Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 360 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent sent by Rob, and he writes:
Hello Ausra and Vidas,
Enjoyed the story featuring pointed high heel shoes and what Anders said in today’s post about his organ shoes. So, let me share my organ shoes (well, not literally, of course) with you, Anders and all other readers of your posts.
Nobody plays the organ wearing gloves, it wouldn’t make sense. Yet, in a way, we do wear “gloves” on our feet. (I remember that Rhoda Scott played her Hammond organ pedals with bare feet). Just as much as we need to feel the manuals in our fingers/hands, we need to feel the pedals in our feet. My organ shoes are supple (i.e. not too thick or sturdy) leather shoes with thin leather soles, almost (but not quite) like moccasins. The soles are “slippery” and without patterns or anything like that. These shoes are a snug fit on my feet so my feet can’t move about in them. They are not too tight by any means. They are round shaped where my toes are and have a normal, round heel (certainly not high heels, haha). These shoes enable me to slide over the pedals and dance when required. In shape, as I said they are round (slightly pointed is also an option) so moving from one black key to the next (adjacent) black can easily be done without getting stuck between black keys and white keys. Heel-to-toe movement is natural and without effort. The thin soles allow me to really feel the pedals, and there is the similarity with fingers feeling the keys on the manuals. In these shoes, my feet know the “topography” of the pedal board so it is rarely necessary to look down to direct my feet on sight. These, all in all, are the characteristics of my organ shoes. They are now more than 35 years old (my second pair of organ shoes) and I only wear them when playing the organ. I will never ditch these shoes of course (unless my feet change in future or when these shoes fall apart).
Hope this helps when folks think about/need to select organ shoes. And so, with good organ shoes, pedal miracles will happen! (to put a little twist on your tagline).
Best to both of you and Merry Christmas,
V: That’s, I think, a very interesting story, Ausra. Right?
A: Yes, it seems like Rob is really in love with his organ shoes, because he describes them so carefully and in great detail.
V: Couldn’t they be so flexible and sensitive because they are very old?
A: I think that adds to that, as well, to this quality of being flexible. And of course he loves them, because he has played with them for so many years!
A: I guess when you wear some kind of shoes for so many years, you don’t feel them! You can get a feeling that you’re barefoot, as well!
V: Right. So, playing without shoes, barefoot, is quite tricky, and not practical at all, actually!
V: Because, the pedal board is messy and dusty.
A: You may have to vary your playing socks! You come to church and bring your socks, you know, and change them!
V: With socks there is a possibility, but then I think you damage your socks pretty easily and soon. I think if you have leather soles on your woolen socks, that might better. But you still need the heel!
A: Sure. And let me talk a little bit about comparing the manual part with that pedal part. I don’t think it’s a fair thing to compare these two, and to put an equality sign between them. Because, look at the score—how many notes you have to play with your hands, and how many with your feet—and you will notice a great difference. So, I don’t think it’s comparable, you know, the difficulty of the pedal—playing pedals—and playing the manuals. I think in general that the problems with playing pedals are greatly exaggerated. That’s what I feel about it. And also, that problem of finding the right shoes is also greatly exaggerated. Because, I think that hitting the right key in the pedal board is not so much of having the right shoes as it is having the right muscle memory.
V: And it also depends on how many organs you have played. If you’re playing just one organ, than you can really play with your eyes closed!
A: True, because that muscle memory develops.
V: If you have played five organs, and you have to switch to the sixth organ, then I think the problem is apparent right away. But, it reduces with each new instrument that you try, I think.
A: True! And let’s say you are a beginner and you play on one instrument, only, and you get fairly comfortable with that pedal board, and then you move to the next organ with the same shoes, actually, and you see that you cannot hit the right keys, and you have to look.
V: Yes, I have experienced that many times!
A: Have you changed your shoes? No! If you just changed the pedal board, that’s where the problem is.
V: Exactly! If you have a problem with playing pedals, change the pedal board!
A: I don’t mean that, but that’s a great idea!
V: Yeah, until you find the perfect one.
A: True. And also, I wanted to comment a little bit about that Rob said that you don’t play organ with gloves on your arms, and that’s not exactly true, because sometimes you use the gloves when you are playing in Lithuania in Winter in the middle of a no-heat church. You use gloves. Of course, you just have to cut off the tips of the fingers.
V: I’ve played in them many times. They’re quite good for keeping the fingers warm.
A: Maybe you will not be able to play a very virtuosic piece with things like this on your hands, but still, you will be okay with hymns or simple pieces.
V: Simple pieces, yes. Improvisations. Some churches now are heated, luckily.
A: Some. Way too few, I think.
V: Right. Just a few days ago, organ builder Janis Kalninš, from Latvia, came to visit our church, and he brought a colleague organist from Poland, Andrzej Szadejko, who wanted to try out our instrument in our church, and he played there for about one hour or so, and then we talked. He was surprised that it was so warm in our church.
A: Well, it’s heated!
V: And I asked him if many churches in Poland are heated, and he said, “no.”
A: And it’s a big country, so it has many churches.
V: Right. Of course, our situation is different, because our church is owned by the university.
A: Well, but also, you know, I don’t think that the university first installed the heating system, it happened during the Soviet times, because the church was converted into the museum of science, and that’s when they added those radiators. Plus, this year, this last Summer we had such hot weather all the time, and even in September, so the temperature got pretty high.
V: And with each degree when you have a rising in the Summer, the temperament and the pitch level rises, also. Approximately 1 Hz per one degree, I could say. So, if you have about 440, in 18 degrees Celsius, then you will have 441 when you have 19 degrees. When you have 20 degrees, 442, something like that. In the Winter it’s lower, then.
V: Okay, so, I guess Rob’s points are very valid here: You need to think carefully about how to select organ shoes, and sometimes your first choice is not the most fitting one.
A: That’s right.
V: And that’s okay, right? You have to look around and try out several organ shoe pairs. And one final advice would be probably to look at dancer’s shoes. Right?
A: And, I think we have talk about it before.
V: Dancer’s shoes are very similar to organ shoes, and there are more dancers than organists in the world, I guess, so therefore, dancer’s shoes are more popular and easier to find.
A: Well, not every dancer’s shoes will fit for the organ.
V: Exactly. And, the feet are like the third hand to me. Right? You need to treat your feet playing like one additional hand. Don’t you agree, Ausra?
V: Say “yes!”
A: So, still, I think hands are more important.
V: Yes, but together, you have in one hand you have five fingers. With both feet, you have 4 options to play the pedals. toe toe, and heel heel.
A: So you have 10 fingers in your hands, yes, and 4 fingers in your feet?
V: Exactly. That’s what I was trying to say.
V: Okay, guys, thanks for sending these questions. We’re hoping to help you grow, so please keep sending them in the future. 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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