be the other way around--left on the top manual, and the right on the lower manual. It might be a problem for you to do that.
Ausra: So practice all these combinations. And of course, if you have access, regular access, to the organ where you will be performing that repertoire, then it might be a good idea to register pieces right away, and to practice in that way.
Vidas: And talking about trio sonatas, and this kind of texture--make sure you practice also dropping one octave lower one part…
Ausra: Yes, because you might need that, too, and register.
Vidas: Dropping probably the left hand part an octave lower, because otherwise you get Cross-relations between hands. But 8’ stop sometimes is not as beautiful as 4’ stop; so you should choose 4’ registration...but then you need to drop one octave lower, your lower voice.
Ausra: But as Kae mentioned in her question, registration--registering her piece is really the most fun part of organ playing, because each time you can explore and find new colors. And it’s sort of strange for me, but some organists keep the registration. For example, they perform a recital in one place, and they write down that registration and try to keep it for the rest of their life! I don’t like doing that, because if I will come back to that instrument, let’s say after 10 years, it doesn’t mean that I will register it in the same way; because maybe my taste will have changed in that time…
Vidas: Or your level might have grown, too.
Ausra: Yes. So I would suggest each time you would do your own new registration.
Vidas: For example, right now as we’re recording this, we’re mentally preparing for our upcoming performance in Paslek, Poland on the Andreas Hildebrand organ from 1717. So that was Bach’s day and age--a Baroque organ. And we’re practicing sometimes at home, sometimes at St. John’s church here in Vilnius...but always mentally thinking about Poland, now.
Vidas: That’s how we save time; that’s how we save energy and prepare for the real situation. It doesn’t mean that we will be 100% right, but we will have a starting point from which to begin practicing and rehearsing in Poland.
Ausra: Yes. And another important thing is that you always have to choose your repertoire for a particular organ. It just amazes me how sometimes organists try to play all kinds of repertoire on one instrument. I mean it’s good if you are in the United States, and you have sort of “universal organ” on which you can play any kind of music; but in that type of instrument I don’t think that any music will sound equally well. But still it’s possible to register and to play it. And otherwise if you’re playing on a historical organ, or a replica of a historical organ, you have to choose your repertoire right. Because you cannot play any piece of music on any instrument; that’s just impossible.
Vidas: Nevertheless, for example, a lot of organizations prefer to have an eclectic instrument, and I just read the guidelines for AGO composers’ competition (you can compose organ music and receive a prize if you’re selected). So they want this music to be performed on any type of instrument. Mechanical, electromechanical, Baroque, Romantic. They’re saying, “You should write a piece which will fit any type of organ.” That’s kind of silly, right?
Ausra: Yes, I could not agree more.
Vidas: But that’s life, right? That’s their requirement. So sometimes, you have to make those hard decisions, if you want to have the most opportunities in life (at least at first, when you don’t have so many opportunities). But always think about the target organ when you will be performing in public, and that way your registration work will become very efficient.
Vidas: Thanks, guys! I hope this was useful to you. And please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. Okay! 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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