Vidas: Let’s start episode 145 of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. Listen to the audio version here. How are you Ausra today?
Ausra: I’m fine.
V: And what are you planning to do in your organ playing today?
A: Heh, heh, well, I have a lot of work of snow for a while at the beginning, and then just to go to practice.
V: Me too.
A: Because we have such a heavy snow, in Lithuania right now.
V: Yeah, I hope in other parts of the world it is a little better.
A: Well, not necessarily. I heard in the United States we have an extremely cold winter this year. And in Australia where is extremely hot.
A: I guess we are lucky.
V: Yes. So today’s question was sent by Michael and he writes:
“Good morning Vidas. Thank you for your email and Organ tips. I do not know if it too late to reply to your email. To answer your two questions I will first of all explain my situation. I am Organist at St Lawrence’s Feltham Roman Catholic Church and I play at 3 Masses at the Weekend for which I receive a small stipend.
I also play for Weddings and Funerals and Kingston and Hanworth Crematoriums to make ends meet. I am also playing for a Funeral Director’s Carol Service this year. My dream is to get better and better and maybe perform at a Recital. I am a keen pianist and I believe I have nearly mastered Chopin’s Etude No. 1 Op. 10, but also like J.S. Bach of course and other composers.
Unfortunately what holds me back from my dream is that I can only manage to practise on the Organ for about an hour a week in Church, and not loud pieces because the Presbytery is joined to the Church and people are working there.
So I content myself trying to master the Trio sonatas and gentle pieces. I do try and practise sometimes The Finale from Vierne’s Symphony No. 1 at reduced volume and adapt other pieces that way for a closing voluntary as I have been informed that if I do a high volume voluntary it may disturb people talking.
I have access to a Piano that my Mother and I bought.
Also I have a bipolar disorder but this is controlled very well by medication, but I need to concentrate especially well when playing for services otherwise I could make a mistake, and I try and control my nerves.
Thank you again for your emails and tips. All the best and God bless! Michael.”
V: First of all, Ausra, isn’t it annoying when people tell you that you playing too loud, you’re playing too soft, too fast, too slow?
A: Yes, but that’s what organists expect, in the this life now. I remember once I went to church to practice and you know, and the lady who got to the church, she just talked ‘oh, could you just come back tomorrow, I have such a headache’. Of course, I didn’t practice that day, but it was annoying for me because it took me almost an hour to get to the church. So that’s perfectly normal and I can understand very well this problem.
V: Exactly. So, for me too, sometimes I go to church and there would be like groups of tourists coming in and the guide would talk quite loudly for this group and whenever I play the organ in the church I might disturb the guide there basically talking, so some of them like organ music, but some don’t so I had to occurrences when from downstairs the guides would even shout for an organist to stop playing at all. It’s really annoying.
A: It’s annoying yes. Plus in our church, you never know when the funeral will be and it might, you know, spoil all our plans of practicing and it’s especially annoying if your recital is coming up and you really need to practice in the church.
V: But we both know a regular organ is there and we can still adapt right? What if a guest organist comes from out of town even, from abroad?
A: I know it’s very hard for him or her not to explain the situation. Yeah know, it makes you really feel guilty and very uncomfortable. Although you know you are not the reason why he or she cannot practice.
V: So, for Michael, he is right I think, in playing sometimes with soft volume, don’t you think?
A: Sure, it’s better to be in a good relationship with people in your church. But you know, as he told us that he doesn’t have enough time to practice on the organ, maybe he could find also another church which would allow him to practice and he could do it more often.
V: Mmm, hmm.
A: In exchange, let’s see, some service, some playing.
V: Yeah, that would be quite possible, I think. You know lot places, there is a need or shortage of organists, so without even over extending yourself, you just offer occasional service, or if you don’t want to play in public you can make a small donation.
A: I know. And Michael, wrote in his letter that he plays for a Roman Catholic Church. Maybe he doesn’t feel comfortable going to another new church denominational to ask if they would let him to practice. But I think he should be perfect lucky.
V: Mmmh, hmm.
A: Because, you know, for us organists, it’s just impossible to be connected to only one church.
A: So I think it’s perfectly fine to play in another church. At least in my opinion.
V: And protestant denominations are more open actually
V: For organist and musicians from all faiths.
A: Because, you know, I miss that time that religion gives in the United States because there are so many open places just to go and to practice for us just being an organ student. Like in Michigan, in Ann Arbor, and Lincoln Nebraska you could go basically to almost any church to practice. And Methodist church were especially open for organists.
V: Exactly. They have no problem with your faith. They don’t actually ask what your belief system is.
V: At all. Unlike some of the Roman Catholic Churches.
A: I know.
V: Mmm, hmm.
A: So, that might give him more opportunities, more time to practice on the organ.
A: But you know what I notice from his letter is that he is practicing trio sonatas and he can play them well. That is an excellent thing because I believe only experienced organists can master trio sonatas. So basically if you can play trio sonatas you probably can play almost anything.
V: And he is playing Finale from Symphony #1 by Vierne. Yeah, so his level should be quite advanced, I would say. It’s very nice to be able to play those pieces. But should he stop here, and think that his skill is literally complete, perfected and set for life, or should he still try to improve?
A: I think he, you know, each of us still has to improve something. None of us is perfect.
V: And never will be.
A: That’s for sure.
A: And you know he was talking about making mistakes sometimes, hard for him to focus during his performance. I think it’s not related actually to his illness, as he told us. But that each of us actually, has the same problem. I haven’t heard a person who would say ‘oh, it’s so easy for me to stay concentrated. I never make mistakes. Usually it’s otherwise. What do you think about that, Vidas?
V: In this day and age, and in our society, there are more and more people who are in need of focusing because there are constant distractions everywhere, and it’s even harder to focus because we are bombarded by constant change of information, and it’s quite frustrating if you are playing the organ but your mind is all over the place, right?
A: I know, but sometimes it’s hard to really concentrate, especially if you get some constant distractions. For example, during service, like, a baby starts to cry, or somebody starts to talk to loud during your prelude or postludes.
V: Or a member from your choir comes up and starts to look at you or your music.
A: Yes, that’s the thing, especially when you travel through Lithuania, you know, in order to perform, you have performance right after the mass, and the choir member of that local church who will sit in balcony, and will look at you like you would be, I don’t know, a monkey in a zoo or something like this. So sometimes people act really weird, don’t you think?
V: Maybe they haven’t, you know, had an opportunity to look at such a high level organist from up close.
A: But still we would need to think how you feel at that moment. You are a guest and you are performing and know.
V: They think like it’s in a circus, right, you are a like a clown, not like a clown maybe, but like an athlete, like a circus athlete, or a circus artist and you are performing miracles in front of them, right, so they are in awe, basically.
A: I know, but it’s still not good to look at you closely when you are playing or not to come and start turning pages of your score. Just to look around. I had an experience like that once. Or not to talk loudly among themselves, next to the organ bench. So that might be quite distracting.
V: Could be. Could be. So, I hope this has been useful, this information, for our students, right?
V: And now we’re going to go and practice some more, right?
V: And take care of the snow, once it stops snowing. Of course it doesn’t make sense to shovel the snow while it’s snowing.
A: I know, we cannot use our car. It will not move in the snow.
V: And I will go to prepare the program notes for tonight's concert at our church, our guest organist is playing. And then later I’ll go to the concert itself.
V: Wonderful. Thank you guys, for sending these wonderful questions. Ausra and I are loving the process of helping you grow. And please send us more. We’re always here to help you out.
V: And remember, when you practice,
A: 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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