Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 307, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Tamara. And she writes:
I have been following your Secrets of Organ Playing emails—very helpful, thank you!
Do you recommend total legato for hymn playing in any situation? I did learn and follow the 4 ways to render a hymn in the Ritchie book (Chapter 7). It seems that the best, most efficient hymn playing is balance of legato and articulation, distributed among the SATB parts.
V: Mmm. That’s a very specific question, Ausra.
A: Yes, it is.
V: And the way I remember Dr. Ritchie teaches is, and Quentin Faulkner too—is if the hymn is created after 1800’s, then you play it legato. And if it’s an earlier hymn then your articulate. Very simple, or not?
A: Yes. Sounds about true, but you always need to look at the specific keys and the specific hymn too. Because there are sometimes later, composed hymns that you also need to articulate.
V: Right. It could be like Neo–classical style.
A: That’s right. And there are also specific hymns that might be created, at least the melody might be created earlier, for example, based on Gregorian chant, that you want to play legato for example because it sounds better that way.
V: Mmmm. So Gregorian chant sounds better with less articulation, you think.
V: Oh. Interesting.
A: I think so. At least for my ear.
V: If I create, for example, a hymn tune today, but it’s in baroque style, or ancient style, this too should be played probably with articulation, or not? Because it’s 21st Century.
A: It depends on the style.
V: If the style is earlier than,,, How would you play my music, Ausra? Would you play my music at all?
A: Which one?
A: I don’t think so, but,,,
V: Nobody wants to play my music. Not even Ausra. Okay, guys. Let’s stop for a second to cry, and then after we done crying, we’ll continue. Okay! I’m done crying. Now, Tamara says that the “most efficient hymn playing is balance of legato and articulation, distributed among [the] SATB parts”. What do you think she means by that, Ausra?
A: I think that what she says?
V: Balance of legato and articulation?
A: Maybe by that she means that you play, I don’t know, soprano legato and you articulate other voices, or maybe that you take breaks, articulate between phrases. I’m not sure.
V: Or maybe, it’s articulate legato. You know,,,
A: Oh. Could be.
V: Mix between legato and non-legato.
A: But in general, I always look actually, when I take a hymn, I look not at when it was written. I look at the musical structure. I look on the particular organ that they had to play that hymn. I look in the space if it’s reverberant, or if it’s dry. I’m thinking if I will be singing it solo or congregation will sing it too. Because in general, the more reverberant room is, the more articulate you have. Even if a hymn is written legato, you will have to do some articulation between phrases. Because if people are singing, the need to take a breath. Music needs to breathe.
V: The monster never breathes. Who said that? Stravinsky, I think, about organ.
A: Well so maybe...
V: Stravinsky didn’t know that articulate legato playing style at that time.
A: Could be. I think it was part forgotten during his lifetime. So...
V: Mmm-hmm. So let’s make organ breathe, right, guys? Let’s make it actually sing. Without breathing there is no singing, right? You have to sing yourself. Imagine you are singing with the congregation. That’s the easiest thing. You don’t have to sing soprano part, you can sing middle voices, or the bass. That’s up to you. But if you sing, you naturally have to breathe.
A: That’s right. And of course, it also depends on the tempo that you are playing the hymn to. The slower you play, the more breaks you have to take.
V: Does it, come easily, this type of articulation or not, Ausra, for people, or for you? Let’s say for you personally. Do you remember your first attempts at hymn playing? How did you feel?
A: Well, when I just started to play hymns at church, I actually didn’t think so much about either to play them legato or non–legato.
A: I had other concerns at that time.
V: Such as?
A: How do not miss the place in the mass where the hymn should sound; how don’t miss pedal keys, and don’t mess them up. And all that liturgical struggle.
V: Will the people complain to the priest after your playing?
A: No. Well...
A: There was one lady who thought that especially you play too fast.
V: You mean myself? Vidas?
A: Yes. And I’m playing a little bit better because I’m playing a little bit slower. But still not slow enough for them, because he wanted to drag the hymns, and to slow them down as much as possible. That way mass would never end.
V: This was one of my last church service playings in that church.
A: Yes. That’s right.
V: (Laughs). Yes. I guess in every congregation you have people like that—complaining and going to the priest or pastor, and telling them how things should be around there. Because they know better.
V: So you say you didn’t think about articulation at the beginning?
A: Yes. At that time, yes, I didn’t think about it because I had much more things to think about.
V: For me, I don’t remember, maybe in America I started to think about articulating hymns, more, than in Europe. Is the same for you?
A: Yes. True.
V: Everything changed when we went to America, somehow. We started thinking differently. Maybe teaching style was different, right, and more clear, and more specific, and things were explained to us in a way that, at that age and stage of our development, we could understand. Of course we already had masters degree from Lithuania, so we weren’t beginners there, but it was good to do a second masters degree, and doctoral degree after that too. Don’t you think?
V: Okay, guys. Try to experiment with many playing styles when you encounter hymn playing. Because every century requires its own rendering of legato or articulation. Don’t you think, Ausra?
A: Yes. That’s right.
V: Mmm-hmm. So, thank you guys for listening, for sending these thoughtful questions. We think that when you apply our, sometimes advice, sometimes feedback, sometimes just experiences to your playing, for some people it’s really helpful. Not for everyone, right? Because some people have their own opinions and that’s okay. Because we also have our own opinions about things. And Ausra’s opinions sometimes are different from my opinion, right, Ausra?
V: Would you, Ausra, like that my opinion would be the same, like yours?
A: I can’t imagine that!
V: (Laughs). What about me? Do you think I would love that?
A: I don’t think so.
V: We like to argue. Then we wouldn’t have anything to argue about.
A: Yes. We love to fight.
V: Yes. At least in drawings.
A: That’s right.
V: Okay. Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. 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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