Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 250 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast This question was sent by Reggie, and he writes:
Thank you for your question.
In answer to #1, I want to play the pipe organ at my church.
In answer to number 2, I bought my first keyboard a month ago so I am still learning my first piece: Bach Preludio 1.
I practice everyday but I am still internalizing the note and finger positioning. I had some musical training as a child and currently sing in the church choir.
Thanks for asking!
V: So, it seems, Ausra, that Reggie is playing the C Major Prelude, BWV 846 from the Well Tempered Clavier, Part Iago . Could be?
A: Could be, yes.
V: This is a wonderful piece, of course, it has a lot of arpeggio figuration, and even 5-part texture.
A: True, but it’s not that hard.
V: Much easier than the fugue that comes afterward.
A: That’s true. That fugue is one of the hardest, in my opinion.
V: Do you know why Bach chose to write the opening prelude as such an easy piece, and then right away the following fugue very very hard? What’s your hypothesis?
A: Well, do you want to scare people for his new collection? I don’t know. That’s just a joke, but actually if you look at the Well Tempered Clavier, you can find, actually, various preludes. This one is not as hard, but for example, C minor, which is the second one, has a very fast tempo and a toccata like motion, so…
V: But also, that C minor has one figuration extended throughout the prelude, like C major, too.
A: Well, that’s usually the case with most of the preludes.
V: And the fugue here in C major has four parts, and is very complex, because it’s a scholastic fugue.
A: It is! It has that stretto at the end of it, which makes things even harder.
V: Basically, in every measure, you will find the subject of the fugue.
A: True. That’s, true.
V: Maybe Bach wrote such a difficult fugue at the beginning because he was proud of it and he wanted it to be as a model for an entire cycle.
A: Could be, and if you will think about the role of the prelude, prelude was sort of an introduction to the fugue. He had to warm up to set up the key.
V: And, it wouldn’t make sense if the prelude would be even harder than the fugue.
A: True. This usually doesn’t use the polyphonic texture.
V: With some exceptions, of course.
A: Yes, true. There are always exceptions to everything.
V: So, Reggie is struggling with internalizing the note and finger positioning. Which means, that basically, he wants to play without mistakes.
A: True. And I thought about if picking up a repertoire as a beginner is a good way to learn. And, I realized that, of course, you have to play some repertoire, but definitely, you have to work on the technical exercises.
V: Such as?
A: For example, Hannon.
A: Hannon, yes. And scales, arpeggios, chords…
V: Maybe two-part inventions by Bach...
V: ...if Reggie likes Bach’s music.
A: True. I think that the two-part inventions are probably the best way to get acquainted with Bach. Well Tempered Clavier is too hard.
V: Sometimes, I like to sight read music, and whenever I don’t have much time, I open two-part inventions and play a piece or two. It just takes a couple of minutes. What’s a favorite way of sight reading, Ausra?
A: I never thought about it. What do you mean, a particular collection, or a particular composer, or what?
V: Maybe, let’s start with collection.
A: Well, I like to sightread Bach, of course, inventions, but also his suites, French, English, his Partitas.
V: I bet they would sound wonderful on our piano at home.
V: A half step lowered.
V: I see. Do you have some suggestion for Reggie, how to increase finger positioning, which is probably the way of playing an entire passage in one position? Can he transpose a passage and go up and down as an exercise?
A: Yes, well, it could be an exercise, but for this particular prelude, I would suggest for him to play it in chords, first. Don’t do that arpeggiated motion, but to play the full chords to find out what the harmony is about it.
V: And how many parts there are!
A: True, and later on this will help him to play in the right fingering and to play everything smoothly.
V: Recently, I asked my kids at school to find out how many voices there are in this prelude, and nobody could guess that it’s a 5-part texture. Somebody said 4, somebody said 3, because there are 2 voices clearly in the left hand part, and a passage arpeggiated passage in the right hand part, right? But they didn’t think that those three notes in the right hand part are like three separate voices.
V: So 3 + 2 would be a 5-part texture. Excellent. And Reggie wrote that he had some musical training as a child, and also sings now in the church choir. Do you think that helps?
A: Yes, of course. Any kind of musicianship helps. Singing in the choir, too, it develops your pitch!
V: And you get to know what the music director is doing, and sometimes you can observe how they conduct, and even if he becomes better at playing from sheet music and sight reading he can sometimes accompany the choir and play in the church service.
A: Yes, and it’s too bad Reggie didn’t tell how old he is now, because we don’t know how many years he hasn’t practiced since his childhood. So, it’s very hard to say what to do next.
A: What would you suggest if he would be a senior person?
V: Like over 65?
V: That’s a nice age to take up some hobby like organ playing and start practicing more seriously, because when people have more time after the working years, sometimes they have less motivation to do that, right? Because it seems like they are old and everything is behind them, and they cannot improve—which is, of course a total myth, and we have so many senior people to prove otherwise—that they are constantly improving every day. So, if he is over 65, I recommend, of course, to schedule some regular organ practices, or at home on piano, or keyboard, or go to church, if he sings in the choir, ask the musical director to let him do this once in a while… In exchange, he can volunteer sometimes to pay for church services….a hymn or two once in a while, if he feels comfortable. Right? Of course, don’t forget improvising, maybe. It’s a good way to warm up, to get to know your keyboard….things like that I do all the time. It works for me, and I hope it will work for other senior people.
A: Those are very good suggestions.
V: What about if he is just…. You know, he is obviously not a teenager, but let’s say if he is like our age, what would you suggest for him?
A: Well, he could still apply to a music school, maybe.
A: To take a couple of courses.
V: Or, he could prepare for the AGO Service Playing Certificate Test. That would be a great motivation to improve over the course of six months or one year.
A: That’s true. That’s a very good suggestion.
V: Ok, 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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I really appreciate your attention to detail, especially the thoroughness in approach to practice. My original organ teacher of 40 years ago emphasized the need to work in short sections, with much repetition - your approach is the same. Fingering is excellent and incredibly helpful. You explain things very well. I am reviving my long-dormant organ playing skills, and your method is exactly what I need.
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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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