Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 232 of Ask Vidas and Ausra podcast. This question was sent by David. He writes:
So...I keep hearing you and Ausra saying to improvise for service music during communion etc. How often do you improvise for a service? Every week? Once a month? That certainly seems much more doable than learning 27 pieces a month in the beginning... Though once the hymns are all learned, it would reduce to 11 per month to not repeat for 1 year.
V: That’s a very interesting question, right Ausra?
A: Yes, and actually who could answer it, how much do you need to improvise.
V: I think it depends on person's preferences and motivation to improve improvisation skills, right?
V: Because when you improvise in public like for church service setting you are basically practicing failing in public. This is something that everyone should internalize right now because you’re improvising not everything is perfect like printed out score, right? If you had a chance to go back and transcribe what you have improvised you would certainly change many things. And I found that during one hour of my non-stop improvisations I usually improvise enough quality material to be worth to put down on paper for about five minutes.
V: When you practice for an hour you imagination comes up with enough quality music for three, maybe five minutes. Not every not you play is a masterpiece.
A: True and it probably shouldn’t be.
V: No. Of course. It’s a practice so even though we are not perfect when we play in public it doesn’t mean we should only play those five minutes because we don’t know which five minutes will be good.
A: And you know I think why I suggest you to improvise during the communion especially because you never know how long communion will take. For sure. Especially if you are in the Catholic Church you never know how many people will show up, how many of them will go to take communion.
V: But in the Protestant Church just as well.
A: Well yes, but I think it is probably easier to get communion in the Protestant Church so basically everybody in church goes to communion. Not the same case with the Catholics. You have to confess to receive communion. So, not everybody likes to do it so not everybody goes to communion. And because of that you never know how long it will take. I found myself quite a few times when I picked up a piece and I finished playing it and I still saw that the church is full and a hundred people are waiting for communion. So, then what to do? Repeat that piece again, sightread the next one or do whatever.
V: It’s good if you have really great sightreading skills but it takes years to develop it at this level, right?
V: How many years have you been playing keyboard? Since...
A: Since the age of five.
V: Five. Right? And your first church position you received was when?
A: Well, second year of Academy of Music.
V: So you were like twenty years old maybe.
A: Well no, nineteen.
V: Nineteen. Nineteen minus 5. Fourteen years of practicing keyboard. At that level, yes, you could sightread a lot of things. So the thing we suggest sometimes is to improvise, not necessarily even based on the hymn, it’s a very nice practice and we found out that it works and people who would do it like it, to improvise based on just four notes. Right?
V: We are holding every Monday, Secrets of Organ Playing Improvisation Contest and people submit entries based on the theme and so far we did come up with four note themes like tetrachords maybe. Not necessarily in that order. Could be any other order with sharps, with flats, and people are free to use those notes in any order, in any rhythm, meter, registration, octave, with pedals or without pedals, basically to make it interesting and to play non-stop for maybe two to ten minutes. After a while it might get boring so with four notes you don’t really play a long piece, right? But you have to switch something to make it still interesting.
A: Yes, and I am amazed and surprised that actually it works and it sounds quite nice.
V: Yes, people who do it, who send those entries to Steemit, to dSound platform it’s an amazing practice. And they get rewarded for that too. So, anybody can do that at church. Even a beginner, right? Who cannot really play four part harmony with hymns.
A: Yes, because it’s really not such a hard thing to control four notes.
V: Four notes, yeah. It does not have to be fast, can be slow, could be two voice texture with maybe one long pedal note once in a while.
V: So that’s how beginners could start making up improvisation in the church service setting during communion, during prelude, if you are more maybe advanced you could play postlude too, playing louder and a little bit faster, maybe more energetic. Not necessarily very fast but energetic. So maybe louder registration with principal chorus, mixtures, maybe reeds to cover people’s talking.
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: So Ausra what do you think stops people from improvising, lack of knowledge or lack of bravery?
A: I would say probably the second thing is more common. What do you think?
V: I would say both because a lot of times people say I don’t know how to improvise and even after hearing this conversation they probably won’t believe it that it’s possible to create a quality interesting piece on the spot based on the four pitches alone.
A: I think we would need to hear those improvisations that we hear on the Steemit platform.
V: And we are sharing every Monday the winners.
A: I think it would inspire them to try.
V: Definitely. And it also brings out something which is missing in our lives, this creativity, you know. If we only play music that was composed hundreds of years ago or maybe not so long ago, but by the masters, by semi-gods let's say, just Bach you know who probably didn’t eat at all, he didn’t sleep. Imagine that he wrote his music with pen.
A: Remember when he went to Halle to compete for a church position and he wrote that cantata in his hotel room. Remember that receipt that he received for all the food that he ate and all the drink that he drank. It was a long list.
V: And he created a cantata in that week plus probably some other music too.
[Our discussion continues in the next podcast episode]
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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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