SOPP477: One of my dreams for organ playing is reaching higher and lower for pedals with confidence that I hit the right pedal
Vidas: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 477 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Suzy. And she writes:
One of my dreams for organ playing is reaching higher and lower for pedals with confidence that I hit the right pedal. What is holding me back is:
1. Performance Anxiety which fluctuates. I have rituals for getting into a good mindset. I have a breath deeply, and center the mind so it is not fighting itself eg right and left centring. I
imagine a dial in the middle of my forward that I have to press the word ‘Center’ switch. I must not be too analytical but go with the flow, and have muscle memory.
2. Sometimes the way I practice. I need to not just play through; I need to focus exclusively on the bars that need attention. Timing this even for ten minutes a time rather than playing through without corrective practice. I have to consciously prevent myself just playing through which is not practice.
3. Having confidence in my ability. Also setting targets. Realistic ones. Don’t keep starting new pieces without finishing perfecting them. Eg learn two new pieces per month. So I need to set targets. Also playing hymns at the right tempo.
V: So Suzy needs to perfect her pedal playing probably, in higher and lower levels, as she writes, but has performance anxiety and sometimes practices inefficiently, and probably lacks confidence in her skills.
A: Well, I guess these problems are concerning many organists. I think it is quite common concerns, and quite common problems. Well, when you’re not managing pedal right, I think you just have to spend more time playing it, while it becomes as natural that you will stop thinking about it.
V: When you played the organ for the first time, did pedal board seem natural to you?
A: No, it seemed very unnatural at the beginning. But now I don’t think when I play about it. It’s like my third hand.
V: That’s interesting observation. In many cases, organ compositions are created in a way that pedal line serves like a third hand, yes. That’s why we have three staves most of the time.
A: Sure. Now what about rituals? Do you suggest for people to have rituals before performance, or not?
V: Um, rituals to me, associate with people who want control, right? I have to clarify this. If you follow some rituals, you feel calmer, and your mind works clearer, and you feel more present and better prepared to cope with the problems that are arising in the moment. But what if you miss your ritual for some reason, or are unable to do it before performance? What if you just have to just jump in and play, if somebody asks you, right?
A: Yes, that’s what I thought about it, too. But it’s sort of, maybe on one side it’s good to have some rituals, but on the other hand, you never know if you will be able to keep to them, and if you won’t, it might just scare you away so much that you won’t be able to play at all.
V: Mm hm.
A: You might panic.
V: I met an organist once who swore she would never play in public again after a public performance.
A: And I know people have all these, strange things. I heard that one, I think, Latvian organist, never eats like green cucumbers, fresh cucumbers before, on the day of recital, because his stomach does not digest it well, and all these funny things.
V: What about Estonians?
A: I don’t know about Estonians.
V: If Latvians don’t eat cucumbers, maybe Estonians… don’t eat tomatoes.
V: And Lithuanians don’t eat potatoes.
A: Ha ha. If Lithuanians won’t eat potatoes on the day of recital, they might die.
A: It’s our second bread. Well, I’m just joking. But in any way, I had some rituals myself, when I was still in high school. I wouldn’t eat the day before my performance, and do other crazy things. But then I would get really sick after performing because I would have, like, migraine, and all that other stuff. And when we went to study to the United States, I saw that I cannot have any rituals whatsoever. Because if you will have to let’s say to perform after, you know, at 8 pm, and you have classes going all day long and other things you have to do at the university, like teaching assistantship, and all that other stuff, so, what, when, just keep hungry all day long, and then you just faint near the organ bench at 8 pm? And sort of, this busy schedule changed all my habits and I stopped having rituals. I guess the most important thing is that, a minute before you, when you sit on the organ bench, how well you might concentrate and focus during that one minute.
V: Ausra, don’t you think it’s sort of similar to the way people practice martial arts, and they do all kinds of rituals in the dojo as they call it, in the classroom setting. They bow, they breathe, they wear certain clothes, and belts of various colors. But what happens when you go outside of the dojo, and somebody attacks you in the dark alley, right? You cannot say to the attacker, “Oh, wait a second - I will do my 2 minute breathing meditation now, then I will change the uniform, and then maybe do a warm-up.” And so, you will get beaten in the moment. Or maybe you will surprise your attacker this way and he will say, “Oh, it’s not worth dealing with this crazy person,” and maybe he will walk away. It’s a good tactic maybe. To start singing, for example, when you are being attacked. Nobody expects you to sing, right? And this might end the fight, actually.
A: I think all these talks are just speculation. Because you never know how you will react in real life. It’s easy for you to talk about it while you’re sitting in your chair at home, comfortably, and nobody threatens you.
V: I’m not about that. I’m talking about if somebody behaved unexpectedly, had the guts to do this in a real situation. So, the same is with organ performance, I think. When the time comes for you to play, it’s a real challenge. It throws you off balance sometimes, and you have to react without preparation right away.
A: Sure. Because you never know what will happen during your performance. And how well you feel on that day, and all other things. That’s what is the difference between amateur and professional. A professional has to play in any circumstances, in any situation.
V: Mm hm.
V: All right, guys. We hope this was useful to you. Keep exploring your boundaries, what you can do during public performance, and see how your body and mind reacts. You might be surprised. And send us more of your 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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