Vidas: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 561 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Andrei. And he writes,
Thank you very much! My organ playing is improving and has improved drastically. I'm especially thankful for your sight reading course. It's great!
V: I guess this is Andrei’s answer to my question of how is his organ playing going on these days.
A: Yes, I think so too.
V: Very glad that sight reading course is working for him. Do you think people can learn, Ausra, from sight reading various voices and voice combinations of a collection of music, like The Art of Fugue of Johann Sebastian Bach, from which my organ sight reading master course is based on?
A: Yeah, I think that’s a great course. And I think that in general, sight reading is a very useful skill that any musician must have.
V: Mm hm.
A: Because it’s very beneficial, especially if you are working a church, you have to produce a new music for every Sunday, then I think it’s necessary that you would be a good sight reader.
V: Let me ask you this, Ausra: If you could choose, would you choose superb sight reading skills, or superb improvisational skills?
A: Hm. That’s a tricky question.
V: I know.
A: But let me say this. I think that these two qualities that you named, they don’t contradict each other.
V: They support each other
A: I think they support each other. Although, I guess that people who in general improvise more probably don’t like to play from the musical score so much. I know that because of you, too, because at one point you almost gave up playing from the musical score.
V: That was a few years ago.
A: And I had to put quite an effort to lead you back to playing repertoire as well.
V: Mm, there is some side effects in not playing from the score and only improvising, is that you will not gain knowledge of the music created before you, right? And you will not apply that knowledge in your improvisation. Basically, you will start, I don’t know, producing music which is increasingly influenced by your own imagination - or limited by your own imagination.
A: I would say that it’s limited - it’s more accurate term to name it.
V: But there is another side to this. Some people prefer to improvise without copying anyone, without being influenced by anyone. And that’s what I mean.
A: Well, you know, simply, what is my opinion, that’s, well, how original can you be? Yes, you can be original to some degree. Because still, you know, you are using ideas that you have heard somewhere. But maybe you heard them in another organ.
V: Maybe you heard them in your own key.
A: That’s a possibility, but anyway, all music is made out of, what, 12 tones.
V: Twelve pitches, you mean.
A: Twelve pitches, yes.
V: Yeah, sometimes when I improvise, I catch myself playing the same intonations, the same melodic ideas, in a different order maybe, different texture, different form, or registration, the mode. But they’re all mine, you know, part of my language. And I guess that’s normal and natural. But…
A: But for example, if you are improvising, let’s say in the Dorian mode, yes? It’s still not a mode created by you. You still borrow some ideas from all around of the musical world, don’t you think so? It’s just how well you arrange them, you know.
V: Yeah, yes. There is a saying that it’s best to borrow from the dead. From the people who lived long before you. Then it’s not stealing, and actually being influenced by those masters. That’s why we play early music as well. Not only to just enjoy it, but to see how it could be recreated in a new context, right?
A: Yeah. And if you would look at your musical history, you could see that each new style is sort of wants to deny the previous style, but wants to take over the ideas from another style. Let’s say, let’s make this clearer. For example, if we are talking about baroque, you know, after that the classical period came who denied baroque, sort of. But we took ideas more from the Renaissance. But when the romantic period came, we sort of denied the classic. But we took ideas from the baroque time.
V: What do you mean, from the baroque time? What kind of ideas?
A: Well, I don’t mean that we copied the baroque ideas.
V: Uh huh.
A: But let’s say J.S. Bach was almost forgotten during the classical period. Nobody cares about his music so much, except maybe for Well Tempered Clavier. But then when Mendelssohn found all his great choral music, all his cantatas and passions by J.S. Bach, and it gave him new license - I believe that Mendelssohn in his choral compositions also used some of Bach’s ideas.
A: So that’s what I mean. But of course, nowadays, composers take ideas from all those previous periods.
V: Mm hm. Even from Middle Ages.
A: And it’s all very very eclectic.
V: From Middle Ages, from exotic places, from cultures that are not western-oriented. From various historical periods, of those places, you know, study of music, let’s say, of Japan, but not of 20th century, but let’s say 17th century Japan, whatever they can find out about that, of course. But if they can, they could, they would study the music of ancient Hindu rhythms and modes and apply it today. Mix them with different other influences, like bird songs, or Gregorian chant, and you get, what?
V: Olivier Messiaen. It’s all very personal now. Whatever you meet in your life, it could be your influence, correct?
V: For better or worse.
A: Yes, you know my students, one of my students just last week, he asked me about academic music - composing academic music, and I asked him what kind of music that is. Do you mean professional music? He said, “Well, maybe…” Then he explained that he wants to become a composer, but he doesn’t want to compose ugly music. And I asked him what he means, ugly music. And he just said “be be be be - that’s it” -- that’s how he described ugly music. And I realized that it’s probably something very atonal and not pretty for him. So I asked, “What do you want to compose music for?” And he said, “Well, I like some music composed for the movies.” And I told him that he needs to find, to get online and to find out about places that sort of prepares you for writing such kind of music.
V: Oh, you can get a master class now online, from Hans Zimmer, probably the most famous living composer of cinematic music. Besides John Williams, of course. And he teachers his own techniques online.
A: Is it free?
V: No, it’s not free. It’s on a platform called MasterClass.com.
A: Well, I don’t think he would be able to pay now. He’s just a minor yet, so.
A: But I told him that there are places, let’s say in the United States where you could go and study composition that specializes in making music for the movies. And they help you to understand how different effects are created.
V: Mm hm.
A: Fear, love, drama. All that kind of stuff.
V: Yes. So, we started this conversation in a completely different mindset, talking about a sight reading course, and finished about movie music. I guess the recurring heme is to get better and better every day, start practicing. Like your student, if he wants to do something with cinematic music, he doesn’t want to wait. Doesn’t need to wait to graduate and go to college. Maybe he can start creating himself - not necessarily for movies, but for videos that he creates, composes, right. For videos that he produces. Or something else that is available to him, not necessarily getting permission from others, but taking initiative, and doing, taking the first step. And Andrei, the same thing for you. For sight reading and playing, and improving your organ playing, I believe this: whatever you do today, you will thank for this a month later. Thank you, guys. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Please 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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