Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 388 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by May and she asks:
“Hi Vidas, by deconstructing the mode, do you mean improvising?”
V: May is our Total Organist student and this was part of the discussion I think when she wrote something about the things that she is struggling with. I think the modern contemporary hymn setting and she couldn’t understand the texture in the course and I suggested to deconstruct the mode and then she wrote back what does it mean. Obviously improvising is something different than deconstruction.
A: Oh, yes, I guess that it’s very different.
V: It’s maybe the next step after deconstruction.
A: I never used this term deconstruction but I think that’s quite a good term. It’s like analyzing it basically, understanding the mode.
V: She uses terms construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction. Construction as a composer uses, he or she creates the music, the music is being constructed. Then what you do is take this music apart, you deconstruct it and then when you want to improvise in the style of that composer you reconstruct it.
A: Yes, all these terms sound very much like in a building, in the building process, building a house, you construct it.
V: So, yeah, the process of deconstructing the mode is simply taking maybe an excerpt of a couple of measures long and putting the notes one to each other in an ascending manner without skipping any notes and you will find a scale or a mode this way. Sometimes it’s a seven note mode, sometimes five note mode, sometimes six note mode, sometimes more, eight, nine, or ten, right? Mode or scale is sometimes used interchangeably in this meaning. Ausra, why do I say you need you need a short fragment, not one page long episode.
A: I think it easier to analyze when you have a short segment of something because I don’t think you be able at the beginning to take things as long as a page long.
V: I would presume that in a page a composer might use several modes already. Several maybe transpositions of the same mode.
A: Unless you are a minimalist.
V: Yes, but if you are a minimalist then your entire mode will be apparent in the first few measures I think.
A: Probably, yes.
V: That’s what I mean and what to do then when you discover the mode. For example you even don’t know the name maybe of the mode but you see that it is C, D, E, F#, G, A, and B flat. It has a special term by the way. It is Lydian/Mixolydian but May might not even know the name. What is the point of knowing this disposition of notes? What do you think Ausra? Would that help for her to understand the structure of the hymn and learn it faster?
A: Of course, definitely because if you don’t know how a piece is constructed then it’s much harder for you to play it, to learn to play it without mistakes because some things especially when we are talking about modes they don’t make sense to us because we are much more used to that major/minor system.
A: And let’s say natural major and melodic or harmonic minor I guess. But when we are talking about modes then some of the things might not make sense if you don’t understand them so it’s really nice to analyze them.
V: And in general when people play a hymn or a piece of music without knowing what they are really playing, they are just looking at the page and in their mind they don’t understand what’s in that page, they just press the keys at the right time in the right space and it sounds this way, they don’t know why. I can always probably compare it with learning a poem in Japanese. You can probably learn special characters and how it’s written in Japanese, sometimes it could be transcribed into Latin alphabet and you would even read it and Japanese person could even understand I would say but you wouldn’t understand what you are saying in that poem. That’s the problem.
A: That’s right.
V: So that’s why we need to translate the poem into your native language or to the language that you understand and then once you understand what this poem is about the words in Japanese will suddenly start to make sense and you can memorize this poem much easier this way.
A: That’s right.
V: Is it a good comparison with organ music then?
A: I think it’s a very good comparison because it might not make sense and you will not understand why are these accidentals are here and there and because you do not understand them it’s much more possible that you will make mistakes.
V: Right. So what’s the first step that May should take?
A: Well, since you are the master of improvisation I think you need to…
V: But I’m not talking about improvisation here. She is playing a difficult contemporary hymn setting I think. What would you do in her situation?
A: I would find out which mode it’s written in and then I would play probably just a single mode just a few times.
V: What do mean single mode?
A: Like a scale.
V: Ah, notes up and down with one hand.
A: Yes, I would sing them too and then I would find out if it’s a composer that uses transposition or not because if he uses transposition then I would play the same mode in other keys as well.
V: What happens this way if you practice for a number of weeks, sometimes months, then you will start to pick up interesting fragments in your other pieces? I remember John from Australia told me quite early in his organ playing journey that suddenly he can pick up the dominant chord in a hymn, suddenly, or a sub-dominant chord in his organ piece.
V: Or any other like short modulation here and there. Other things that are still difficult to understand for him but he would get a glimpse into what’s written from time to time at the beginning but then later on his understanding will broaden and broaden and he will be much better at this with time.
A: And the same with the mode if you will internalize it really well then maybe if you will need to add a little introduction or to do some kind of postlude after this hymn if will be easier for you to do it.
V: Umm-hmm. So May and the others who are struggling with this please try our method and write back if this works or not. It’s very interesting to share your experience with organists around the world. And keep sending us your wonderful 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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