SOPP565: I practise every day for at least two hours and my latest piece (which I have just mastered) is the Bach Toccata BWV 538 (Dorian)
Vidas: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 565 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Allen. And he writes,
Hi Vidas and Ausra, It is great to read other people's problems and challenges and I would love to hear your responses to mine. I took up the organ seriously in 2015 after retiring and I am now 71. I practise every day for at least two hours and my latest piece (which I have just mastered) is the Bach Toccata BWV 538 (Dorian). Unfortunately, I do have the occasional BAD day when everything goes wrong, even bars that never went wrong before. I soldier on but it often gets worse. Do you ever experience this? If so, what do you do? Hoping to hear from you,
V: So, it’s very common piece and wonderful, Dorian toccata that Bach wrote, but I’m not sure if he is playing the Fugue or not.
A: Well, anyway, I think this kind of problem, I have experienced it quite a lot actually. Many times. Because when we are talking about toccatas, we have this repeated patterns, motivic rhythm, at fast tempo, and while playing a lot of it, it might be overplayed, so to say. So the best thing for me is just to take a break and maybe to drop that piece for one or two days. Or even for a few days. And then to start to play it again, but at a slow tempo.
V: Why is that, why do you have to take a break?
A: Well, because you know, if I will force it, I might ruin it, and I might not want to play it anymore.
V: And another answer might be probably that you have to let the unconscious do the work for you, while you are sleeping, while you are doing some other things, your mind still works subconsciously on that piece.
A: I think that’s a very good point.
V: Mm hm. And sometimes, subconscious practice is more beneficial than conscious practice, right? If we always force it and do it over and over again repeatedly, 100 times, 1000 times and with no results, maybe yes, we can take a break for a few days and then come back, and then the piece will start to sound like from scratch, like a fresh piece. And we will find many interesting new things in it, after we haven’t been, having been away from it for awhile.
A: Because, you know, I get this feeling all the time when we are getting ready for our recitals.
That you cannot practice every day in a concert tempo, because you ruin the piece.
V: That’s very obvious, yeah.
A: And the closer your recital comes, the better you are with your pieces, the more careful you need to be with it. And you need to take breaks, and you need to practice in a slow tempo.
V: Yes, because it’s very tempting to play fast and…
A: Yes, because everything is ready, you know, you know everything.
V: It’s tempting to pretend that the recital is today. For example, we are recording it on Saturday, and our next recital is a week from tomorrow, on Sunday,
V: In Sweden. And therefore, we have to try to peak on that day. Not today, not tomorrow, not in the middle of the week, but on the right day, and even on the right time. It will be like at 6:00 PM, and we have to get ready so that people in Sweden, in a city called Örebro would be listening there and enjoying it the most.
A: True, so I guess the best timing is very important, and when you are learning and improving your skills, you need to find a pattern that works for you.
V: And sometimes, it’s the opposite true, yes? Sometimes you can play slow and the easy way, and the calm way for too long, and then when the recital comes, or public appearance comes, you don’t know how you can handle the stress of the real tempo, because you never tried it.
A: So I guess, you need to play in the concert tempo, that’s for sure, but after you reach that concert tempo, and you feel really comfortable in it, then you need to go back to a slower tempo.
V: Well, for cases like that, they always recommend recording themselves, for people. And listening to those recordings. And when you press the record button, you always feel a little bit of stress, like, you can’t repeat a mistake, you can’t stop. You have to keep going. And that’s like a little bit similar to a real situation when people are listening to you live. And that’s very very helpful, if you really know the level that you are in right now. If you really mastered the Dorian toccata or not. Maybe it’s just in your mind that you have mastered it, but if you record it, maybe it’s another story. You have to check it.
A: And recording yourself, I think, helps also to overcome performance anxiety.
V: True. Exactly, because you are getting through these multiple levels of stress many times, and it’s not that stressful anymore, right?
A: True, and the more you do it, the easier it gets.
V: Although, this week when I recorded, I think the Spring from The Four Seasons by Vivaldi in the church, it was on Monday, I think, I was really nervous. Because I haven’t recorded anything from the score in a long while. You know, I usually livestream my improvisations, but that’s not the same, right? Because you can make up notes. Or if I perform modern-sounding music, people don’t know what kind of notes there are. But if it’s really popular classical piece like the Spring from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, everybody knows this piece inside out, and I was having a really stressful time calming myself down and focusing. Because I was actually livestreaming this piece when I was recording it. But, I had a fail-safe button on - I pressed the privacy level to “Private.” Nobody could hear it at that time. And only when I was happy with the performance, I set it on “Public.”
A: So you were cheating a little bit, yes?
V: I was cheating, yes. But the next time I recorded live, it was later on, the different piece, let’s say Bridal March from Lohengrin by Richard Wagner, I did it live. And actually played it three times. Nobody noticed, actually, on Facebook. All three times were good. But I chose the best version, the last version, for YouTube, for example. I edited it later.
A: I guess you perform so much, so many times, and you livestream on Facebook, that nobody pays attention to you anymore.
V: No, people usually listen to the beginning, and send “likes” and hearts, etc., and comment, for example, but not too many people listen to the end.
V: It’s the same on YouTube, too. Ok, guys. The best advice we could give, probably, is to practice slowly, and record yourself in this case. And then you will know your right, your exact level, and probably the bars that you occasionally play with mistakes can be fixed.
A: And I really advise you to take a break.
V: Oh, that’s good advice. I forgot about it. That’s like going on a trip, and missing your family, for example, if you go alone. And you come back, you miss your family, you start to appreciate it even more.
A: Yes. So that might happen for Bach’s Toccata, Dorian.
V: And play the Fugue, also. Fugue is worth the trouble, too. Our friend Jeremy Owens, practiced this piece, Toccata and Fugue, and Toccata, I think, was easier than Fugue for him.
A: I think that’s always the case with Toccatas and Fugues.
V: But he finally mastered this piece, so I have no doubt that Allen can do this too. Thank you. 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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