Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 257 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Glaiza. And Glaiza writes, “Hi, please teach me to do full pedaling in organ.” Well, this is a rather complex and rather unspecific question, right Ausra?
A: Yes, it’s very broad and very unspecific. Because you cannot just take and generally describe all pedaling instances on the organ. Because you could talk about position on the organ bench, how you position yourself, your body; how you would pedal if you would play early music; how you would pedal if you play Romantic music; how you would pedal if you would play modern music; and how you would pedal if you play on a historical instrument; and how you would play a certain piece on a modern instrument.
V: You’re right, Ausra. So maybe we could talk about something that we do, right? Do you write in your own pedaling?
A: Yes, I do. Not for everything; but yes, I do. I write more pedaling than fingering, for myself.
V: What about me?
A: I don’t know, tell us!
V: Aha. So, good question, thank you! I sometimes don’t write pedaling for early music, because it has very strict rules, and I know them. Not only I know, but my body knows it; and I can play as I want without writing it down. But for later music, I guess there are more options, you know? And writing down the best option for me at that time is helpful. Yes. So, okay, talking about those options, Ausra--early music, right? Why do you think they didn’t play with heels, or they didn’t use heels in early times?
A: Well, because on some particular instruments, to use heel would be physically impossible.
V: What was the last instrument that you tried, with the short keys? Where heels were not possible to play?
A: Well, even such an instrument as built by Andreas Hildebrandt in Paslek, Poland I don’t think it would be possible to use heels on that instrument.
V: Right. Do you remember the local organist, what he did in order to facilitate the use of heels--with the bench?
A: I remember, yes--he just turned that bench the other way around!
V: Uh-huh. And then you have more space for your feet! In one way, it’s good, right? He doesn’t damage the organ or pedalboard, or something. He doesn’t need to replace the pedalboard with a modern one. But...I think he used the heels for playing hymns.
A: But I think it’s also unnecessary, while playing such an instrument. I’m just thinking, if you are an organist at a church that has one of the most wonderful historical restored organs, then why use heels? You just torture yourself...and torture the instrument!
V: Maybe it’s difficult to change the habit, you know, that he learned in music school or somewhere else.
A: Well, you can relearn it, anyway, if you are lucky to be on such an instrument every day.
V: Right, so no heels. And then, most of the passages can be done with alternate toes, right?
A: Yes, most of them.
V: Left, right, left, right; or right, left, right, left. But here are exceptions, right? Sometimes we use the same foot, when the passages are in extreme ranges of the pedalboard.
A: That’s right.
V: High or low. What else? Maybe when the note values are very slow?
A: That’s right; and sometimes you use the same foot or toe, when you want to articulate more, if it’s 2 notes in different measures.
V: Yes. And that happens often, when the pedal melody changes direction.
A: That’s right.
V: So if it goes up-up-up-up-up, you use alternate toes; but then if it suddenly goes down, at that moment you use the same foot. And therefore you have an accent.
A: That’s right. And of course when you play early music, you need to put more weight on your big toe. You need to get that feeling that you are actually playing with your big toe.
V: Oh, you need to--I think what you mean is to keep your feet turned inward, right? Not outward.
A: Little bit, yes. Because how else would you put your weight on your big toe?
V: What about the knees?
A: They don’t have to be together.
V: And heels?
A: Heels as well. And that’s what I like about Baroque music.
V: I see. And the later music, right? You can do almost whatever you want, right? Toe and heel, left and right. Are there any instances that you particularly avoid using heels and toes one way?
A: Hahaha! Yes, there is one rule that I avoid. I never put my heel on the sharps!
V: Okay. That’s a good rule.
V: By the way, what if you play that sharp with the right foot, and then at the same time you have to depress the swell pedal? And your left foot is...busy?
A: Then...then I will not use the swell box.
V: Like in Reger, with double pedal.
A: Yes. Then my assistant will have to do it for me!
V: And who’s your best assistant?
V: Thank you. Heheheheh. Now, let’s talk about things that I think will be useful for people to understand when they play scale passages in Romantic and modern music. You know there is that rule, toe-toe-heel-heel, toe-toe-heel-heel; left-right-left-right, but first you depress toe-toe-heel-heel, with different feet. The French technique. And that helps people keep the heels and knees together. Do you like it?
A: Not so much. I don’t think it very well suits my body. Because when I was taught how to play the organ, nobody told me this rule; so I never kept my heels and toes together. And let’s consider it: people have different body constitutions, different weight; and if, for example, for somebody who is overweight--to keep heels and toes together and knees together--I think it’s almost impossible.
V: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. And especially in places where you play in the extreme edges of the pedalboard: lower left, higher right.
A: And I know this technique; I tried it, you know, in the States, when I had to play from the Ritchie-Stauffer technique book. And I can do it, but it gives a sort of...unnecessary tension to my body.
V: Exactly. And I think one more thing could be useful for people to know: that there is a system that some organists play with the left foot on the left side of the pedalboard, and with the right foot on the right side of the pedalboard.
A: In general, my rule when playing Romantic or later music is to see how much swell box I will need to use for a particular piece; and then if I need to use a lot of swell pedal, I try to do as much swell pedaling with my left foot as possible. What about you?
V: I agree, yes. The swell pedal is an important consideration to make right from the start, right? When you make your choices for pedaling. And most of the time, you need to use your right foot for the swell pedal. So, at those spots when you use crescendo pedal or swell pedal, you play with the left foot alone.
A: That’s right.
V: And of course, if you want to learn how to pedal and develop advanced pedal technique suitable for Romantic and modern music, consider joining our Pedal Virtuoso Master Course. We have there total pedal scales and arpeggios over one and two octaves in 24 keys, with single voice and double octaves. You know, after that course--it lasts I think 12 weeks--you can go back to your difficult pedal pieces, and you will find out most definitely that they are not as difficult anymore.
A: That’s right, yes.
V: Thank you, guys. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember, when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
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I have done some training as a monthly subscriber for a few months - did the Bach Little Preludes and Fugues. I particularly appreciate when you have training videos along with the pdfs you post. Your going through an analysis of the piece and pointing out possible tricky areas is helpful to me; I can pick up on things I might have missed on my own. I also find the structure you provide by suggesting practice "chunks" with timetables very helpful - the more structure, the better!
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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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