First of all, I want to remind everyone who is planning to enter our Secrets of Organ Playing Contest Week 2 that less than 24 hours are left to submit your entry.
And now let's go to the podcast for today:
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 376, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Damian. And, he writes:
You once asked me what is my biggest challenge in organ playing. I play in a church, and in Poland a church organist must play at the same time (hands and feet of course), sing and switch song lyrics that are
displayed on the screen. This is the biggest challenge for me to do all
these things at the same time, and to do all of them well. As for the
technique itself, I'm not very advanced, but I happen to make mistakes
in very easy fragments of songs that I know well, which I've always done correctly and I never know when I will stumble somewhere. Eliminating this is the biggest challenge for me right now.
Thank you for all your work!
V: And Damian is from Poland, and Poland is our neighbor.
A: Yes. Nice to hear from him. And when you were reading Damian’s letter, I just remembered how I started to work at church, and I had the same things to do as he does now. I had to play and to sing, to lead basically congregational singing.
A: Because there were a few elderly ladies from downstairs who would sing too. So I would sing and try to keep the tempo because they would try to drag me down and slow me down, and all the struggles, so I know how he feels. And it would be easy for me to sing the soft verse because the text would be right behind, written right below the melody. But then for the second, the third and other stanzas I would have to look at the bottom of the page…
V: Uh-huh. Yes.
A: to see what comes next. And this was a hard thing for me, at least at the beginning.
V: When did it start to become a little easier?
A: Well I guess when I didn’t have to think so much about pedal.
A: Because I started to work at church on my second year of organ studies. So at that time I was still not that good with pedal playing.
V: But in the third year, you were relatively well advanced.
A: Yes, that’s true.
V: So you struggled for one year.
A: Yes. But what helped my life easier and I would suggest Damian made you something similar; I tried to play three voices with my right hand, and bass line with my pedal—with my feet.
A: And then I would have my left hand free, and it would make life so easy.
V: In the hymns.
A: Yes. In the hymns.
V: But then you have to rearrange the inner voices.
A: I know. But it’s not that hard to do sometimes.
V: Oh, you switched tenor with alto.
A: So that you would have a close position.
V: Mmm-hmm. That’s possible. It’s sort of cheating though.
A: Well, but do you think somebody will notice from the church, that you are doing that?
V: Angels will notice!
A: Well, who cares!
V: Angels, care. And, of course, you are the boss.
A: Well, another thing that would make life easier; I don’t know which way is easier for Damian;if it’s easier for him to memorize music, or is it easier for him to memorize text...
A: word text. So if it’s easier for him to memorize music then just memorize the hymn, that you could play it from the memory and look at the text. Or do it vice-versa.
V: And it seems to me that this is the struggle that every beginner organist faces in church. And, as you said, it will pass, if you persevere after one year or so.
A: Also remember, if you will continue working in church for, let’s say many year, well hymnals of course they are huge, but you will see in time that you will start repeating hymns, and as you come back to hymn next time, and the next time, it will get easier and easier and easier for you. But of course I agree that it’s really hard job to play and to sing at the same time, and do things right, and because it’s important. So it’s like in Lithuania it’s cold in winter time, and it gives, it makes things even harder.
V: Right. And Lithuanian system is very similar too. We also have to sing and play at the same time, unless of course there is another choir director and there is a separate choir, but only on festive occasions, maybe on Sundays.
A: But sometimes what happens if you have a group of people who are helping singing, you need to conduct them as well during your playing.
V: Oh that’s another burden.
A: So that’s what happens—that you play, sing and conduct with your head at the same time. That’s very often the case in Lithuania too.
V: Uh-huh. Right. So lots of multitasking. Exactly. And he also wrote that he happened to make mistakes in very easy fragments of songs that he knows well, which he is always done correctly. That’s the situation that a lot of people with limited experience, struggle with, right?
A: True. Because I think if you can do that hymn very well, but think about mass setting. You need to always to follow what is happening in church, actually. And you need also to think where you will end with certain hymn. So maybe that also takes some of your attention away and…
A: that’s how you make mistakes. That could be one of the reasons too.
V: Exactly. When you are just practicing on this organ bench, nobody is disturbing you, you are focusing on the music and the text. And you can even practice singing at the same time as playing, and it might go well. But in live situation, congregation is downstairs, probably choir members are around you, there is a little bit of noise, and things are happening with the priest, everybody is doing their own business, and you have to be aware as you say, of all these changes, and where to stop and how to play it. And if you don’t have much experience, you’re starting to lose focus and as a consequence, making mistakes. Right? This is normal. This is not Damian’s cause. This is everybody’s situation, I think at first, for the first one, two, maybe three years.
A: That’s right.
V: So, what I recommend is just to stick with it and in a year or two or three, it will pass, I think. He will start to feel more secure in church.
A: Sure. I just could say that he’s doing extremely valuable job. I really respect those church organists so much. From my own experience, how hard it is to do things.
V: Mmm-hmm. Right. Of course we’re only talking about playing hymns, not playing real organ music, which adds another layer of complexity.
A: That’s right. But I guess that this kind of experience that Damian has and we had in our youth is, it’s unforgettable actually. And I think it’s people, let’s say in the states probably, who have well organized church music, they even don’t understand what we are talking about, I think.
V: They even have this title, Director of Music, or Director of Parish Music, right? Parish Music Director. Your title makes you an officer in the church, basically, and you have your own office, heating, your practice…
V: instrument, separate from the church instrument. You have separate rooms, right, for choir rehearsals and everything. We don’t have those very often in churches in Lithuania and I presume in Poland too. Mmm-hmm. But people still keep playing, keep practicing and keep perfecting their skills, which is really nice.
A: So let’s just wish good luck to Damian and other church organists around the globe.
V: Yes. 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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