SOPP576: I tend to focus too much on what I am playing on Sunday and don’t make as much progress on the “bigger” pieces that take much longer than a week to learn
Vidas: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 576 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Julie. And she writes,
I tend to focus too much on what I am playing on Sunday and don’t make as much progress on the “bigger” pieces that take much longer than a week to learn. Sometimes there isn’t much I can do about that if things are particularly busy at work.
V: Ausra, this challenge seems to be particularly common among liturgical organists, right?
A: Yes, I think so, yes.
V: Who have constant duties at church, preparing hymns, preludes, and other liturgical music week after week. But then, what comes after that is really hard to learn, right? After a month or three months from now, a person doesn’t have enough time.
A: True. Although I think there are some solutions that could be applied. First of all, if you are a church organist for more than one year, well, each liturgical year has its own festivities and occasions. And after some time, you will see that, you will notice that the hymns will come back, and you will be playing the same hymns as the last year or the year before that. So I guess after knowing your hymnal really well, it doesn’t take so long to prepare hymns for Sunday. And the same with preludes and postludes. You don’t need to play new things every Sunday. Maybe you can repeat some of older pieces after some time. And you can alternate between them, so that will save time, too.
V: This situation kind of reminds me of your schoolwork and preparation for it. How much time did you have to spend in your first or second year?
A: A lot. Many hours.
V: Many hours. Mm hm. Half an hour for each lesson, class?
A: Yes, for when I worked the first year, probably yes.
V: And you were teaching, like maybe 20 or more classes every week?
A: Yes, around that. I started with 18 hours per week, and then I had more.
V: Mm hm. But then the second year, did you notice some things got easier?
A: Well, some things. But still, it was quite hard.
V: Obviously, because the course was more advanced, right?
V: Eleventh grade. You started from the tenth grade, then eleventh grade?
A: Well, I have taught since the fifth grades.
V: Uh huh.
A: When I started to work, so…
V: And then the third year afterwards it got even more complex, right?
V: With twelfth grade harmony. But when did you start to notice things to be repeating, and your skill level and experience level helping you out?
A: Well I guess after five years, I noticed.
V: I wonder how long Julie is working in church, and is she having five year’s experience or not?
A: But now it takes me one hour for, to prepare for entire week, so, at the very most.
V: So I would imagine with your experience, a person who would play at church for a decade or more, they could simply practice those hymns and liturgical music and preludes one hour in advance, maybe on Saturday evening, right?
A: Yes. And when we are talking about problems like this, I just think, how blest are the organists who can improvise. How much time they can save.
V: Yes, that’s a great idea. So Julie, I think Ausra is suggesting you to improvise.
V: Or do some kind of combination of repertoire playing and improvisation. At first, you will be very, you will feel like you are a beginner at this, inadequate skills. It’s like starting to play the organ from the, from scratch. But little by little, after a year or two, you will get more experience.
A: And another thing: If you are working on the larger scale repertoire for, let’s say a recital, you could integrate some of that music into a liturgical service as well. Maybe not to play an entire piece, but maybe just an episode out of it.
V: And finish with a nice cadence.
A: I know. And that way, you will then go both ways. You will add to your larger repertoire, and you will fill in your service.
V: Yes, I know what you mean. It’s like a cycle. Prelude and Fugue has two parts, right? You could play the Prelude in the beginning and Fugue at the end.
A: That’s still a lot of music.
V: Still a lot?
V: So what you could do, to play just the prelude, but split it in two parts, and finish it with a nice final cadence, maybe with extension towards subdominant key at the end and then coming back to the tonic. And then this would be your prelude, half of the actual prelude. And then the other half could be repeated after the service. Maybe starting with some kind of gradual introduction so you could drive into this postlude gradually, musically, in an aesthetically pleasing way.
A: Yes, that’s a good suggestion.
V: This requires obviously harmony skills, maybe music theory skills, and even a little bit more experience. But the general suggestion could be like this. Incorporate your bigger works into liturgy.
A: And of course, when you’re picking up larger pieces for recitals, you could think about that too, if they would strategically fit into the service music. Because obviously there are lots of organ repertoire that could be easily included into the service music. Let’s say partitas, Pachelbel’s partitas or Bach’s partitas. They work just well and these segmented pieces, so you wouldn’t need to worry about making up the cadences.
V: And in general, I think you have to gather more and more repertoire, so that when the time comes for you to play in public, let’s say a recital, then you don’t have to learn everything from scratch, but as Ausra says, learn just one or two pieces from scratch, and repeat everything else this time. And next time, you can learn two more pieces and repeat everything else, you see. And you gradually will supplant your repertoire, refresh your repertoire this way, but won’t overextend yourself.
A: That’s right.
V: Yeah. That’s our suggestions for this question, and they should be helpful for people, right, Ausra?
A: Yes, I hope so.
V: So please, guys, send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: 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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