Vidas: Let’s start now Episode 64 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Dan. And he asks, “How not to find multiple keyboards of the organ to be a bit intimidating? Take care, and keep up the good work with the podcasts and stuff. Dan, a loyal listener from here in Ontario Canada.’
Wonderful! Ausra, isn’t it fun, that people from Canada listen to us?
Ausra: Yes, I think it’s very exciting!
Vidas: And they’re having various challenges, and we’re trying to help them!
Vidas: It’s really fun. So, when you have multiple keyboards on the organ--two, three, four, sometimes even five; the largest pipe organ in the world has seven keyboards!--it’s incredibly intimidating, right? What was your first experience when you tried to play a three-manual instrument, Ausra?
Ausra: It was difficult, actually, because, I don’t have such long legs and long arms, so it’s always a challenge for me to play on the upper keyboard. So I just have to register my piece in a clever manner, and to choose my manuals correctly. Because otherwise I might be in big trouble! And I don’t think I ever would go playing higher than the fourth keyboard. I would never play on the fifth. It would be just, physically for me, impossible. And it’s okay; there are still many ways, how to register and to play well even not using all of the keyboards. But now, I’m pretty comfortable with using the fourth manual.
Vidas: Here is the exercise I think people can apply in their practice, if they have three manuals (or four!) at home or in church, but they’re not used to this. They’re struggling with changing manuals and adapting. How about this: you play your piece on multiple manuals (even though stylistically it would be incorrect (it doesn’t matter). But let’s take a piece and play a phrase or a sentence or a musical idea (a complete, probably, musical idea) on one manual, and then you start another musical idea on another manual. And so on: you go through multiple manuals, sometimes like in an echo manner. Like if the manuals are registered loud-softer-softer-softer; or soft-louder-louder-louder; you could do different kinds of dynamic effects this way. But that’s not the point. The point is to get used to the multiple keyboard changes. Would that help, Ausra?
Ausra: I think that’s a good exercise. And in general, the more pieces you will practice while changing manuals, the more comfortable you will get in time.
Vidas: Try to improvise on that unfamiliar organ more. Try to explore different sounds and manuals yourself, maybe playing with one hand on one manual, and drawing the stop by hand on another manual, preparing; and after a short break, trying to play it with the left hand on another manual, and then transferring your right hand on another manual, then looking at another registration on a third manual with right hand, and then probably jumping from keyboard to keyboard this way.
Ausra: And even if you practice on the piano, or on a small organ that has only one keyboard or two keyboards, just in those spots where you know that you will have to change manuals, imagine that you’re changing manuals, and do it physically; basically, maybe by taking a longer pause, and making that extra motion with your hand. This will help you when you will have to do it for real.
Vidas: As Professor Pieter van Dijk says, it’s all mental, right?
Vidas: All kinds of physical things all begin in your head. So even though you don’t have three manuals, four manuals, or five manuals, you might have just one manual, but you can pretend to be jumping from manual to manual.
Ausra: Definitely it will help you. I do that a lot, myself, and it really helps.
Vidas: Yeah. Otherwise you get used to this one-keyboard layout; and when the time comes to go to perform in public in a different situation, with a different keyboard layout...as Dan says, it’s really intimidating.
Ausra: Yes, but it will get easier with time. The more experience you will get, the easier it will be.
Vidas: The more experience with different organs, right?
Vidas: And playing different kinds of music, too.
Vidas: Okay guys, we hope this advice was useful to you. Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And you can do this by simply replying to our messages that you get as a subscriber to our blog at www.organduo.lt. So, 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.
Don't have an organ at home?
Download paper manuals and pedals, print them out, cut the white spaces, tape the sheets together and you'll be ready to practice anywhere where is a desk and floor. Make sure you have a higher chair.