Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 389, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. Today, I would like to read a comment from Jeremy and Alan in the conversation, and then Dianne later on joined, and Laurie, and Danielle. All of those students are from our Total Organist group. And let’s start with Jeremy. Jeremy writes:
Jeremy: Concentrating during preludes and postlude. My congregation (and minister) tend to see this time as social opportunities rather than as part of the service. This morning the minister decided to discuss his week with the lector, who us seated two feet behind me. I opened the swell box at opportune (and musical!) moments until he decided to move on. Petty of me. How do you all focus when that is going on around you?
V: Alan replied:
Alan: I have a different problem with concentration: I don't have much trouble when there is activity around and I don't feel as though people are paying that much attention, such as during postludes. But during introits, anthems, even hymn introductions, I often lose concentration, get panicky, make mistakes. It's my lifelong struggle with performance anxiety; wIthout question my biggest challenge.
V: I wrote, my comment here:
The best medicine is to immerse yourself in such situations more often so that this anxiety could be controlled. Dianne added:
Dianne: Alan, I am exactly the same way. The problem is that I now only get to sub on the organ a couple times a year, so I don't get too much practice at controlling my performance anxiety there. But, even when I started out on the digital keyboard at my current church, I would become anxious with offertories and hymn introductions. After 3 years, I am much better! It really is true - practice and opportunity is the answer to most performance problems…
V: Laurie added:
Laurie: I have a pretty good congregation, and the pastor would never talk during a prelude. But, sometimes if there are a lot of noisy people, I like to lift my hands and feet off the organ at a phrase break and pause a brief moment. The silence catches their attention, and for a moment, they quiet down....until I start to play again and then they start to talk again. It's very difficult, and I don't envy your position.
V: And Danielle writes:
Danielle: This situation has an element of a philosophical problem... are we playing a concert or playing a worship service? This is not an either/or easy question and will have a different answer depending on the denominations or liturgical traditions we are employed by!
I do agree the ending of a service would ideally be more reflective for each worshipper and having a postlude supports this goal. Maybe than getting into a situation where you might be labeled passive aggressive for making pointed crescendos, you could have a direct conversation with the minister.
And if this does not work, perhaps channel your energy into preparing these pieces for a recital and just work on improvisation for your postludes...if they are not listening, that gives you more freedom to explore and push yourself so it’s interesting for you.
Good luck to everyone with this situation
V: And Jeremy later added himself:
Jeremy: I have come to accept that the majority of the congregation doesn't listen to the preludes and postludes I prepare. I have taken on the philosophy that this my contribution to an otherwise sophomoric service (in my opinion, the church I play for is moving towards a simple theology based on contemporary cultural references—the sermon two weeks ago referenced World of Warcraft). It is the distraction of the minister speaking loudly two feet away from me that is the problem. It is distracting me from trying to pay attention to what I have prepared. I am not the Music Minister at the church and have mentioned it to him. No changes however, and thus the passive aggressive organ playing I did last week.
V: That’s a long story, but Alan added:
Alan: I like to remind myself that nobody came to listen to me play the organ; they came for the fellowship and to worship. This helps me with my performance anxiety, and also reduces tensions around some of the situational things I need to deal with. For example, I am so single-threaded that it is difficult to avoid making mistakes when people talk to me, which often happens at the end of service because the console is right there at the front of the pews. Concentration can be a challenge, but I envy Jeremy his lack of (or control over) performance anxiety. Maybe I'll try hypnosis.
V: So, that’s a lot of ideas, Ausra.
A: Yes, it’s like a…
V: What comes to mind?
A: It’s like a podcast in itself, I think. You could let it be published just like that.
A: But I think we all experience this annoying feeling that we prepare beautiful music for prelude and to postlude and nobody…
V: Organist is generally just tolerated.
A: Sure. And I don’t think we really need to get upset about it. I think that nowadays it’s very important for people to socialize. And for somebody, the only place where we can talk and communicate and socialize with others is the church. So that’s what people do.
A: They come to church to talk, to interact with each other, and not so much probably to listen to organ music, or to what minister has to say during the sermon.
V: Lucky for me, when I play the postlude at St. John’s church—and it happens very rarely of course, because I’m not a regular church organist, I’m just sometimes invited to substitute an ensemble when they cannot perform—so then I take advantage of the situation and play the organ all the time, except for singing Psalm, Hallelujah, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. Those parts that are really required to sing, I would play prelude, postlude, offertory and communion totally with my improvisations. And I’m very pleased that after the end of them, postlude, people applaud, almost, all the time.
A: That’s wonderful! It means that some of them really care about what you are playing. That’s a nice thing.
V: Maybe Jeremy and others who joined in this conversation, could try a trick—if they have a choir who is still listening to you, maybe, if they are listening to you, you could ask them to applaud to you afterwards. Like a reminder for others also to listen and to appreciate what you’re playing. A few times, not all the time but one, two, three times maybe, and then see what happens, if they stop.
A: Well, but not all these choir members might appreciate organist and organ music. I remember quite a few times, when we, for example, were playing recitals or making organ demonstrations in Lithuania…
A: And other local choir members of the church, and they would stay after mass upstairs in the balcony near the organ…
A: And we would have to perform, and they would talk and interact between themselves like we even didn’t exist and we didn’t perform at that moment, and it was just so horrible.
V: Mmm-hmm. Then maybe Jeremy could talk to the music director.
A: That’s a possibility too.
A: That might help, might not. You never now. But I think it’s worth trying.
V: And it that doesn’t help, I understand that Jeremy needs like a creative output in the church. He prepares for entire week and nobody cares and listens, right? That’s frustrating! Then, I suggest, somebody else suggested, right?, like playing a recital—separate event, once in a while. That’s a good combination. Or Jeremy and others who would like to have opportunity to regularly prepare in public and appear in public, could record their video and submit it to our Secrets of Organ Playing contest. I remember Laurie telling that, she is already improving in her organ playing, just because of that constant deadline every Monday. And this is I think, wonderful opportunity for people to express themselves if the church doesn’t appreciate, we will appreciate.
V: Our community will appreciate their Youtube performances.
A: And I think it will help for you also to improve your performance anxiety. I would say not improve but reduce your performance anxiety.
V: Mmm-hmm. Yes…
A: Then you will be doing that regularly…
V: Yes, because...
A: Recording yourself...
A: Admitting your recording.
V: When you know that somebody is recording you or even just your smart phone is recording you, you know that you cannot stop—it’s a one time performance, and no matter what, you finish. You could play like several takes and choose the best one, of course. But each take is still you do your best in each take. And in general it’s a very good practice for controlling your nerves.
A: That’s right.
V: Thank you guys. We hope this was useful to you. Please send us more wonderful questions that you come up with. And your struggles, and dreams are very important to us. 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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