Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 171 of Ask Vidas and Ausra podcast. Today's question was sent by Allen. He writes:
Hello Vidas and Ausra,
I am thinking of going on this tour: http://www.musicalcollaborations.org/organ-tour-italy-poland-2018. I am really not a very good organist, but would love to be able to get up close to some interesting instruments and this seems to be a good way to do that. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions? We are big fans of Italy, which is really the only reason that this particular tour appealed to us.
V: So Ausra he is in need to our advice right? Where could they go to Europe to visit old instruments. What would you suggest first? What idea comes to you?
A: This is how you understood this question?
A: I did not understand it in that way.
V: He thinks that he needs our opinion if this tour is worth going to right? Or maybe we could have some other recommendations of going to European organ tours. First of all, maybe he could go to Bach Organ World tour remember, that Quentin and Mary Murrell Faulkner used to lead.
A: I understood this question completely different. I understood that Allen loves Italy and he wants to see Italy. And that’s why he chose this tour because it will take part in Italy and a little bit in Poland. So, I don’t think the Bach tour would work for him because that would take place in Germany.
V: Unless he loves Bach, right?
A: Yes, but I see why many people love Italy because it’s a nice climate and good food, good wine you know and it’s very nice.
V: And how is that related to Poland then. Italian culture.
A: That’s a good question and it’s these two countries are far away one from another. But actually Poland and Lithuania because at one time we had the one country with Poland.
V: Yes, commonwealth.
A: Yes, commonwealth country. So, all this you know part of central Europe and of Northern Europe were heavily influenced by Italian artists.
V: Especially the Catholic portion.
A: Yes, yes, and because Poland and Lithuanian are Catholic countries we have so many churches and palaces built by Italian architects. And all other appearances of the Italian culture. Especially it was prominent in the Renaissance and Baroque and not so much later on but still you can see some spectacular cathedrals. And tend to feel like you are in Italy although you would be standing in the middle of let’s see Krakow or Vilnius.
V: I see so it’s where we’re going to such tours if you like old cultures.
A: That’s true. And you know Allen since he wrote that he is not a very good organist I think Italian tour would do him good since Italy is a Catholic country they did not have much of congregational singing, as for example Germany did, so the instruments usually are not as large and often does not have a sophisticated pedalboard or many stops on the pedalboard. So, you know, he can just pick up some manual pieces and I think they would work very well in Italy. What do you think about it?
V: Pieces from Fiori Musicali by Frescobaldi right? Pieces by other Italian composers, Domenico Zipoli, or maybe Toccata Elevazione slower movements of the output that more well know Italian composers like Merulo or even Frescobaldi himself wrote. Fiori Musicali is a great place to start I think.
A: Yes, it’s a great collection of music.
V: It has a lot of pieces, a lot of episodes. You can stop in any place you want. You don’t have to play let’s say Kyrie from the beginning unto the end. You can stop after two episodes or after three episodes. Right?
V: Because in those days the Kyrie had nine parts, not three like today.
A: That’s true because you know, it is all segmented so you can play a many episodes as you want.
V: Why it was segmented by the way and not through composed. Do you think it has to do something with alternating practice?
A: I think so, yes.
V: What does that mean?
A: Well when you play on the organ one verse of a certain hymn or another liturgical piece and then choir or cantor sings another one, and then again organ, and then again cantor, so that’s so-called alternating practice. Actually it was banned later on, but it survived many centuries.
V: What is the reason behind this ban? Do you know?
A: I don’t know, maybe you know compositions became more elaborated and took too long, I’m not sure. I have heard the whole story but now I cannot recall it.
V: Was it because Second Vatican Council or the First Vatican Council, might be the first, that people couldn’t understand the words when you play the organ in between that chorale, schola cantorum or choral pieces, so they decided that all the words have to be audible and sung.
A: Oh, yes. That makes sense.
V: I only don’t remember was it after Vatican Two, or Vatican One?
A: Well, anyway.
V: Do think that it was a good tradition to do alternating practice?
A: Yes, I liked it very much.
V: Do you like it because you can rest between playing organ and turning the pages and registrations for yourself or for some other reason?
A: Well, if you just think of a long, long hymn for example like Veni Creator, I think it might get so boring after a while and more interesting musically for me when you know it’s done in alternating.
V: Isn’t that the reason why in Catholic tradition organ became less prominent when they banned alternating practice. Because look, now the choir can sing everything.
A: Organ was never so important in Catholic churches as it was in the Protestant churches.
V: Why? What is the deal with Protestant concept?
A: Well, especially when I talk about Protestant I mean especially Lutheran tradition.
A: Because you know Luther loved music himself. He had a very high opinion about any music. He himself created the hymnal actually. He wrote some hymns himself.
V: And some hymns he adapted from Gregorian Chant.
A: Yes, and some from I think German folk music. So that’s why I know musical tradition in the Lutheran church was so rich, so much richer than in Catholic churches because there was congregational singing, the organ was very important, and all kinds of examples.
V: In Catholic tradition organ was just tolerated.
V: And today it is like this.
A: Yes, definitely.
V: Especially if you try to play something more advanced and more extended they always tell you “Oh, it’s a concert and the church is not the place for concerts.” Right?
A: I know. And the repertoire sometimes is so bizarre in Catholic churches that you know it makes me sometimes laugh, sometimes cry.
V: In our church, Vilnius University, Saint Johns Church they probably don’t use the organ in services, systematically, regularly, maybe on special occasions. But, they have guitars and drums which they use more often, but, from time to time when those guitars and drums are away on vacations, they ask me to play the organ. And then I play the organ as much as I can and the last time I played I remember the microphone was broken so I even didn’t sing Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei part from the balcony. I played everything on the organ. It was like an organ mass. And you know what kind of comment I received from one of the priests?
A: I don’t know.
V: That it sounded like he was in Notre Dame in Paris. Because I improvised everything, of course. To which I replied that was my intention, of course, to show the bright side of this instrument, what it can do without attracting too much of attention from the liturgy, right? I only played in certain parts of the liturgy. I never hijacked the liturgy. Didn’t play an elevation, didn’t play in places where I didn’t supposed to play. But wherever I could I showed the instrument to best of it’s ability. And that’s I think our responsibility as organist.
A: Yes, nicely said Vidas. So, for Allen just have fun you know and enjoy your trip to Italy and Poland. I bet you will see very many exciting things.
V: And for other people who want to try historical instruments and immerse themselves in historical local cultures in Europe they could go to the Netherlands, to France, to Spain, to Portugal, to Germany, right? To central Germany in the footsteps of Bach, to northern Germany in the footsteps of Buxtehude, let’s say. And other countries. The more you go, the more you discover right Ausra?
V: And the better the musician you will become in general I think the more broad minded.
A: Sure, organ world is you know, so vast, has so many different countries, so many instruments, so much variety.
V: One closing idea for Allen, and others. Wherever you go make sure you do some research, which churches will you visit in advance. And contact local organists of those churches via social media. It’s so easy to find now everybody. In six clicks I can find anybody on earth basically, and you can too. So if you contact local organist and say “Hello, I am such and such organist from such and such country and I will be visiting your church with this tour. Can I please try out and have access to this instrument or other instruments in town.” Maybe you will have this connection for a lifetime afterwards.
A: That’s possible.
V: OK. Thanks guys. Ausra and I are going to practice some organ playing and I hope you will do too, because when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.