Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 391 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Jay and Jay is on the team who transcribes our Podcast conversations. He wrote:
“Yesterday, I played organ for my church services (don't get to do that real often). I had practiced the hymns during the week so I felt comfortable with them. During one of them, I made some mistakes on a couple of verses and it didn't go as I would have liked. By the time I got to the third verse I had recovered and it went well.
So there are a couple of issues I continue to work on.
1) Volume pedals/swell and great on this organ. When I try to adjust the levels during playing, I have problems and make mistakes in playing. Working the pedals needs to be practiced, like everything else, I guess.
2) Control. I think everyone makes mistakes while playing, to one degree or another (maybe even Vidas—probably not Ausra though ?). The key seems to be, at least to me, how fast we can recover and move on through the piece. Gotta work on technique.”
V: And another person from our Total Organist group jumped in and wrote:
“Just so you know, you're not alone. I could have written your exact post from the last service I played. In practice, I did everything perfectly. I kept messing up one measure of a very simple hymn on that Sunday, though (Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty). Then, I had to close the swell box a bit because it was a smaller crowd due to the weather and I was playing a little too loudly for the crowd, and when I did that, I messed up the bass, because I didn't get my right foot freed up in time to hit the next notes.
In practice all week, I played it perfectly, and even used my hymnal supplement's alternative harmonization with vocal descant flawlessly. On Sunday, I just stuck to the main hymnal because I felt less confident after messing up.
I, too, will have to practice operating the expression shoes while playing.
I have a really difficult time, for example, when I play Berceuse (Vierne) trying to keep the pedal playing going and operating the expression shoes at the same time.”
V: Jay answered to David. He wrote:
“Thanks, David. It's comforting to know I'm not the only one struggling with things like this, however, I'm sorry as well. Just gotta keep plugging along—one foot in front of the other, or in this case, one pedal in front of the other.
Thanks for your response, and encouragement.”
V: And I wrote:
“Yes, Jay, practice swell pedal changes ahead of time. And in any place you make a mistake, mark it in the score, go back and play without mistakes in a slow tempo 3 times in a row.”
V: Ruth added:
“Hi, Jay. You touched upon a major point in your writing. "The key seems to be...how fast we can recover and move on through the piece." I have more background in playing the flute, but I find what you said to relate to the flute also. When I make a mistake, I try to recover almost immediately. Thanks very much for this.”
V: Jay wrote to Ruth:
“Thanks, Ruth. I play flute, and sax also. Recovery time on those instruments seems much quicker, than on the organ.”
V: So Ausra this is a very extended discussion in our Total Organist communication channel on Basecamp. What would you add?
A: I would just want to make one quick comment about the beginning of this question about making mistakes that everybody makes them and even I do make them (laughs). So it’s very funny that Jay thinks that I am not making mistakes. Be sure I am making them too, and too many actually. But as you wrote later, it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes or not, it matters how fast can you recover after them and how can you hide them actually.
V: What do you mean by hiding?
A: It means that you don’t stop, you don’t change tempo, you don’t react to them during actual performance.
V: Do you have to distract your audience like “Look, here, the full moon” and then you make mistakes and they don’t listen.
A: No, I haven’t done that, maybe you have done that.
V: “Look the pastor ate all communion.”
A: Well stop making silly jokes but people talked about swell pedal, it’s a problem sometimes for me because at home we don’t have swell pedal and at church we have one, but for example during our study years at the Academy of Music all of the mechanical organs didn’t have any swell pedal so we just had to practice them mentally.
V: Umm-hmm. To imitate the foot movements in the middle of the pedalboard to place the right foot.
A: Yes and if you would think about the Schuke organ at the philharmonic building where our final exam of organ took place it has a swell pedal but it’s on the side of the instrument and it’s very uncomfortable.
V: Like sometimes they have this shoe-pedal in 19th century organs in the very extreme edge of the pedalboard on the right.
A: What I’m thinking is that when you practice music that requires to use the swell pedal and you don’t have it for example, you have to prepare mentally to do it. You always need to know in which position your body will be at a certain moment within the piece.
A: So you need to think very carefully about how you are pedaling your piece.
V: Yes, if it’s a surprise to you when you are playing an instrument with a swell box, if your feet movements are not comfortable that means that you didn’t prepare in advance and I’m talking about myself too. Sometimes I have to improvise my feet movements and swell pedal movements like that and actually improvisation does help here when you are used so much to playing music on the spot and adding swell pedal crescendo and diminuendo spontaneously then when the time comes to play the real organ composition which you practiced then it’s not that difficult because you practiced those movements millions of times in different situation, right?
A: Yes, yes, true and in general I think when actually performing a hymn or any given piece of music the most important thing is don’t stop because rhythm is the most important during actual performance.
V: Don’t repeat the notes.
A: Sure, especially when you are accompanying congregational singing.
V: Because people will think that they mess up when you don’t lead them.
A: Sure and I bet if you would record your performance you would find out after listening to it that your mistakes were not as bad as it seemed to you at that particular moment.
V: Hmm. Another good thought. Thank you guys for listening and for sending 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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