Vidas: Hi, guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 413 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Eddie. He writes:
Hi Vidas and Ausra! I enjoy your ideas on improvisation in the modern style. I am now ready to embark at the fairly late age of 69 today, on the challenging and exciting path of improvisation on the organ. I must confess, however, that I am at this stage a real dummy and raw beginner, but I have a great desire and urge to be able to at least be able to improvise somewhat before I die. I have also embarked on online organ teaching, which is also an exciting endeavor for me. God bless, and keep on with your and your wife’s good work for organists. Regards, Eddie
V: What are your thoughts, Ausra, for starters, about Eddie’s improvisation efforts when he is 69 years old?
A: I think that it’s amazing that people at various ages pursue their dreams. I think it’s wonderful, because you know that you have dreams, you do something new, you learn something new, it means you will not get old so soon.
V: You are so right, Ausra. I just, you know, have this laptop in my lap. And when I open my new window on the browser, by clicking new tab, I get this greeting, “Good morning, Vidas! What is your main focus for today?” The computer talks to me. And there is a sentence for every day, and today, the sentence is, “Anyone who stops learning is old.” (laughs) Henry Ford.
A: So it just proves what I am saying, if you are still interested in something and learning new things, it means you are not old.
V: Exactly. And the most probably inventive and successful people on earth never stop learning.
A: I think it’s very important to stay curious about something all the time.
V: That’s right, Ausra. What are you curious today about?
A: Well today, I am curious about how I will draw the comic. Because the theme of today is very interesting. It’s Iron Man, and I probably will have to draw Spiky as an Iron Man, and so far I don’t have an idea how to do it.
V: Put Spiky in armor.
A: That’s right.
V: I might have to either develop your idea further, like steal your idea, or do an Iron Man from another character. Maybe our bird, Cornelius.
A: That’s true. So now, what do you think about new learning improvisation at the age of 69? Do you think it’s a very hard thing? Or it’s possible?
V: No, of course everything is possible. But with age, probably people need more patience.
A: Do you think people in general are more patient with age, or not?
V: It depends on how you react into, onto the changes and other circumstances around you. I’ve seen people who are patient, and I’ve seen people who are getting very impatient, too.
A: So, Vidas, could you tell us what would be your steps if you would be 69 and would want to learn to improvise. What actions would you take?
V: I assume Eddie is interested in modern style. I’m interested in modern style as well. So, I’m like the idea of starting small at the beginning. Limiting yourself at the start, and not worrying about too many stylistical ideas or technical details, but choosing just a few notes, maybe 4 notes to improvise on. Like C, D, E, and F. That could be a nice exercise. Start a timer and improvise on those 4 notes without stopping for 2 minutes or 5 minutes or 10 minutes, always trying to do something interesting with those 4 notes. And you can use any octave, any hand, you can play with pedals those pitches, any order you can mix them up. You can have different rhythms, and you can have, of course, different registration, texture. So that would be my first step. And I think it works.
A: Yes, I think it would work.
V: If 4 notes are too much, you know, some beginners really don’t have a good grasp of 4 fingers at all, so maybe start with one note. Let’s say C. And since you only are worrying about the note C, the pitches are not important. Everything is C. It’s like a percussion instrument, and you are only worrying about rhythms then. And do anything that you want with the pitch C, but try to do interesting rhythms. And after awhile, you can do 2 pitches after a few days, when you get comfortable. C and D. Then you will have more, like what I do with 2 pitches. It’s like, jump from C to D, it’s unbelievable. If you think one note, then suddenly 2 notes. And those 2 notes say a lot, right? I know some people might laugh at the idea, starting with C alone, but it depends on where you are. If you never touched the organ before, or keyboard before, or if you’re so afraid of making mistakes when you improvise, and you will make many mistakes, and that’s okay. Actually, make as many mistakes as you want – the more, the better. That’s my…
A: Because it’s improvisation, so there cannot be mistakes. Is that right?
V: Yes and no, right? If you say to yourself, “It’s a mistake,” then it’s a mistake, right? If you say “No, it’s not a mistake,” then you can elaborate that so-called mistake into an episode. Sometimes, I improvise and make sound a little bit different than what I intended. But then, I repeat a few times the same idea, and it becomes something that I intentionally did.
A: I have noticed that a few times in your improvisation, yes.
V: Like I had this very loud episode playing with mixtures and reeds with my hands and feet, like a culmination, and then suddenly I want to play softly, and I gradually, you know, start to reduce the stops on the manuals. Or maybe jump on the second manual and play with strings, and I sometimes forget to reduce the pedals, and this bombarde is, “BUH” like a real trombone, suddenly out of nowhere.
A: Like a beast.
V: So, what do I do then? I repeat it a few times.
A: Repeat it, yes.
V: Maybe not right away, but after 10 seconds, I repeat it. Just one note, aha. So then I have 2 trombone notes. And then maybe third time, I repeat the same note again. And maybe listeners will understand, “Oh, that’s intentional, and something, he wants to express some idea with this low bombarde note.”
A: So, it’s like cheating your audience, and cheating yourself in a way.
V: It’s actually going with the flow. You know, wherever your mind goes, you follow.
A: So, if I understand, during improvisation, the most important thing is not to stop.
V: Exactly. That is why we recommend timers. Resist the temptation to stop. The first 90 seconds are the most difficult. Actually, the first second is the most difficult. Just to sit down on the bench.
A: Very exciting!
V: But when you reach, let’s say, 5 minutes, you don’t want to stop. You discover, “oh, that’s interesting,” and you want to elaborate it, and when the timer goes off after maybe 10 minutes, you suddenly think, “Why did it end so quickly?” you know.
A: That’s what I also noticed in your improvisations. I think, “this is the culmination, and now the end will come,” but it’s not. There’s another combination and then another one, and how will you finish it up?
V: Towards the end of my recital, I have this thought, “How do I finish?” And sometimes, the piece itself, the improvisation itself, suggests the ending, too. Like, if I play some very fast running passages in the hands, maybe I can finish abruptly. We’ve gone downwards or upwards, and stop it like that, like vanishing. Not necessarily five long chords like at the end of a symphony. Sometimes I do that too, of course.
A: Very exciting. So I hope Eddie got some ideas from your thoughts.
V: And I always say, “Record yourself, and if you are brave, share it online for others to see.” And this feedback will help you grow, will help you sit down on the organ bench again. And participate in our Secrets of Organ Playing Contest. Remember, you don’t have to play repertoire all the time, you can play anything you want.
A: Yes, we are looking forward to hear your playing.
V: Yes. This was Vidas…
A: and Ausra.
V: 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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