Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 375 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Howard and he writes:
Happy New Year, and I am wishing you all the best for Total Organist in 2019. I noticed and appreciate the program you did on piston programming for larger modern organs. I have another question inspired by today's topic on "I cannot use someone else's fingerings". This is EXACTLY my problem that is holding me back from becoming a full subscriber to "Total Organist". But my question is more direct and I am hoping you will consider it as a program topic or as a direct answer to me, your choice :-) Basically, as I understand it, the fingerings for Early Music which, to be honest, is 90% of the material that you offer for study, those fingerings are for baroque style keyboards which are much shorter than AGO spec keyboards. I am wondering why the focus on using fingerings inspired by these older keyboards?
I'd say that 99% (seriously) of the music that I own does not have fingerings. One of the exceptions is a Kalmus edition of several Mendelssohn works including all six Sonatas. I've spent the most time with Sonata #4 in Bb. The fingerings suggested and the fingerings that make sense to me are not even from the same planet! Especially the 3rd movement. The way the Kalmus editor fingered it, the running figure in the left hand is entirely independent from the right hand. Completely. I've worked very hard on doing it this way but my natural inclination is to pass notes back and forth between the hands and I can do this and still preserve the independence of the polyphony. I know that you have fingered the Widor Toccata and a few other modern works, and I am assuming you use 'modern fingerings' for those, but I can't help but wonder why you don't just make life easier for yourselves and use modern fingering for everything? Is there really something to be gained by using Early Fingering at all in the 21st Century, especially for Bach who, it must be said, transcended his time period.
And here is one more idea for a program topic that you may (or not) want to touch ... two years ago on my way to church, I had a hard fall onto my left side. When I got up I realized I had bashed my left hand and my pinky finger was bleeding slightly. I was playing the "Cortege et Litanie" that Sunday. I thought I was just a little sore and could play through it, but ever since then the pinky and ring finger of my left hand refuse to open fully. Only a very, very few people know this. My employers do not know. I can still play most things as before, but the big stretch near the beginning of "Cortege et Litanie" is impossible. Scalic passages that should naturally begin with the left hand pinky or ring finger are extremely hard now and often don't work. To be honest it has affected my typing much more than my organ playing. I used to be a terrific typist but now the left hand keys are impaired. I am terrified of having surgery done because of a.) the potential downtime and impact on work, and b.) the potential for success of such surgery. I did see an occupational therapist and had several weeks of various stretching exercises that produced no results. I have recently heard of a colleague who seems to have a similar injury except his has no known cause. He has stepped down from playing but his church is still paying him to be a Music Director. I have another acquaintance with a similar problem (Dupytrenes Contracture) and has had two unsuccessful hand surgeries. My hand therapist didn't even know what to call my injury. She just say's "its weird". That wasn't encouraging so I stopped going to appointments. I am beginning to wonder about why this has happened because more recently, about 3 months ago, I had someone crush my hand in a handshake. All the fingers of my right hand have recovered fully except the ring finger which is trying to act like the one on the left hand. I knew of musicians who refused to shake hands but I've never thought I was worthy of that kind of concern. My attainments have been so humble. Do you have any experience with occupational injuries and what musicians do about them? There you have it. More than you wanted to know about my travails, but I don't have anyone else I can tell.
Anyway, don't think about this too much. I am working. I am not suicidal. I'm just wondering if there is more I could do. Or what someone else might do in the same situation. Be well.
V: That’s a long story Ausra.
A: It is.
V: Let’s start with occupational hazards and probably a person like Howard should consult many different or several different physicians.
A: You know if I would be a very mean person I could make a very bad joke about his question because I could relate the second part with the first part.
A: Because when you were reading that first part it just took my breath away and I could tell that all these professional injuries happens because of not playing let’s say baroque music with early fingering. But that’s just a really bad joke. I think there is connection in everything that we do.
V: But don’t you think that if his therapist doesn’t even know what to call his injury probably she is not the person to help him.
A: Yes, it seems to me that he has to change his doctor.
V: And probably go to several different people to check their opinions and sooner or later, maybe sooner than later he will find a person who will know what to do in his situation, what caused this, and how to treat it.
A: But in general I think that every person has sort of limitation of the joints and of the fingers and probably there is a limit of movements you can make in your lifetime, maybe for some it’s I don’t know. Hundreds of millions of movements and for somebody maybe it’s less than that. Maybe he is having overused syndrome.
V: I wonder if he’s wearing any rings on his fingers.
A: I don’t know but rings are bad actually.
A: In most of cases for musicians I wouldn’t wear rings. But if such an action as shaking the hand might hurt his hands, that is really bad. That just shows that something is really wrong with his hands and that he needs serious attention from a good physician.
V: Exactly. So talking about the first part it’s a little bit easier, right?
A: Well I wouldn’t want to go into those details because I think I have talked about it many times and I think everybody who listened to my talk knows my opinion about how I feel about playing baroque music. Well, I guess if I would live all my life somewhere in the United States where I would not have an access to the historical based instruments although there are places that you can do that in the United States as well, let’s see, in Oberlin, in Omaha at St. Cecelia’s Cathedral and there are other wonderful places where you could go to try those wonderful instruments. I will just try to give one example with the food. Imagine that you have let’s say cheeseburger from MacDonald’s and cola and you wonderful nice French meal with good wine. They both are food, yes? And you would satisfy your hunger maybe with eating both of them, but in terms of quality would you still disagree that French meal is better and has a higher value?
V: Umm-hmm. Obviously the answer is very clear.
A: And I don’t know but maybe somebody with fast food would still agree with me but…
V: In which sense are you comparing modern fingerings with fast food, can you clarify?
A: Well I’m just talking that early fingering does not work for late pieces, romantic and later period but that modern fingering doesn’t work for early music and it seems like Howard is not very happy that we deal so much with early music but let’s face it, Bach is the main composer for the organ. I doubt that anybody would argue that so come on, Bach wrote his music in the baroque period.
V: I would add that the reason that we are using early fingerings for early music is that it makes sense because it’s early music. You don’t know if you will have a chance to visit an early instrument.
A: And even if you don’t have a chance, even if you are playing on American modern instrument you still need to articulate so it still makes sense to use early fingering.
V: When you use modern fingering you have to think about articulation mentally and when you are thinking you are missing something probably in the middle voices, in the pedals too. You maybe aware of some significant details but not everything when you on the contrary are using early fingerings it takes care for itself, right? For example, a simple fact that the same intervals as a rule are played by the same fingers. For example, an interval of the sixth can easily be played by the fingers 1 and 5 and if you have parallel sixths you play 1,5, 1,5, 1,5 and so forth. It seems detached and unmusical but we are not advocating for playing unmusically. We are recommending to play those intervals as slurred as possible but not legato. That’s in between of legato and non-legato in a singing manner which Bach would call cantabile manner of playing. Would you agree?
A: Yes, because if you are professional you need to notice those subtle things that might not be understood by amateurs and if we would tell you just play whatever and play however you want we wouldn’t be professionals so we teach what we believe in. But it’s up to you to choose believe us or not and you do whatever you want to do.
V: And there are people who play early music with modern fingerings and if Howard would rather play early music with modern fingerings then probably he would find more benefits from studying with them, right?
A: Sure, of course.
V: That’s simple. We are not trying to convert people who do not believe what we say, right? Everybody has their own choices and preferences and people like us tend to stick in our circle, right?
A: That’s right.
V: People who trust us, right? That’s very simple. So that’s a lot to think about but obviously fingerings are just a simple detail but I worry about Howard’s hands so he should really seek out several physicians and get several opinions of his hands what’s happening.
A: But actually nowadays many people get that wrist surgery because of problems similar to Howard’s and not only musicians but also people who work on the computer a lot too. So you are not alone.
V: Exactly. Thank you guys, I hope this was useful and 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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