SOPP464: I want to play hymns with a very clean and clear technique, and with spiritually inspiring embellishment and improvisation
Vidas: Hi, guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 464, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by James, in response to my email where I ask him ‘what is his dream in organ playing, and what are some obstacles that are challenging for him’, and he wrote:
1* to play hymns with a very clean and clear technique, and with spiritually inspiring embellishment and improvisation. To come out of “Ordinary organist”.
2a * accurate counting. (Naturally and effortlessly)
2b * natural and easy interpretation of embellishments
2c * self concept. (“I am just an ordinary organist, and won’t reach the top”).
I play digital electronic 2 manual organ with full AGO pedalboard. Rodgers C505.
In the past I neglected to develop a firm technique for counting, metre and beat sub division.
Theory is good.
Organ understanding, pretty fair to good: Roger Davis Manual.
Practice habits, fair to good.
I had a 15 year gap not playing, restarted in 2017.
Thanks VP and A. Blessings!
V: Alright! So, I think James wants to learn hymns and play them with improvisation and embellishment which will help him to come out of, what he calls ‘ordinary organist’. What’s wrong with being ordinary organist, Ausra?
A: Well, don’t think there is anything wrong with this. But I don’t think that we are ordinary. I think each of us is a little bit extraordinary.
V: In which way?
A: That each of us is unique, I think.
V: Mmm. Interesting. Could you develop this idea a little further?
A: Well, for example let’s say, you are better improviser than I am, but I might be better in another field…
A: of organ playing.
V: I see. So you’re saying that James has to find his strength.
A: Yes, I guess so.
V: Not comparing himself with others, but find his uniqueness. Do you think sometimes our strengths lie where our wishes are, or not always?
A: I think most of the time, yes. But I think we feel our strengths and I think people tend to improve these strengths not their weaknesses, in many of case.
A: And that’s probably not a good thing when we are talking about practicing.
A: Well, because if you want sort of to really improve, I think you need to work on the weaknesses too, that they would become your strengths. I don’t know if that makes sense.
V: What is my weakness?
A: I don’t know. I’m not an analyst.
V: But from the side you could see easier.
A: I think your lack of constant work.
V: What do you mean constant work? Working day and night?
A: No, I mean that you start one project and then you drop it and you jump to another.
V: Consistency maybe.
A: Yes. Consistency. That’s right. You are like this type of enthusiasts.
V: I’m a squirrel.
A: Yes, and you are very enthusiastic about planning something but not so much about executing it.
V: Uh-huh, so if I worked on this weakness, I would flip it and make it into my strength.
A: I think so.
V: Do you think it’s realistic for me?
A: Well, probably not, but …
V: Knowing me for twenty or more years.
A: Probably not. I think everything is easier when you are younger and it gets a little bit harder with years to change yourself. Sometimes it’s almost impossible. But what I like really about this letter that he says things so clearly and sort of really knows what he wants to achieve. Don’t you think so?
V: Mmm-hmm. I think he has a good analytical mind.
A: True. And that might be very helpful too, in his practice.
V: If he assesses himself well, right?
A: Yes. Because I really doubt it that many organists could make a list of what we really need to improve.
A: What [our] weaknesses are. so that’s a really good thing.
V: So in the past, he writes, he neglected to develop a firm technique for counting meter and beats subdivision.
A: Yes. This is actually a crucial technique for any musician.
V: I see sometimes people in our studio, Unda Maris studio, playing either faster or slower without any sense of pulse. And in difficult spots slowing down, and easier spots a little bit faster. Sounds very musical, right?
A: True. It’s like in that Bach’s Prelude in A minor—remember, that there was a time at the Academy of Music when a few students at the same time, played that prelude and fugue. And beginning is quite easy…
A: because sort of like a recitative…
A: at the beginning but then it gets harder and harder. And I remember one student starting quite fast and then just slowing down. So at the beginning of the first page at the end of it the tempo was completely different.
A: So I guess there are two things when talking about counting and keeping meter and tempo. You really need to choose your tempo really wisely. You need to choose accordingly the harder spot, not according to the beginning. And then of course you need to count, but then another thing, you need to listen what you are playing to because I believe that if you cannot keep steady tempo, either you have really technical challenges, and this piece might be too hard for you…
A: yet, or you simply don’t listen what you are playing.
V: Oh. So, you mean that people who played at the academy in the past, students, they didn’t record themselves.
A: Well, that’s true. Because if you would listen to yourself from the side, you get another impression about your performance.
V: Mmm-hmm. I’m recording myself everyday. Actually I’m live-streaming my performances.
A: But are you listening back to what you have recorded? I somehow doubt it.
V: But my question is ‘am I playing with constant pulse, or not’?
A: Yes, I think so.
V: So maybe that does help.
V: Even though I don’t…
A: Anyway when you are playing Gaudeamus each time, what ten times a day?
A: Or even more.
V: Mmm-hmm. Pomp and Circumstance now.
A: True. Is it pomp or is it pump?
V: Pomp. But pronounced like pump.
A: So, okay.
V: Alright. So Roger Davis Manual—we have this red book, right?
A: True. I play some pieces from it occasionally. Well, I don’t like this edition too much about the…
V: Early music.
A: about the early music, but, well it’s a handbook.
V: If James applies early techniques in this collection, and ignores, for example, slurs, legato indications or heel, for example in the pedals, then I think it is a very strong collection. Yes. Okay. So, let’s wish James good luck on the organ bench, and for other students who are listening this, please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice…
A: Miracles happen!
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