SOPP303: My dream for my organ playing is that I would like to apply for, and be admitted into, a doctoral program in Organ Performance
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 303 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Michael and he writes:
“Hi Vidas and Ausra,
Thank you for your recent email, to which I am now responding late (I apologize).
My dream for my organ playing is that I would like to apply for, and be admitted into, a doctoral program in Organ Performance. I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in Organ Performance.
At this time, I cannot think of three hindrances to my dream, but I can think of one in particular that is proving to be, and has always proved to be, a great problem for me: I am very shy about people hearing my practicing the organ - the repetitions, making mistakes, etc., that attend the process of learning a piece of music.
I am a very introverted person (which I have found is not a very common personality trait amongst organists; at least, not amongst the organists I know personally). I believe that my fear of people hearing my practicing may (at least partially) stem from the shyness and introversion, and perhaps lack of confidence in myself: worrying that people may think I am not a skilled organist if they hear how painstaking practicing can be, and sometimes how tedious the process of learning a piece of music can be (for me, at least). Even at the university, though, where I am surrounded by other graduate music students who understand exactly what I am experiencing with practicing – even there I cannot bring myself to practice on the practice organ, which makes things very difficult for me sometimes, since the practice organ is the organ on which I perform when I receive my weekly lessons, and I really need to play it regularly to continue to be accustomed to its feel and action. What I normally do is practice at the church in the late afternoon or evenings, when I know no one will be present to hear my practicing.
All of this causes me to waste time, and causes me to worry needlessly. I am aware of these things, yet the fear of people hearing me practice has been one with which I have struggled since childhood. Despite the fact that I have been successful enough to work as a church organist, pursue graduate-level Organ Performance studies, and compose, I worry that the shyness and introversion, which, I believe, is the basis, or part the of the basis, of my fear of others hearing my mistakes when I practice – I worry that this will directly harm my efforts to receive an admissions offer in the competitive world of doctoral studies because perhaps my skills will not be as good as they could be if I practiced more regularly. I also worry that my shy personality may indirectly harm my efforts to be admitted into a doctoral program since my non-extroverted, non-showmanship personality (and the music I prefer to play and compose as a result of this personality) may make me seem as though I would be less successful as a graduate of the program than would another more gregarious, “outgoing” applicant, and maybe the conservatory would prefer investing in a person like that rather than me, since my appearance alone may work against me. Sadly, I have found that a very skilled but introverted organist is often (and maybe even usually) unfavorably compared to an organist who is not as skilled, but who has a very extroverted and confident personality.
Thank you so much for your SoundCloud podcast and emails. I have found each podcast and email extremely helpful, informative, and enjoyable, and I am grateful for your work.
V: That’s a long story Ausra but has a very interesting feedback.
A: Yes and he asks some things that I have never thought about.
V: That organists are not usually introvert, right?
A: Well actually I think that it might be wrong for you because I think many organists are extremely introverts because if you choose such an instrument you are probably an introvert because organists spend so much time alone with his or her instrument.
V: Plus the instrument is hidden from the public.
A: Yes in most churches so I think there are probably more introvert organists than extrovert, don’t you think so?
V: Let’s think about our friends. Not all of them obviously, some of them are more outgoing than others just as in life probably.
A: Well but let’s see. Let’s talk about ourselves. Have you ever done any psychological tests to determine your personality?
V: Yeah, I did.
A: So what about the introvert/extrovert thing?
V: I don’t remember exactly those four letters about me but maybe you remember.
A: Well, I remember some of it but every test that I have done showed that I am extremely introvert person. Something like eighty and more percent introvert. I never thought about that problem that somebody would hear me practicing with mistakes. Actually I don’t care about it. The more I care is that I would play well during my actual performance because then it’s real important that I would play without mistakes. So I would like to ask Michael if he feels performance anxiety during his actual performance because this is the moment when most musicians start worrying and get performance anxiety but not afraid of being heard playing with mistakes during rehearsals and another thing is that usually, especially in America, you have pretty well isolated practice rooms so if you are alone in a room nobody can hear you from outside.
V: Umm-hmm. What he’s talking about is studio performance practice when he has to practice on the organ that his weekly lessons are held on, probably. Remember in Nebraska.
A: Yes, I remember we had studio but I wouldn’t call it practice time. It was held once a week and everybody would play what we learned during the week.
V: So maybe in his conservatory is different, maybe he doesn’t have too many isolated practice rooms.
A: But how can you practice organ if somebody else is practicing something else in the same room.
V: I don’t think that people are really sitting in the same room that he is playing there.
A: And you know Michael, what I could you tell is that every person is busy with its own life and nobody really cares about what you are playing and how many mistakes you are making especially during your rehearsal time.
V: Everyone is thinking about themselves, right. Everyone is egoist in a way.
A: And everybody is thinking about their own mistakes, not yours. So I think you need not to worry about it.
V: What I hear in between the lines that he’s not writing actually is that Michael might be a perfectionist who wants to do everything at the top level and if he cannot do it at the top level then he doesn’t do it at all.
A: But if he wants to become a doctoral student it means he needs to practice every day and it doesn’t matter if he will practice at the university or church he needs to do it every day.
V: Adapt this attitude, practice no matter what, right? It’s a professional attitude.
V: You don’t have to be paid actually to be a professional. It’s the mindset that matters, right? If you skip practice because of the weather or how you feel or if you’re tired or you simply not in the mood then you are not a pro and it’s OK not to be a pro actually, I’m not blaming anybody but anyone who wants to excel in this art or any other art form has to adapt an attitude of a pro.
A: Do you think it would matter much if a person who wants to become a doctoral student is extrovert or introvert. How much will this be a deciding point during your admission?
V: I know what you mean, right? There is no discrimination actually. I don’t believe anybody would ask him you are introvert, no, no, we don’t accept introverts, just extroverts. It’s not that way, but if because of his shyness he practices too little and is not advancing well enough and when the time comes to show his skills during the entrance examinations then he is not ready as well as his peers are and that might be a problem.
A: Yes, because if you are thinking about showing yourself bad during interview, if you are too shy to talk with people or professors, well, do all the other things good because you need to play wonderful during your audition, you need to get good recommendations and you need to have really top GPA because I remember when we were applying for doctoral studies our GPA was 4.0 so in U.S. standards that’s the highest so basically we were very competitive and then as I said excellent audition and good recommendations and then how much can the introvert harm yourself. Not too much probably.
V: Not too much. You also need to write essay about your motivation.
A: Not all schools require that but some do.
V: You know, in the end if we summarize our advice I think from my perspective is if you want it badly enough you will overcome your shyness. If you don’t want it badly enough, if it’s not that important, if your shyness is more important, if how others see you is more important to you than how you actually see yourself then you will not overcome your shyness.
A: I think this problem is more related and more applicable to teenagers. I think the teenager are at that age where it’s really important what others think. People get really worried that nobody would laugh at them and sort of not to show themselves too much to be in that crowd. But I think that at mature age and since Michael is in his Masters studies so he is already adult, we don’t have to worry so much about others and about what others think about us. Don’t you think so?
V: I read a good book called “Ignore Everybody” by Hugh MacLeod, cartoonist and blogger who started his career while drawing cartoons on the back of business cards. Basically he writes down 39 key points about creativity and the most important one is “Ignore everybody.” So maybe we could conclude on that our conversation too. Ignore our advice too Michael. Thank you guys, this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: 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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