Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 372 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Jonathan and he writes:
“Reaching a third with left foot when above middle C. Here's an example. In the "10 Day Pedal Playing Challenge" in exercise No 3, the left foot needs to stretch for thirds a number of times in the area above middle C. I can barely reach middle C to the E above; this is with toe on middle C and heel on E above. Any higher combinations (and the exercise wants me to use my left foot as high as F above middle C reaching to A) is impossible for me. I've made sure I've been pivoting to the right. I've tried lowering and raising the bench. I've moved the bench closer and farther away. I've been working on ankle flexibility for the two years I've been studying organ. Perhaps some of us just aren't built that way. (My left leg is shorter than the right. And my upper legs are long and lower legs are short, compared to the average person's build.)
Is it okay to reverse the parts of the left foot used - to begin with the heel and end with the toe, when ascending, if I can't do what the pedal notation asks for? Or should I try something else?”
V: Ausra first of all I would suggest that any person who feels stress on the ankles or legs would not torture himself or herself.
V: This is rather dangerous, right?
A: It is and of course I understand the meaning of this exercise, why you sometimes need to play a lot with your left foot even in quite a higher range because a lot of music is created in romantic and later period has this kind of thing that you have to leave your right foot for using of the swell box mainly, that’s very often the case so in terms of learning such music you need to do as much work with your left foot as possible. But of course you don’t have to hurt yourself and if somebody it’s really impossible for you a particular exercise or particular piece you need to know to find other solutions.
V: Because in real life for example if the reason you had to use your left foot alone for those intervals of thirds was that the right foot was occupied with the swell box, right? Imagine a piece like that by Cesar Franck for example, and you cannot do it, then you simply would probably avoid using the swell box in this case.
A: Yes, I guess so.
V: Right? And use both feet in that place. This is acceptable because swell box is just for expression purposes, it’s not life or death situation. Ankle strain might be some complications for your body condition and feeling well.
A: Yes, and as Jonathan said in his letter that everybody has a little bit different body construction, and proportion of legs and hands and entire body so you really need to adjust yourself.
A: And if something is very, very uncomfortable for you it means that maybe this particular spot doesn’t work for you in that way and you need to change it because your body sends you a signal that something is probably wrong.
V: You know I wrote to Jonathan that technique set ups the person and not the other way around. It’s good to have some virtuosic moves from your ankle and it’s like something to be proud of but it doesn’t replace real music, right? Jonathan is talking about 10 Day Pedal Playing Challenge and those are exercises, not real musical compositions. And again, you have to feel your body and don’t fight with it and if this doesn’t work move on to some other exercise, right?
A: That’s right.
V: You will still be exercising your ankles. So that’s my recommendation I think Ausra would you agree on this one?
A: Definitely, yes. So whatever you do you need to be careful about things.
V: Umm-hmm. Other people in general don’t like exercises. They just play organ music and they develop their pedal technique this way. Of course it’s a little bit limited because organ music doesn’t involve all kinds of moves with your ankles and feet and that could be isolated with any particular exercise but that’s what other people like, they like musical challenges, not technical challenges. It’s like comparing with athletics or maybe body strengthening exercises. Some people want to lift weights, isolated exercises, and other people just prefer running or walking. It depends on what your body feels and what your goals are, what your preferences are. That’s why we have all kinds of aspects in organ playing that you could improve including but not limited to improvisation, repertoire playing, music theory and harmony, hymn playing, and repertoire playing and organ technique as well. All kinds of areas put together form a nice total organist.
A: That’s right. So you always need to listen to your body and then make a right decision for yourself.
V: Umm-hmm. Great. Thank you guys for sending those wonderful questions, we hope this was useful to you and please keep sending us your feedback and challenges because we might be able to help 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.
Don't have an organ at home?
Download paper manuals and pedals, print them out, cut the white spaces, tape the sheets together and you'll be ready to practice anywhere where is a desk and floor. Make sure you have a higher chair.