AVA246: My challenge is to keep all these pieces warm, so that I can play them without too much preparation time
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 246 of Ask Vidas and Ausra podcast. This question was sent by Michael. He writes:
I had private lessons with Michael Schneider in the 70s and 80s for 13 years - I am very satisfied with my playing technique and don’t have serious difficulties with the literature. I had a 30 years break - settling in my job and having a family with 2 kids. In 2010 I discovered the Hauptwerk software and bought a three manual console and several sample sets. I took up practicing again and brushed up most of my repertoire. A few pieces are still open: JSB Toccata in F, P&F in E flat and in E minor, Dupré op. 7 - but this is only a question of time, not of difficulties. At present I am studying Carillon de Westminster - it is almost finished.
My challenge is to keep all these pieces warm, so that I can play them without too much preparation time.
If you are interested in my performances, go to contrebombarde.com and search for bartfloete, my musical nickname.
All the best for you and Ausra and thanks again.
V: So, Michael can play quite a difficult repertoire, Ausra, right?
A: Actually very difficult. All the pieces that he named are the top difficulty level.
V: Dupré Opus 7, those Three Preludes and Fugues in G minor I believe,
A: It’s B major, then F minor, then finally G minor.
V: G minor. So difficult to play, especially G minor, I think.
A: Yes, and I played B major. It’s challenging, too! Fugue, especially. And we have heard some not very successful performances of these three pieces by quite famous American organists, so, that’s quite a challenge.
V: Yes, and Toccata in F major by Bach—it could be a very long and tedious piece to play, if you are not careful, if you are not playing musically.
A: And those cadences in the Toccata section, I think are the hardest thing in that piece.
V: And of course, E flat major Prelude and Fugue, that’s probably a pinnacle of Bach’s writing, in general, for organ. So, you would probably enjoy, tremendously well, just practicing this piece, not only performing it.
A: True, and then, he mentions the Prelude and Fugue in E minor, and I believe he means, probably, “The Wedge,”
V: “The Wedge,” yeah.
A: Yeah, which is, I think, one of the hardest pieces for organ that Bach wrote.
V: Even harder than E flat major Prelude.
A: I would say so, yes.
V: Because of the fugue, probably.
V: Running passages and virtuoso texture.
A: True, and it’s also long, as is the E flat major.
V: So, his challenge is to keep all these pieces warm, and be able to play them without too much preparation time. That’s very simple, right, Ausra, because,
A: Yeah… he has to play them.
V: Play them all the time, and let’s say he has a repertoire of about one hour, right? Toccata and Fugue in F major, that’s 15 minutes, E flat major, another 15 minutes,
A: Well, perhaps 17
V: A little more, then E minor, so 3/4 of an hour more, probably, and Dupré Opus 7, so that’s more than an hour, I think.
A: Oh, it’s much more than an hour.
V: Mhm, because Dupré 3 Preludes and Fugues is more than a half an hour already.
A: Well, I would say probably more, because that F minor, the middle one is in a slower tempo.
V: And Carillon of Westminster, by Vierne, so that would conclude his hour of Bach and Vierne, and Dupré, in addition, a half an hour set…
A: Well, that’s like two recitals, I would say...
V: Almost two recitals.
A: Almost two recitals, yes.
V: One and a half, at least. So if he has to keep these pieces warm, he has to play them, not necessarily every day all things, but to have a plan to play them regularly.
A: Well, let’s say you choose two pieces for each day that you will work up on and repeat on, and the next day you will do another two pieces and just keep going like that, and keep rotating.
V: Yes, Bach F major, E flat major, and then E minor—three. Dupré, three more, that’s six, and seven, Vierne. So, basically yes, in three days, he can do brush up.
A: Yes, and you know, it doesn’t matter, there is no magic trick that you learn pieces and you will be able to play them after ten years without practicing them. No, you need to keep practicing and to keep refreshing them. Of course, it always depends on how well you learned them for the first time. For example, did you play them with the same fingering all the time? Because this makes things easier for you to repeat and to keep it in good shape.
V: Let’s suggest to Michael to memorize. Would that be helpful in the long run?
A: Yes and no. Don’t you think it’s harder to keep things in memory than to read it from a score?
V: Yes, he doesn’t have to perform from memory, he just has to learn it inside out. And then, when it comes time to perform from the score, it would be easier.
A: Yes, true, but you can do that if you have a lot of time. So, it depends on your schedule. And, for example, for some people, when you learn to play something from memory, it’s very hard to go back and to play it from the score. You need to keep that in mind, too. Not for everybody, but for some, yes.
V: I see. Interesting. What else could Michael do? What would you do in Michael’s shoes if you had plenty of time and would like to learn those pieces and keep them warm in your repertoire, in addition to practicing them regularly, maybe twice a week.
A: Well, what helps me, actually, is to play my repertoire in a slow tempo. This sort of keeps everything well under my fingers and then I can play pieces for a very long time without ruining them.
V: If you play them in the concert tempo, you can get carried away and don’t notice details and ruin the performance.
A: True. Yes, because things might get muddy when you practice all the time in a fast tempo. Of course, people think, “Oh, if I play it fast, then I can play more pieces,” and that’s what we do, but I don’t think that’s a good way to do it.
V: You have to think long term. What would today’s practice mean for you three months later?
A: And I think it especially applies for practicing Bach’s works, because they are such polyphonically complex pieces, and you can miss many important details while practicing in the fast tempo all the time.
V: And one last thing. Obviously, if you are so good with those pieces, like Michael is, probably, then it would be wonderful to go out and play in public. Don’t you think?
A: Of course, and I think that’s what he does. He has his page on YouTube.
V: But that’s in public… he records himself and publishes, but I mean in live performance, maybe in a church setting, maybe in a concert settings, even. Go out in his area, make friends with local organists, and arrange recitals!
A: Yes, and another suggestion for him would be that since all the pieces that he mentions, he played them a long time ago, and now he is repeating them. So maybe it’s time to learn something new that he hadn’t played before.
V: Ah, I see. Yes, if you only repeat your repertoire from the past, you are not really advancing. Right?
A: Well, you are advancing, but you are not expanding your repertoire.
V: You are advancing, but not expanding your musical horizons. So that is great final advice, Ausra.
A: And he studied with Mike Schneider, as he mentions in his letter, and sometimes we think that we will not be able to learn new pieces without a mentor or a teacher.
V: Which is not true…
A: Which is not true. Because, if you have already learned so much hard repertoire, I’m sure you can do something on your own, too.
V: And teach others, if you like. Thank you guys, this was Vidas,
A: And Ausra,
V: Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen.
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