Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 332 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Steven and he writes:
“Good morning Vidas,
Hope all is well with you.
Thank you very much for your helpful podcasts. Today and tonight I accompanied several choral numbers and performed a few hymns and Campra's Rigaudon at a very large venue out of town on a very large pipe organ. I'm nearly 70 years old, my memory isn't all that bad any more but it's not quite as quick to store information as it used to be. When I perform at the organ I'm finding it necessary to sight read a good deal more than I used to. I was familiar with the music and the instrument but hadn't performed it there in about 15 years and was given only about a month's notice to get things prepared. The instrument is fully playable with electropneumatic action but has a few quirks -- most noticeably a very deep key fall with stiff action on the pedal keys and very weak manual key springs to where the slightest touch makes an electrical contact to pull pallets. This can cause a lot of strange notes to enter when they shouldn't and leads to a lot of mistakes when playing the pedals. It's like your hands are playing on a soap bubble and your feet are playing in mud.
I practiced the music beforehand every day for two weeks, 3 hours a day, to the point where my bottom was even sore to sit on the bench. Last night, due to the excitement, I was unable to get a restful night's sleep and kept waking up every hour, knowing I had to get up very early this morning and leave in the dark to get there on time. I believe I practiced too hard for too long, as I know my playing is much better than what my listeners heard today and tonight, and, to be perfectly honest, I was disappointed with myself. Worst I've ever done. By the time I finished tonight it felt like my mind was brain dead, rebelling against details, and I felt exhausted. Practice is necessary and good, but too much of a good thing can also not be so good. Or so it seemed to me, today.
On the way home it occurred to me that this could be something you and Ausra might address in a possible podcast, as many times we don't practice enough. But we can also overdo it the other way, too. By the time I played the closing hymn tonight I was too spent and worn out to even sight read the notes any more and made many, many mistakes. I played this same hymn hundreds, maybe thousands, of times before and knew it forwards and backwards. But my mind just wasn't working. This is not at all like me. I'm thinking a good night's sleep the night before and more moderate practice habits are in store for me, and perhaps some advice about how to arrive at a balance at this would be helpful to others too. We know we can try too little and practice too little. We can also try too hard, which can hold us back. Maybe also, we can practice too much. We can get too little rest. A sleep aid might help some of us, but, then again, something like that could make some of us sleep through the alarm clock and wake up too late to get there on time.
If you could shed some light on how to get in the middle of the road with this, I believe it would be very helpful to others as well as myself. It's hard not to get discouraged when things like this happen to us.
V: Wow, this is a long story Ausra.
A: It is.
V: Have you fallen asleep while I was reading?
A: No, it was very interesting.
V: Good. It was interesting to me too because we all have those experiences when we practice too little and when we practice too much.
A: So I would say the middle way would be the best like moderation in everything that we do but unfortunately that not always is the case.
V: Do you think people usually or most of the time practice too little or too much?
A: Usually too little but for example it is better for me when my pieces are not quite ready when I perform them and that way I stay more focused because if I am over-prepared then I’m sort of calmer and can’t focus so much.
V: Less alert.
V: You are playing like for yourself and not like in public then.
V: Which might sound a good thing but it isn’t.
A: That’s right.
V: Or it might be a good thing but it necessarily is in your case.
A: Yes, so now it’s sort of strange that Steve was afraid of over-sleeping because usually if you play concerts they are in the evenings, most of them, or late at night and that’s a problem for me because I’m not a night person. I’m more a morning person and for me it would be much easier to get up early in the morning and to play a recital earlier or during the first half of the day. But when I have to play recital at 7:00 or 7:30 or even later at night it’s hard for me because I cannot be in good shape so late at night because I never take a nap for example. I can’t take a nap so it’s really difficult. What about you?
V: As I understand Steve was waking up due to the excitement last night and unable to get good sleep and waking up every hour, right, because of the excitement. Maybe he was nervous, it felt like things might not go well and he was stressed out. Maybe that’s why he couldn’t fall asleep and stay asleep. With me, usually when I play the night before is OK, the week before is OK, and at this point even the day of the recital is OK. I no longer feel that my fears are helpful so I kind of don’t pay attention to my fears. I do feel approaching due date. Even when we are recording this, this is Wednesday and my own recital is coming up on Saturday. I’ll be playing organ works by Teisutis Makačinas, a living Lithuanian composer who is celebrating 80 years anniversary this year. He was Ausras’ and my harmony and polyphony teacher.
V: Professor, right. He will be there too and I will be playing three of his large scale organ works but I do everything I can do during this week to prepare myself, to practice better and to be ready but I know that being afraid of this upcoming recital and thinking about it during the night doesn’t lead me anywhere, right? So then I kind of disconnect a little bit from that feeling. Maybe that’s because I have been playing recitals for more than 25 years.
A: Well the more you play, the more often you perform in public the easier it gets for you to do it because if you are performing each week then you could not allow yourself to not sleep a night before recital. You would get too many restless nights and you would ruin your health. So if you have trouble sleeping before recital I would suggest either herbal teas and if that doesn’t help there are probably pills. Consult your physician.
V: Umm-hmm. So Steve also needs to perform more I guess in order not to have a big deal out of this.
A: Yes, because it seems like it was very big deal for him and that’s where all that excitement came from.
V: Yes. He wrote that he accompanied several choral numbers and performed a few hymns, and Campra’s Rigaudon. So one solo piece, right, was kind of this Rigaudon, and then he performed a few hymns which is also not solo music, it’s just congregational accompaniment, and then choral accompaniment of several numbers. So it wasn’t even a solo recital that he did. Obviously he needs to perform much more and much more intricate music and more often and on different organs that he wouldn’t get too stressed out about each and every recital or performance. That would be my best advice for him and others.
A: And for me I got the impression that Steve a little bit blamed the instrument that he was playing on.
A: I like his comparisons about feeling that he plays pedals in the mud. I think that’s so human-like that anything got wrong or not as well as we expected that we are trying to find something to put blame on and for organists it’s usually the instrument. Do you think it’s fair?
V: To blame others?
A: To blame the instrument.
V: Or the instrument. Sometimes we blame other people.
V: Or the audience, or choir members, or people who make noise, or construction workers on the street, or anybody else but myself. So yes, imagine a situation if Steve could have played well on this instrument without major mistakes and he was happy then his letter might have sounded much different to us than from what he wrote. Maybe the action of the instrument wouldn’t be a problem then.
A: Yes, and for me I got the impression that it was not a problem because he worked too much on these pieces before this recital. I think it was the main problem that he actually could not rest the night before.
A: And that’s why it was hard for him to go through that recital without many mistakes and as he wrote that in the last hymn he couldn’t sight-read through, he made too many mistakes. I guess he just didn’t have enough energy left and that’s because of that restless night.
V: Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we don’t make mistakes, sometimes we get good sleep, sometimes we don’t, right? Things happen that we can’t control and even it’s not up to us sometimes, right? And we still have to get up and go to the organ bench and play to the best of our ability, right? That’s what we do as professionals and have you ever played Ausra, recital while being sick or feeling sick.
A: Oh yes, not once.
V: Not once, me too.
A: And without sleeping much the night before.
V: How did it go?
A: Well surprisingly enough those recitals went even better for me than like regular recitals. Because again when I didn’t feel well, when I would be very tired I would have to concentrate more.
A: Otherwise I would just know that I would collapse on the organ.
V: But again, this is your experience of playing more than 25 years in public. Maybe somebody like Steve while being sick and without rest couldn’t perform at all. Maybe he would be tempted to cancel his performance at the last minute.
A: Well sometimes I think it’s better to cancel your recital than to do a sloppy job. Don’t you think so?
V: But you don’t know if will do a sloppy job beforehand or not.
A: You never know but if you are really sick.
V: It depends, right? If you have a fever and can barely walk out of bed then maybe it’s better to cancel, right? But I also played recitals while having high temperature and as you say it went surprisingly well.
A: But you took a big risk, not because I actually didn’t care about that recital at all, I just cared about your health.
A: Because playing with high fever you might really damage your heart and might not be able to perform at all after that.
V: You know I knew that before and for that particular recital, this was improvisation recital…
A: No, it wasn’t improvisation recital, it was a Christmas recital. You played Christmas repertoire.
V: Oh, I played more than one while being sick then.
A: This was with a high fever that you had.
V: So then I think I played without too much tension from myself, conscious effort. I thought I would play just like for myself or for you, not for others and that helped me relax and somehow overcome this, right? OK so sleep well, get some rest, get good rest before recital and perform more in public, more often, with different programs, and gradually more difficult programs too, more solo pieces. Thank you guys, this was very interesting to discuss. Please keep sending us 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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