Vidas: Hi, guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 415, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Jeremy, and he writes:
Played for church this morning. Krebs e minor prelude and fugue for prelude, accompanied a handbell piece on the organ and ended with Piece Heroique of Franck. Standard hymns and some piano playing in there as well. I did improvise a bit today during the passing of the piece. Played through a hymn, then tried to improvise a canon between the soprano and tenor over a pedal tone while keeping the alto the same. I thought it worked pretty well.
V: So Jeremy is not only transcribing our fingering and pedaling videos, but he’s on the list of Total Organist students. And at the end of each day, I ask them how their day went, and what did they do? So Jeremy wrote this answer to us, Ausra.
A: Very nice, I think. I feel sorry but I couldn't listen and to attend the service, because everything sounds very nice, organized.
V: If he ended the church service with the Pièce Héroïque by Franck, it should have been like a small recital.
A: I know! You could feel yourself like, being embarrassed.
V: Mmm-hmm. Remember when we visited organ builder Gene Bedient and his wife, there, a few summers ago? We went to St Sulpice I think, on one Sunday, and at the end of the mass they have, they have a short recital there.
A: Yes. It was wonderful.
V: And guest recitalists played there.
A: And too bad that we could not go upstairs to the organ to congratulate her because now there is a policy in France, and in Paris in particular because of the terrorist attacks. They not allow people to go next to the organ after the recital.
V: Mmm. Yeah, at that time, security alert was elevated.
A: I think it’s always like that in Paris now.
V: So, anyway, it was really nice hearing, I think one of the Dutch organists played there.
A: Yes, I think she was Dutch, yes.
V: Mmm-hmm. Playing B minor chorale by Franck.
A: Yes, my favorite piece.
V: What else did she play—maybe, maybe a slow movement of Bach’s E minor Trio Sonata?
A: Franck was what stuck with me, so…
A: I don’t recall other pieces.
V: Is that the reason why you practiced Franck today?
A: Well, no, not because of that. Because I need to repeat this piece.
V: Mmm-hmm. Yeah, I need to play more Franck too, and I think I will. So…
A: Do you like Pièce Héroïque?
V: It’s very compact, very beautifully worked out, well thought, and for people who, for example, haven’t played large scale works like Pièce Symphonic or the Chorales, that might be a good starting point, or one of the easier pieces, I would say.
A: Well, yes, but although it’s not as hard to learn this piece, but it sounds like a…
V: Heroic. Mmm.
A: Truly heroic piece. And while listening to it you could tell that it’s an easier piece.
A: Well, I don’t think that any of Franck pieces of his big organ works are very easy. But of course there is a big difference in between of his level of difficulties of his music.
A: For example the day when I played B minor Chorale, I just sight-read a little bit from the A minor Chorale, which I also have played many years ago, and it’s at least three times easier comparing to the B minor Chorale.
V: Even thought the third choral is the last one.
A: But if you have quite good piano technique then it’s very easy, because it doesn’t have so much thick texture, it’s more playful, very few pedals.
V: I think our friend and colleague Paulius Grigonis wants to play some Franck and he was thinking about A minor Chorale. Do you think he would manage it?
A: I don’t know how good is his piano technique. Because you need to have piano technique in order to play this chorale well. Otherwise [it] might sound sloppy, or you might not play it up to tempo. Because out of all these chorales, the A minor is the fastest.
V: True. And Jeremy played the handbell piece, accompaniment on the organ. Do you like handbells?
A: Very much!
A: This was the only time when I encountered it was in the states. Before that I didn’t even know that such thing existed—the handbell choir. And remember once we had even to perform because our church was short on handbell choir, I remember, so they asked us to play and we did.
V: That was for Easter, I think.
A: And we had special glass…
A: And various bells. It was fun.
V: Wonderful. And I remember that I also played some percussion instrument, right?
A: What an honor.
A: You can put it on your CV.
V: (Laughs). Right. So Jeremy just mentioned that he improvised a hymn, making canon between soprano and tenor over a pedal tone, while keeping the alto the same. What do you understand from this, ‘keeping the alto the same’? The same stationary note or playing the same melody from the hymnal—in the alto part?
A: I’m not quite sure. Could be either way, I think. But anyway, it sounds very interesting.
V: It sounds difficult.
A: Sure! It sounds truly difficult. Because when you start to explore some polyphonic technique, as canon for example, it makes a whole difference. It’s not like just playing plain chords with some variation.
V: The easiest canon that beginners could start learning is the one that Franck uses so often. In one hand you play, let’s say, a moving melody, and you stop. And when you stop, you repeat the same thing an octave lower, for example, with the left hand. And then stop again with the left hand, and then start to move at the same time with the right hand. Basically hands move interchangeably, not at the same time. And then you don’t have to think about two things all the time.
A: I think he uses this technique in his L’Organiste collection.
V: Mmm-hmm. Yeah. That’s the easier one to start with, thinking polyphonically. You don’t have to think about intervals, about what kind of allowed intervals are there, because in Renaissance times, they have these very strict rules—which type of intervals produce, which type of canons. And I’m sure Franck knew that. But for beginner purposes, I don’t think it matters. You can create a canon quite easily while following his model, basically playing movement between the hands interchangeably.
V: And it would sound actually convincing. It wouldn’t sound very easy.
A: That’s right.
V: So, we hope was useful to you guys. Explore your different techniques that Jeremy uses and others might suggest. We hope this was useful to you and please us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember; when you practice...
V: 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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