Vidas: Hello and welcome to Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast!
Ausra: This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better organist.
V: We’re your hosts Vidas Pinkevicius...
A: ...and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene.
V: We have over 25 years of experience of playing the organ
A: ...and we’ve been teaching thousands of organists online from 89 countries since 2011.
V: So now let’s jump in and get started with the podcast for today.
A: We hope you’ll enjoy it!
V: Let’s start episode 589 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Ruth. And she writes,
I am in the process of memorizing a piece, based upon what I am learning in this course! I am also trying to keep in touch with members of my church, because we did not meet last week.
V: Ruth is our Total Organist student, and probably she is writing about the challenges that she’s facing during a quarantine. First of all, let’s talk about the process of memorizing a piece. What method do you use, Ausra?
A: Well, you know, now I am at such a stage of my age and life that I don’t have to memorize music anymore.
V: It comes naturally to you.
A: Yes, it comes naturally to me, but I don’t have to perform from memory, which is a big relief, because to be honest, the memorization and playing from memory was always the weakest spot of my entire musical career. And I still have these nightmares that I come to my piano exam, sit at my instrument, and I’m ready to play, and then I realize that I forgot everything. Absolutely everything. And I still have at times this nightmare. And I realized that never in my life I have started to memorize a piece on time.
V: Mm hm.
A: And I was always memorizing things in a hurry, and I was never really well prepared for it.
V: Mm hm.
A: So I don’t know how I did all these big exams and all these big programs, how I put them in my head somehow.
V: Have you used Dupre’s method?
A: No, because nobody taught me any kind of methods. When I was at school, I was just, said that I have to memorize, I would say, small episodes, like two measures at a time, and put them all together.
V: Mm hm.
A: And then I need to learn a few spots that I would be able to start and to play from them, if something would happen in the middle of my performance.
V: Mm hm.
A: So. And I was also advised, if I make a mistake, that I would not go back, but I would go forward.
V: Oh, jump to the next…part.
A: Yes, if you repeat from that previous spot, you might make a mistake in the same spot again. That’s how it works, because those muscles have their own memory.
V: Yeah, it’s funny, because when you make a mistake, if you try to repeat it, your fingers will play the same thing, unless you consciously know what you were doing wrong.
A: Yes, and you know, while playing organ, I think that the memorization is basically, all the organists, I think we memorize the music naturally while working on it. But during recitals, it’s probably not the best thing to play from memory, at least not if you don’t have the organ with the piston setting…
A: Yes, sequencer. Because in most cases in Europe, you have to have assistants to help you, to change your registrations during your performance. And that we, let’s say at St. John’s church, when we played, for example, Symphonic Poem by Čiurlionis "In the Forrest", we had even two assistants from both sides of the organ. That we, if we would have to play it from memory, we would have to give the music to our assistants, and we would have to have two music stands. And it would be really uncomfortable and unnecessary. So it’s better to have one score in front of organists, and that we two or four people in our case can use it at one time.
V: Correct. And of course newer organs, concert organs usually have combination actions and sequencers, even in Europe.
A: Yes, but unless you have really good to great memory, phenomenal memory, if you are playing all your pieces from memory, I think it narrows down your repertoire list.
V: Mm hm. Because it requires you to spend considerable amount of time just to memorizing it.
A: And then you are just thinking if it is worth or not.
V: Yes, imagine we’re sitting this, in our living room during the quarantine, and every day we tried to record something and put it on YouTube, most of the days we upload and share with our listeners. If we had to memorize each piece, I don’t know, maybe we could do only one video per week.
A: Probably yes.
V: Now we can do one every day most of the time. Sometimes the piece is too difficult, though, but yeah. When you have great sight reading skills, then it takes much less time to prepare, especially if you don’t memorize it. So Ausra, you don’t advise for folks to memorize the piece, or you do?
A: Well, I don’t know what is her goal in memorizing it.
V: Maybe she is taking our Memorization course, that’s why she’s doing it. I don’t know.
A: I think it’s anyway, for each musician it is beneficial to memorize a piece once in awhile. I think it’s good for your brain. But I wouldn’t memorize every piece that I’m learning.
V: You know, and memorization is, sometimes it’s a nice substitute to improvisation. When I was not improvising, I was sometimes memorizing a piece, like a real composition. And I would memorize it and then play it really fluently, and I would imagine that I am improvising this piece, even though it’s not mine.
A: That’s funny. Well, and you know, it’s very difficult you see, because some pieces of music is really easy to memorize, but some are really hard. I remember when I memorized pieces, piano pieces, it was called Perpetuum Mobile.
V: Mm hm. By…
A: By a French composer, what was his name?
V: Perpetuum Mobile, you think it’s French? I thought it was by Weber.
A: No, no, no, no - it wasn’t Weber, it was French composer. You know the guy that wrote that big piece for organ and orchestra.
V: (typing) Perpetuum Mobile…
A: We are really getting old! But it’s hard to remember all the repertoire that we have done in the past.
V: Yeah. It’s hard to find it.
A: I think it’s Poulenc.
V: Poulenc, yes!
A: I think it’s Poulenc, yes.
V: Let’s double check. I’m Googling it now. Poulenc… Yes - on the piano, right?
A: Yes, yes.
V: I don’t remember it.
A: Yes. I played it and I memorized it, and basically this was the easiest piece to memorize for me from the entire repertoire, because it was so well constructed and so easy form, and very easy structure, and it was really easy to memorize.
V: You have a great memory, Ausra! I don’t remember anything about it.
A: Well, but it was very hard for me to remember the name of the composer, but I did it finally. (laughs)
V: Perpetuum Mobile, or Trois mouvement perpétuel, a 1918 piano composition by Francis Poulenc. Ha - it’s from 1918 for piano.
A: So this was the easiest piece for me to memorize out of my entire repertoire.
V: Three movements, right?
A: Yes. But the hardest was actually when I tried to memorize the Messiaen. And I did one of the pieces from his Cataloque of Birds.
V: Mm hm.
A: Alouette lulu I think it was. Oh, that gave me a really hard time. It was good hygiene for my brain.
V: I wonder how to spell this bird, in French? Or this is Latin, maybe?
A: No, that’s French I think.
V: French, right. Let’s see... (laughs) I will double check it later. So, why was it so hard for you to memorize Messiaen?
A: Well, because he used the whole range of the keyboard, and there were big jumps and difficult rhythms. And sort of, it was hard for me to grasp the form of this piece as well. It’s not like classical piece, not like sonata, where you have this exposition, the themes and then the development of the themes, and then you get the recapitulation at the end. And it’s really hard when it’s no common tonal structure, too.
V: You have to get his compositional technique, really.
A: And actually, I know his compositional techniques fairly well by now, but I don’t think it helps me to memorize his music.
V: You know from the middle period, from 1930s, 40s, but not from 1950s and 60s.
A: Yes, and this is really his late work, so.
V: Mm hm. Plus bird calls, they are very spontaneous.
A: True, true.
V: You don’t really, you can’t really systematize those into modes and Hindu ragas and talas, and those influences. Or Gregorian chant modes, or Greek rhythms in bird songs.
A: Well actually, when I was learning this piece from the Bird Catalogue, I had a parrot. And she would just go crazy while hearing me play Messiaen.
V: Uh huh. Somehow she would recognize it.
A: That’s right.
V: She would, or he - it was a boy - he would think that you would be teasing him, right?
A: I think so, yes. Because he would really get frustrated.
V: I once had an experiment, and I recorded his song and played him back. And he went crazy.
A: Poor bird!
V: Poor bird! Yeah, I wonder if he understood what’s happening.
A: Probably not.
V: He would love to sit and look at the mirror for hours.
A: He would be like bipolar.
A: Yes, bipolar. Because one day he would look very gently at that mirror and try to touch it gently, but during the other day he would just go mad and would try to hit it, and….
V: Yeah, yeah. Wonderful parrot pet. So guys, thanks for sending us your questions. Please apply our tips in your practice. They really help, they really work. 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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