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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 598 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Vivien, and she writes:
“Thank you so much for your acknowledgment and interest Vidas. Next time I will understand better how to enter the amount of money and make it more in line with the quantity and quality of expert help coming from you and Ausra.
Lockdown means no Church Services and so has given me a chance to improve my basic skills instead of being stressed with deadlines.
I’m trying to improve my trills and am using a manual piece Jesus, meine Zuversicht, BWV 728. I listen to Wolfgang Stockmeier because I happen to have his CDs, copy him and then record myself. The long trills still sound awkward, but then I found your advice of slow, exact and emphasising every other note which I’ve never read before.
Feeling optimistic that this could be a breakthrough. Can’t believe the way that you understand such detailed problems.
I hope that you both are coping well in this crisis.
V: So, Ausra, what comes to mind when you read this message?
A: I remember my way of dealing with trills, actually.
V: And? Was it a long time ago?
A: Yes, it was a long time ago, but actually I struggled with playing trills well for quite a long time, and I think what I had was not so much as a physical incapacity to play them right, but something in my head that I was so much afraid of trills that when the trill would come, I would get like a muscle spasm or something and couldn’t execute them right.
V: In long trills, you mean? Or short ones?
A: Yes, usually in longer. The longer the trill, the bigger the problem was.
V: For me, the pedal trills are quite complex, or actually I should say was quite complex. Remember the B-A-C-H by Liszt, “Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H,” and there is this pedal trill toward the end, a long one, and expanding to the next measure and the next measure…
A: Yes, I remember this piece, it’s fun!
V: ...in the last measure, in the last page, I think… I was struggling with it for a long time.
A: That’s funny because, you know, this was one of the easiest pieces that I have played that sounds really hard. I don’t know.. I learned it very fast, and it gave me none of the technical difficulties.
V: Even in the pedals?
A: Yes, even in the pedals, because you don’t have to play like double trills to play a trill with one foot, you just use both of your feet, and that’s it!
V: I don’t remember if it’s a double trill in octaves or not.
V: No. You know what? I always admired your ability to play long trills with 3-4-3-4-3-4 fingers.
A: Yes, but I only can do it on a tracker action, because on our Hauptwerk, on the plastic keyboard I cannot do it. I use the 2-3, 3-2.
V: What’s your secret then, in playing trills?
A: Actually, what helped me to overcome those spasms was breathing. Basically, I just have to breathe. Don’t forget to breathe before the trill and during the trill, especially if it’s a long one, and somehow it relaxes my muscles and I can play it successfully. Of course, another thing is that, well, you need to preserve the rhythmical structure of the piece, because what happens often with the beginners is that when the trill comes, that they simply lose the sense of the rhythmical flow. So what I would do if I were a beginner is that I would learn a piece or at least play it a part of the way through without trills, just omitting them for a while. And then, when I would be really comfortable with the text, then I would add them. That would preserve the rhythmical structure and of course, another thing is, as you said to Vivien earlier, how you accent the trill in order to make it correct, but then another way would be to not play it so strictly rhythmically, because if you will play it in a final version and emphasize each other note, it will sound ridiculously unmusical.
V: Yeah, it would sound artificial.
A: Yes, so basically what I do with my long trills is that I start slowly, and I speed up, and then towards the end I slow down again. And then, it becomes more natural.
V: Good violinists play like that in Baroque music, so it’s good to listen to violin trills and then copy them. Why didn’t you tell me about breathing when I was struggling with the B-A-C-H by Liszt trills?
A: Well, it was such a long time ago that I don’t think I had developed my own technique at that time.
V: Yeah. I wish I had known this advice earlier.
A: It helps for hand trills. I don’t know if that would work for the pedal.
V: Probably still! Everything tenses up when you stop breathing. Your ankles, too. Yeah, probably would help. So guys, keep breathing when you’re playing trills, and practice, of course, slowly at first. Vivien doesn’t make a mistake here with practicing slowly at first, when you’re just first getting the hang of the trill, but when it’s more naturally to you, then you can apply Ausra’s advice, too.
A: Plus try different fingerings sometimes. I would not suggest you to try the fifth and the fourth finger because it probably wouldn’t work, maybe for you it would, but try the fourth and three; for some people it works, like for me on the tracker organ. If that doesn’t work, then try 3-2. Actually, try 3-1! This works sometimes quite nicely, because it’s sort of a natural hand position. And even for some people 1-2 might work, so it’s according to each of our individual natures. So try all these combinations and see what works best for you.
V: I even in some piano exercise, I think it was… it might have been Hanon drills doing it like this: 1-3-2-3-1-3-2-3-1-3-2-3, like this.
A: Yes, it makes sense sometimes!
V: It’s a romantic technique, not necessarily Baroque. But if you’re playing later music, why not? Of course later music doesn’t have as many trills!
A: That’s right! And another suggestion, if absolutely some of the trills don’t work for you and you can’t play them gracefully, then just omit them in your final performance, because really, the trill that is not executed nicely can ruin an entire piece.
V: I agree.
A: So it’s better to do less ornamentation than to do it in a not graceful manner.
V: While we are talking about this, would you recommend people starting include ornamentation right at the beginning of the learning process, or somewhere in the middle?
A: Well, it depends on how much you struggle with it, because for people for whom trills ruin the rhythmical structure of the piece, I would suggest to learn to play, to practice the piece from the beginning without any ornaments. If it’s not an issue, then you can add ornaments right away.
V: Yeah, in music schools, teachers usually omit the trills for a quite some time so students don’t get used to them, and then they struggle while adding them just in the final month or so.
A: That’s in general. Pianists, most of the time they don’t know how to play the ornaments, because they don’t deal so much with the Baroque music, so they are not as good at reading trills as the organists are.
V: Yeah, and a good table of ornaments if you’re playing music of J. S. Bach is the beginning of his “Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedmann Bach.” He copied, I think, the Frenchman’s d’Anglebert's table of ornaments there. So that’s why we use the French style of ornamentation.
A: But again, you know, if you are playing other composers, such as Buxtehude, for example, then you have to follow with the Italian way of ornamenting.
V: Yes, starting from the main note, not from the upper note. But there are exceptions, of course. So many things to talk about. Maybe we will leave it for future conversations. 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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