Vidas: Let’s start Episode 73 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Don, and he writes, “Dear Vidas, while I respect your work as an organ teacher, I wonder if "selling" your ideas of fingerings is the best for students. My present teacher would never force me to copy or use other person's fingerings. Dupre, in my opinion, wasted a lot of his time with his "fingered" editions of the Bach works. My instructor at the time told me to "throw them in the garbage can!"....so who, as a student, do we believe? Let us guide students with some basic principles...but to finger every note for them??? Don”
That’s an interesting question, right, Ausra?
Ausra: Well, you know, I’ll just say this for Don, if his teacher did not explain why he should throw away the best fingering and pedaling for Bach: in that time, the historical approach of historical performance of Bach’s music wasn’t discovered. Actually, it was discovered fairly late, in the 20th century. So that’s probably why his teacher suggested him to throw those scores away: because they are inappropriate for playing Bach. That’s my opinion. What do you say about it, Vidas?
Vidas: Absolutely. I think Don replied with this question to our post about Bach’s Piece d’Orgue’s (BWV 572) fingering, the day we offered it to the world; and every finger in this five-part texture in the Gravement section is written out, and it’s a very thick texture to figure out the fingering yourself.
On the other hand, you could use all your fingers, and it should look fine; but the way we do it is similar to what organists in the 18th century would do, back in the day when the piece was written. So of course we teach you principles how to do it: we don’t use thumb glissandos; we don’t even use the thumb too often, right? We don’t use finger glissandos or finger substitutions a lot, because we don’t need legato touch for this.
We never keep it a secret. You can do this yourself. But for people who are struggling with this, and especially for those who want to save time--how much time?--maybe tenths, even hundreds of hours if they don’t know what they’re doing! If they finger it the wrong way, and their entire articulation is legato--so this type of fingering doesn’t help them play with the right stylistic approach.
And we try to help people solve this problem while providing this fingering. Of course, some of them have other teachers, like Don; and those teachers have their own ideas, right? And as Ausra says, the Dupré collection is not suitable anymore; it was just for those times, when everybody played Bach legato.
Ausra: Yes, and that’s not a good idea to do nowadays. Nobody will understand you, if you will play Bach legato nowadays.
Vidas: Yeah. While we won’t, probably, personally throw Dupré’s edition in the garbage literally, we would definitely not use them in our practices, today.
Vidas: So we are not disagreeing with Don on this.
Ausra: And I just know one thing, if you will not be writing fingering down in the score, you will just be wasting your time, especially if you are a beginner organist. Because it means that every time when you will sit down to that particular piece, you probably will play it with a different fingering. And it will slow down your learning process by maybe 5 times. Or even more.
Ausra: So, it’s up to you. I would try playing with fingering. Of course, you could just write down the fingering for the hardest spots; that’s up to you, but I would suggest doing at least some fingering.
Vidas: Until you learn the principles. Ausra, when you play a Baroque piece like that today, do you need those fingerings?
Ausra: No, I don’t need them.
Vidas: Do you need pedaling?
Ausra: No, I don’t need them, but, you know, I have a long experience.
Vidas: How many years?
Ausra: I have more than twenty years of very intense practicing experience.
Vidas: When did you discover first that you don’t need fingerings and pedalings anymore?
Ausra: Probably at UNL during my doctoral studies; but because I got my bachelor’s and two master’s first, so I had, already, a lot of experience before my doctorate program.
Vidas: Exactly. So probably ten years, at least?
Vidas: Intense, daily practice?
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: So guys, if you practice at least a couple of hours a day, or probably more…
Ausra: And of course, because I went to the organ while having excellent piano technique because I was playing piano before playing organ for twelve years. So that also added to my fingering experience.
Vidas: So, could you say that you already practiced your ten thousand hours?
Ausra: I haven’t counted, but probably yes.
Vidas: Yeah, that’s the general number that they say, in order to master some difficult skill or form of art, you need to practice for ten thousand hours with intent. Not just fooling around, right? But you have to be very intentional about each of your daily practices. And we did that.
Vidas: That’s why it’s so easy for us; that’s why we can do this on the spot. That’s how you should also aim to practice. But don’t expect to be a master at this overnight; that’s a mistake. You should just enjoy the process.
Vidas: The process is very, very long. But at the same time, every time you sit down on the organ bench, you learn something about the music, you learn something about the instrument, and you learn something new about yourself. So that’s an enjoyable way of exploration.
Vidas: Always stay curious about what you can learn, and those new experiences will come to you over time.
Ausra: Yes. And I think if someday you will have the chance, do this experiment: Take the same piece by J. S. Bach, that Dupré fingered and pedaled, and the same piece, for example, that Vidas or I fingered. And take it to a historical organ of that time, to a real Baroque organ. And try to play it in Dupré’s fingering and pedaling, and then in our fingering and pedaling. And the instrument will do justice to one of these approaches.
Vidas: Mhmm. I’ve discovered this the hard way, myself, when I was preparing to play a recital in Sweden, in Gothenburg. In one of the churches, the Haga church, they have a Renaissance-style organ built by John Brombaugh. And the second manual is so light, and so easy to play with wrong notes; and the keys are so short, so that you really can’t use your thumb, and there’s no way you can use finger substitution, if you want to play with articulation--articulate legato; and of course they have split semitones--for example, G-sharp is not the same as A-flat; they have separate keys for that. Or D-sharp is not the same as E-flat.
Ausra: Well, were you able to use heels on such an instrument, on the pedalboard?
Vidas: Definitely not! And I prepared for that very well in my mind; and even on my modern organ, I practiced with early fingerings and pedalings. And guess what? Maybe ten years ago when we visited that organ as students at the Gothenburg International Organ Academy
Ausra: It was more than ten years ago…
Vidas: At that time--it was maybe back in 2000--it was very difficult to play such an instrument. I made a lot of mistakes. And keeping this in mind, for my second visit, I practiced with studies in the correct fingerings, and when I went back to Gothenburg to play at the Haga church, I was amazed how easy it was for me to adjust, and to perform almost without any rehearsal. I would have needed just twenty minutes to check my registrations (because I made everything in advance, on a table in my head), just to check; and most of them were right. And then to play the simple passages, to adjust to the keyboard just a little bit, and I would have performed quite easily in public, that way. So it saves time for you to practice with stylistically appropriate fingerings, even on a modern instrument, don’t you think, Ausra?
Ausra: That’s true, because, you don’t want to use different fingering for the same piece on a different instrument. That would just kill your time!
Vidas: A lot of organists say, “Oh, but we don’t play early instruments!”
Ausra: Well, you never know! If you’re living in the States, that wonderful land has so many beautiful replicas built by all these excellent organ builders…
Vidas: And more and more are being built every year. So you might visit a few newly built Baroque organs, even while living in a land which historically wouldn’t have too many old instruments. Or you might go to Europe on a tour. You never know! And you might visit a local organist, and contact them in advance for an opportunity to try out their instrument. That’s completely possible, and absolutely doable in today’s global world. And we recommend doing this, because it’s so much fun, and you can make a lot of new friends this way.
Ausra: Yes, I strongly believe that you have to do everything in a correct manner right from the beginning.
Vidas: And Don also has a little bit of truth in his saying, too. Because yes, try your own hand in writing in fingering.
Ausra: Yes, that’s a good way to do it; but you have to know the principles, how to do that.
Vidas: Apply our advice, and try to experiment with fingerings and see what you come up with. And if you do this often enough, your experience will grow, actually.
Vidas: And you won’t need anybody’s help after that. Thanks, guys, for listening! Please send us more of your questions. And we love helping you grow as an organist. 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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