SOPP351: Maybe it is a good idea to make a particular podcast or a course about "optimal hymn pedaling for beginners"
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 351 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent sent by Lev, and he writes:
Thank you for the hints. Maybe it is a good idea to make a particular podcast or a course about "optimal hymn pedaling for beginners" if one doesn't already exist.
V: Ausra, Lev has sent me a few of his pedaling choices for a few hymns that he is working on to correct for him. And at first, he made, in my view, some choices that need to be changed, but then little by little, I think in the third hymn, he already started to do this very efficiently, and almost like I would do it. So, people are progressing, and I’m very glad.
A: Yes, it’s very nice to know.
V: If you were a beginner, imagine yourself like 25 or 30 years ago, and if somebody asked you to play a hymn from a hymnal in church, remember, you worked at Holy Cross church, but not necessarily as a beginner, but still close, I think.
A: But sometimes I just think that you don’t know how old I am, and how old I was when I started to play organ.
V: Oh, please, reveal!
A: Because if you said, “30 years ago,” I definitely hadn’t played organ yet.
V: So, when? How long was that?
A: Well, never mind, but yes, I remember when I worked at the Holy Cross Church, and it was my second year of playing organ. I was almost 19 years old at that time.
V: 90 or 19?
A: 19! Okay, stop teasing me, because I lost my thought. So, when I was just a beginner organist at Holy Cross Church, not the pedal part was that hard for me, but understanding all the liturgy and knowing the Mass so well that I could follow it, and come right on time, with all those answers that are not as easy in the Catholic Mass, at least for a beginner.
V: The order of the Mass was more difficult for you than pedal playing.
A: True! And it’s really funny, because in general, I knew the order of Mass very well by that time. But since I knew it from, let’s say, downstairs…
V: From the listener perspective.
A: Yes. It was a very different thing to be upstairs and to play for it.
V: To lead.
A: Well, yes. But of course, I played with the pedal, and I don’t know how well I pedalized… was it right or wrong? I had no idea, at that time, what I’m doing.
V: I thought once that left foot should play the notes on the left side of the pedal board, and the right foot should play the right notes on the pedal board.
A: Well, at least you played some with the pedal, because as it’s often in Lithuania, organists don’t use the pedal at all!
V: Church organists, you mean.
V: Ok, so I think we talked about it, and have written quite a few posts about hymn pedaling, but not only hymn pedaling, in general pedaling, because we have to treat hymns as real organ compositions, I think.
A: Of course! They are real compositions!
V: But they’re very short, like maybe one minute long, one verse, and relatively easy to learn. And I think we could remind our listeners of some of the more important points about choosing the best pedaling. For me, it’s first of all looking at the date of the hymn. When was it created? Why is it important, Ausra?
A: Because, I think, the date determines what type of pedaling you need to use! Either you just need to use toes, or heels as well!
V: Yes, and starting from 19th century, we could start to use heels, but not always, right? Still, I think whenever possible, alternate toe works well all the time. But in Romantic hymns, 19th century hymns and 20th century hymns, we have more options. Okay, so if the hymn is created in the early days, before the 19th century, what’s the most common technique, Ausra?
A: The same as playing Bach, or any Baroque composition.
V: So, you mean alternate toe pedaling?
A: That’s right!
V: Left-right-left-right or right-left-right-left. But then there are exceptions, obviously. You can’t apply this technique all the time.
A: Sure, of course there are, as in any composition.
V: And exceptions are that you need to play with the same foot when the melody changes direction, when there are very long note values—in hymns there are not very many instances like that—but the third instance is, I think, when notes are very far in the edges of the pedal board, either in the base or in the treble.
A: Of course, because they are very hard. In the bass, you definitely want to play it with your left foot only.
V: For your physique, what’s convenient to you? What’s the lowest note that you could play with the right foot?
A: Well, probably… maybe I could do G.
V: Me, too. G is still okay. And after G, I play with the left foot, most of the time. I could do somethings with the right, but also as an exception. And in the top range, what do you do then?
A: Well, probably A is the highest note for my left foot.
V: So it depends what’s the highest note on the pedal board.
V: We almost always have the lowest note of the pedal board as C, but the top note varies. So from G to C in the bottom octave—it’s a perfect fifth. I suspect that also we need to look at the interval of the perfect fifth in the top range, and play the fifth below that top note with the left foot. And above that, only with the right foot. Conveniently, I mean.
A: Well, yes. I’m talking about these extremes.
V: Yeah. A seems like a doable thing for a lot of people. And then, of course, there is an instance when you could repeat the same foot before the strong beat, in order to articulate.
A: Yes, that helps.
V: Okay, so that was for early type of hymns. If you have modern hymns, I think you have more choices, but also more freedom. Where would you start, your method?
A: Well, it’s as you know, you just pedaling it as you would pedal any Romantic composition.
V: And, what would that look like?
A: You could use legato technique in the pedal. It means you use not only toes, but also heels. So, it gives you more choices.
V: Obviously, when you have sharps, you play with the toes.
A: Obviously, of course, because that’s how our physiology works. And I don’t think anyone could do vice versa.
V: In legato technique, normally we could play with heels and toes, and vice versa, two adjacent notes, which are one step apart.
A: Yes, and in these types of hymns the organists shoes are very important, too. As you know, in earlier music we can play whatever, but here we need real organ shoes.
V: With about 2 inches of heels. 2 inches or 3 centimeters, something like that. In our organ studio, Unda Maris, there is one older student who has now acquired special shoes, but they are not organ shoes, but he uses them for playing organ only. And they’re a little bit too long for him. So, he’s struggling with hitting the wrong sharps.
A: That’s, I think, a very bad idea to play with those shoes that are too big for you. They need to on the edge, actually.
V: And when he’s placing his toes on the edge of the sharp keys, then the end of the shoe is actually in the middle of the key.
A: That’s horrible.
V: Maybe he will find something else, too. So that’s the general observations, and I think the more you play, the more variety you practice, I think the more experience you’ll get, too, and the process will become easier to you.
A: That’s right, I think everything comes with experience and with practice.
V: And it’s natural to be bad before you get to be good. It’s at anything.
A: Well, I still think that it’s not pedaling that’s the hardest thing in hymn playing, but the left hand. The tenor voice. That’s my opinion.
V: That’s why I think too many people play bass and tenor in the left hand, and they double the bass line in the pedals as well, which is not good.
A: Yes, I noticed that quite a few times.
V: Okay guys, we hope this was useful to you. 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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