SOPP454: My dream for organ playing is to be able to play classical pieces like the professionals do
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 454 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Abraham, and he writes:
“Thank you Mr Vidas Pinkevicius for this wonderful opportunity...
First and foremost, my dream for organ playing is to be able to play classical pieces like the professionals do, and also to be able to play church hymns with varied hymn harmonies or alternate harmonisations...
I'll also be glad if you could share me PDF files of hymns with alternate harmonisations, and hymns with varied harmonies...
2. The 3 things holding back from practising hard are
(a) it takes me weeks to be able to practice and memorize a classical piece which always pisses me off....I do ask rhetorically, how long does it take professionals to learn and practice a particular classical piece and memorize it?
This has always given me much concern.
(b)Unable to gain access to worship materials...
Here I mean, I don't have full access to practice on the organ, and this also makes me feel discouraged..
(c)Inability to play the organ pedals like a professional because i don't have access to the organ..
Thank you once again Mr Vidas for this wonderful opportunity...
I look forward to hearing from you”
V: Well, let’s start, Ausra, with his dream. Right? With everyone’s dream. He likes to be able to play classical pieces like the professionals do, and supply alternate harmonizations for hymns. How difficult is it to achieve this goal, do you think, Ausra?
A: Well, I think it’s quite demanding! Of course, it depends on at which point you stand right now. You know, how advanced are you, or not? Plus, how much are you willing to practice every day?
V: Yes, he didn’t write that.
A: Well, but what I noticed most from his message is that he asked how long it takes for a professional to learn a given piece of music. Well, it depends on how difficult the piece is! If it’s an easy piece, like some piece of music from, let’s say, Franck’s “L’Organiste,” then it’s almost sight-readable. Maybe you need to play it twice, and you will be ready to perform it. But if we are talking about a difficult, complex piece, like a big Prelude and Fugue by J. S. Bach, or a chorale by César Franck, or Chorale Fantasia by Max Reger, then yes, it will take a while, even for a professional.
V: That’s right. I think it also depends on the level of the professional’s ability, because there are various kinds of professionals, who can sightread well, and who are not so good, I think, even though they’re professionals. Professionals, meaning playing organ in public for a living.
V: What I think is important to understand here about Abraham’s question is, he writes that it takes him weeks to be able to practice and memorize a classical piece, and he gets frustrated. Right? Well, I think this is normal to practice and memorize for weeks. Not necessarily overnight.
A: True! I will have another question. Why does he need to memorize it? Because, not very often do organists play from memory, and you don’t need to memorize each piece that you are learning. It might give you more time to practice new pieces instead of memorizing old ones. Don’t you think so?
V: Obviously! At some point, I also had to make a decision whether I would memorize a certain number of pieces or if I would like to do something different, and I chose not to memorize, because, as you say, it takes a lot of time, and during that time, I might learn something else.
A: Because people might wonder why a concert pianist would play from the score, but nobody will wonder that about the organist.
V: It’s a tradition, I think, and pianists also, from the beginning of public performance didn’t always play from memory. The earliest instances, of course, included playing from the score. And I’ve seen people still play from the score—even pianists, today. It’s unusual, of course, but it happens from time to time.
A: Especially when they are playing modern music, I think, because usually it takes too much time to learn it, to memorize it. So, another thing about playing pedals. That’s what frustrates most beginners or not-advanced organists. But the thing is, if you will not practice with pedals every day, you will not improve. It’s as simple as that, because you need to polish your coordination.
V: So there are two choices, I think. Either you get some access to the local church and get to know the local organist, and this way make connections and gain the possibility to practice on that organ, or you save some money and invest that money, your savings, probably, into some kind of instrument with a pedal board.
A: And it depends on your situation in life. Because, if you eventually want to make some money with the organ, you’ll have to invest into accessing an instrument.
V: It’s like both options require sacrifice, I think. This option of buying your own pedal board and possibly keyboards, as well, requires an up-front investment. It’s very obvious. Right? If you don’t have money, you can’t buy an instrument. But, the first option, where you get access to the local church’s organ, is also a trade-off. I think it’s rare to expect that the church will give you access for no reason. Right? For a person from the street, basically, unknown to their congregation. You have to be either a part of the community, and being part of the community means doing something for the congregation. Volunteering, most likely.
A: So, I guess getting access to an instrument is crucial for Abraham, because if you won’t practice, you will not become a professional.
V: But, he writes that it takes weeks for him to practice. It means that he is practicing somewhere, right? Somehow… Maybe not with pedal board, but still, he has some keyboard, probably access to the keyboard. So, those are things to consider about how serious you are about your organ playing commitment in the future.
A: True, because I don’t think there is an easy way or a shortcut.
V: This is true. And the same is with PDF files of hymns with alternate harmonizations. If we had those, we would gladly give it to you, but there are options, of course, to buy from music publishers, and those collections we can recommend, of course, but another path would be to harmonize yourself!
A: I think so! I think this would be the better path.
V: Exactly. If you….
A: Maybe you could buy a couple at the beginning, to see how they look, and what they are like, and if you like them or not, and maybe if you like some of them, you could do something similar to the other hymns, and make your own alterations.
V: Right. But, I wouldn’t rely too much on alternate harmonizations as well as on hymn books, as well, because this will not teach you to harmonize. Probably you need to take a pencil and eraser, and get to the staff notation, and try to harmonize for yourself! And if you need some help, we have courses for that!
A: True! I think music theory is important.
V: Right. This will open up a lot of doors for you. A lot of musical horizons, because then, you will be able to see what kind of chords and keys are being used in your own pieces that you play. Basically, then you will be able to understand the composer’s mind, and this is a wonderful opportunity. Okay, thank you guys for these questions; we love helping you grow. We hope this was useful to you, and please keep sending us your feedback and questions. 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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