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And now let's go to the podcast for today.
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 367, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Leon. And, he writes:
Galsworthy encouraged Streatfeild to know three times more than she needed to about whatever she chose to write. Does it take three times the knowledge of music to be able to compose?
V: So this question Ausra, is taken from our correspondence with Leon, and he sent me a link to the biography of an English author, Mary Noel Streatfeild, who is best known for her children’s book, including the ‘Shoes’ Book. And this citation which John Galsworthy, English novelist and playwright, that wrote the Forsyte Saga, basically suggests that Galsworthy recommended for Streatfeild to read three times as much as she writes as a writer, right? To read more than you would write. It makes sense, actually, right? You cannot really write anything of value if you are not knowledgeable about your field. You have to get expertise by reading many books.
A: True and you have to increase your vocabulary.
V: I just wrote to him that for example, Voltaire recommended reading 100 books in order to be able to write one. So it was maybe different area, different, maybe background. He was maybe talking about encyclopedic knowledge, not necessarily life experiences. But Leon is wondering about how it relates or translates to musical composition.
A: Well, it’s obviously that since very early times, composers studied each others music. Think about young Bach, what he did when he copied the scores from his brothers library, at night in secret. It means that it meant a lot to him and he learned a lot from those scores. Because can you imagine just writing by your hand, copying all those scores? It’s a long process.
V: And by this process, that was one of the main exercises to learn copying…
V: Other composers music.
A: And I think now we are missing this much because we are not copying by hand and sometimes it’s probably would be a nice thing to copy something by hand.
V: I actually did…
A: Just really internalize it.
V: I copied C major invention by Bach. Taken not from modern edition but from his handwriting.
V: Just for fun, you know, like, Pamela is also very, Pamela Ruiter–Feentra, our former professor, is very enthusiastic about copying by hand so, she knows the value because she did the research about Bach and improvisation. So then, I thought maybe I could also try copying just one to see. I didn’t notice any miracles happening right away, but maybe that’s because it was just a single piece.
A: You need to write down, to rewrite and copy all of his inventions. Anyway...
A: Now I think we have all this modern technique that allows us to copy easily things.
V: Too easily.
A: Yes. Too easily.
V: Mmm-hmm. Things get too fast for us.
A: Yes. But now I think that it would be very beneficial if many young composers would try to study other composers as well not just create their own music. Because what is happening right now in Lithuania, maybe in other countries too, that there are so much more people who are creating music and composing music, that it’s sort of like a new fashion.
A: Really. Because, like in our school, earlier, we would have very little students who will study composition. But now it’s almost like a, I don’t know, infectious disease.
V: You mean like a fashion?
A: Yes, like a fashion. Let’s say if you are incapable of playing instrument well, or you are incapable of doing something in the music well, ‘oh, okay, I’ll be a composer’. That’s a new fashion and it’s just bad and it makes me really sick and upset and I think it’s a very, very, very bad thing—very bad tendency.
V: You know what they say, Ausra, ‘those who cannot play, create. Those who cannot create, teach. Those who cannot teach, criticize’. (Laughs)
A: Well, I guess there might be some part of truth of each of the saying, maybe not entirely true but there is certain true about it. And I cannot force myself to perform a music, by let’s say by a contemporary so-called composer that I cannot respect—that I know that let’s say he or she or whatever, cannot do something for themselves with the music. Because I know instances for example, people who have no, or I would say, a man who has no musical pitch…
A: Composes. And believe me, I have heard these stories both in the United States and in Lithuania as well.
A: Because now we have all wonderful technology, all this music systems, Sibelius and so on and so forth, that any of us can compose.
V: It’s a double edge sword, or knife.
A: But do I really need to spend my time, to waste my time of learning a composition that is written by somebody that…
V: Cannot perform.
V: Cannot play.
A: And cannot hear what he or she writes.
V: Uh-huh. By hearing you mean that they need to play back the music to them in order to hear it. They don’t hear it inside their head.
A: Not only that, I’m not talking only about inner pitch, I’m talking about musical pitch at all.
A: Yes. In general.
V: So serious then.
A: It’s very serious. It’s really serious, so now when talking about contemporary composers you really need to select carefully that you wouldn’t waste time for worthless music. I’m sorry to say it but so it is—at least that’s my point of view.
V: Wouldn’t you think that people somehow should—your not talking about people, your not suggesting for people to stop creating, no? You are advocating for people to start developing other skills in their vocabulary, that they could actually understand the music they’re creating, and even sometimes perform. If it’s their instrument of course.
A: Well because if you would look at the back at the musical history, all the great composers, their performances, well, and they started by performing other composers music and studying other composers music.
A: And now some of these young composers, that they cannot play, that they haven’t studied enough other compositions, they start to create music of their own.
V: You mean like reinvent the wheel?
V: They don’t know what came before them, and they think ‘oh, I have a clever idea. Nobody else had it before, and maybe I will be unique.’
A: Well, be honest. By now, I think all those possibilities are almost exhausted…
A: And if you do something a little more creative than another, it doesn’t mean anything, at least for me. Because trying to compose without having this good musical education or this understanding about musical history, about other composers, not having any skills of yourself, it’s like building a house from roof.
V: Maybe what hasn’t been done enough, is to create music out of combinations of various different elements. For example, let’s say you like this genre of the fugue, but fugues have been written thousands and thousands of times before. It’s nothing new. But you could take another genre and combine it with the fugue. And maybe it has been done also, so maybe you need three things to mix in this pot to be at least partly original. What do you think, Ausra?
A: Yes, I think it’s a good thing.
V: But for this to happen, just like Leon says, or Galsworthy, you need to be knowledge about other works that came before you and read a lot and basically sight-read a lot, study other works, so that you could take those elements with your, within reason.
A: Yes. And you know what I’m talking and criticizing in this podcast, I don’t think it applies let’s say for church musicians. Let’s say you are an organist, and you really need to have a new hymn composed or any kind of composition for your liturgical works, you can easily do that, because you know what you really need. And it’s I think very fine and I encourage people doing that.
A: Because sometimes we really need to know good liturgical works right away and you know what, let’s say what our choir is capable of singing, or what we are able to play or what our congregation likes, but I’m talking about that sort of very high professional composers who pretend to very high professionals.
A: Yes, academic, and who creates sort of non-sensical piece and want to push it to international festival to be performed, let’s say by a great orchestra.
A: I’m talking about these kind of things.
A: I’m talking that nowadays, maybe ambition of some young composers are way too high, for let’s say the beginners.
V: But you know, what I can relate a little, at least a little bit, partially—I can understand a little bit why they are ignoring other composers, other works of previous generations—because they want to be original, right? And that’s the thing that matters—novelty, originality, uniqueness. And they feel that everything was created and so it’s better even not to bother with old stuff and start from scratch, in their mind. That’s how they think maybe.
A: I’m not telling that you have to copy all composers, that’s not what I’m meaning, and that’s not what I’m telling. I’m just telling that before composing your own you need to know that history. It will enrich your understanding about things.
V: Definitely. Yeah.
A: Because I think it’s very fascinating that if you think about music that it’s only twelve different notes, and all that music was made and created out of only twelve notes. It’s truly amazing.
V: Mmm-hmm. And if you know the history of music, you can better be equipped of creating the future of music.
A: True. Because I really think that music needs to have substance. It needs to have it’s form.
V: But again, this is within reason. I know one professor in musical academy in Lithuania who is probably world-class expert in musical history and musical theory in general, analysis. And he knows everything that there is to know. And he’s already in his 70’s I believe. And only a few years ago he started to compose, because he said to one of his students, ‘now I know everything, and now I’m ready to create.’ Which is kind of craze to me.
A: Well I that preparation time for composing for every person is different.
V: But waiting until you are seventy…
A: I think it’s okay.
A: Well, sometimes it’s enough to write one genial composition for people to remember you.
V: But don’t you think that this professor knew enough to start with, like twenty, thirty years ago?
A: Well you just can do whatever you want with your life. You cannot do something others lives. You cannot enforce people to do what you want.
V: Silence! Let’s listen to the snow.
A: Vidas is, to wake up my words, because I don’t think he likes them so much.
V: I’m just saying that, no, you cannot influence others, of course. You’re right. And...
A: You can do influence. You can try to do influence, but you cannot force them to do what you want.
A: And sometimes I think when you want to make influence for somebody, you need to find subtle ways to do it, rather than push forward.
V: Let me then clarify a little bit my thought: I think that particular professor didn’t create music, not because he wasn’t knowledgeable enough to begin with, maybe decades ago, but maybe he had another reason. He was telling official reason, and he had another true reason. What do you think?
A: Probably yes.
V: That’s more plausible explanation.
V: Right? Because why did he start now? Maybe...
A: Maybe now he has more free time.
V: Oh! That’s right. That’s right.
A: Because some people cannot create when they are under pressure under all kind of activities—working, raising family, doing all kind of stuff. And maybe now it’s time in his life when he can do it and enjoy it.
V: Okay guys, we hope this was useful to you. Please send 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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