SOPP628: At 72 years of age my goal is to play some of Bach's organ music with musicality and appropriate style
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: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
Vidas: Let’s start episode 628 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Stephen, and he writes:
“At 72 years of age my goal is to play some of Bach's organ music with musicality and appropriate style...i.e. registration ...trills ..phrasing. I have explored the "Little preludes and Fugues" using Soderlund's book on authentic technique for that period. To be able to continue to practice. (I own an Viscount Digital Organ with appropriate AGO standards. I also studied formally with an organist for 2 years)
To be able to improve my pedal technique. I have used your Pedal Mastery Course to help in that regard. I purchased it when you first offered it to us. I would like to know other sources of exercises that might help in improving.
To be able to memorize even at my age....I find that practicing the organ and piano HELP keep my mind sharp ...Excellent therapy...
Vidas: So Stephen is 72 years old, and he has several goals. Let’s talk about them in turn, shall we?
Ausra: Yes, of course.
Vidas: He wants, first of all, to play Bach’s organ music with appropriate sense of style, basically probably historically informed performance practice. That’s what he means, right?
Ausra: Yes. That’s what I understood from his letter.
Vidas. Hmm. I would suggest, beside Soderlund’s book, which is obviously an excellent manual and resource material, but I also recommend my own video course called, “Bach Organ Mastery, Level 1,” where I teach how to play those little preludes and fugues—Eight Little Preludes and Fugues. It’s, I think, a 16 week course. In each week we learn either one prelude or one fugue. We start, not with the first prelude and fugue, which is not the easiest one, but with the easiest, which is probably G minor, I would say.
Ausra: Yes, Prelude is definitely G minor.
Vidas: So, that’s my suggestion. I not only teach the techniques, how to master them, but I also teach how those pieces are put together, analyzing them.
Ausra: I think this is very important, too, to understand how the music is put together.
Vidas: And I’ve got very good feedback from students who watch those videos and say that they appreciate my analysis as much as or even more than my teaching of techniques; how to play them. Analysis is kind of a hidden thing. You can maybe teach yourself how to play the piece, but if you don’t understand how the piece is put together, it’s kind of difficult to analyze it yourself. You have to consult some sources, and one of them is my course.
Ausra: Plus, I think a video course is more beneficial because you can see another person playing and how another person sits and touches the keyboard. I think this is very important, too. To see it, not only to read about how it should be done, and to listen to how the final result should be. And another suggestion for Stephen from me would be maybe you are willing to find some kind of tracker—access to a tracker instrument, just to see how it works and to play it, to practice it for a while, because that might give you more idea about how Baroque music should be performed. Because you have that practice organ at home, which is great, because you can do it every day then, but I think getting on the tracker organ would help you to understand the meaning of Baroque articulation and ordinary touch.
Vidas: Yeah, speaking about the tracker organ, at home we have a Hauptwerk setup, and also a practice organ with two stops, which is a tracker organ. The keyboards in our Hauptwerk setup have a very light touch. Basically, no resistance at all. So, I made a video a few days ago how to play, I think in 12 steps, the famous Gigout Toccata. It’s not a Baroque piece, but I bring it up here because it’s appropriate, because I started learning it and recording it on the Hauptwerk, on the plastic keyboard. And it went well! I applied my own steps, taught myself… you can watch the video. But then, I think the next day, I sat down on the pipe organ at our house, and it felt almost like sight-reading all over again, and I was scared, because my recital is coming up in a few days, you know, this weekend, of this particular piece I am planning to prepare. Of course, I can postpone it or substitute with another piece (I have plenty to choose from), but I was kind of frustrated because a day before, I was doing well, and now I cannot play it at all! What’s happening? Then the next day, like yesterday, I sat down on the Hauptwerk setup again and tried to play the same Gigout Toccata, and guess what? It wasn’t that bad. It was sort of not perfect, but close to ready. So, my point is that playing on even a small practice organ with two stops which have genuine tracker action is much much more difficult than any type of electronic organ, virtual organ, digital organ, which has very very light touch.
Ausra: But you know, yes, it’s more difficult, but at the same time, it’s more fun and it makes more sense, because sometimes when you are trying to do all the Baroque articulation on the light keyboard, it doesn’t make sense, very often. And then you start to think, “Why do I need to do this all? I might just play all things legato and that is comfortable to me.” But when you sit at the tracker organ, you will then understand why all these rules and all this trouble. Then it really makes sense, all those tips.
Vidas: Yeah, absolutely, I agree with you on this question. Just understand that even though it’s more difficult to play on the tracker organ, from time to time it’s much more beneficial. If you don’t have access to it every day, going to a church with a pipe organ which has a tracker action from time to time regularly will help you a lot. Right?
Ausra: Yes, of course.
Vidas: What about improving his pedal technique. Can we talk a little bit about that? He used the “Pedal Mastery Course,” which is of course great to start. He said that he purchased it when I first offered it. He doesn’t say if he completed it.
Ausra: Yes, we don’t know about that.
Vidas: It’s a long course! It’s… or not. No, it’s not that long. The “Sight-reading Master Course” is 40 weeks long, but pedal mastery course is probably 12 weeks long plus some bonus weeks, bonus material,
Ausra: Does that include bonus material right from the beginning of the scores, or did you add them later?
Vidas: Right from the beginning, yes, so that people could get extra value.
Ausra: Oh, okay.
Vidas: So yeah, even those 12 weeks—I’m not sure if Stephen has completed, or how… I offered it a while ago, many years ago I would say. Right?
Ausra: Yes, it’s been a while.
Vidas: It was one of my first courses, maybe from 2012, 2013, something like that in the early days, and this is 2020. We’re talking about maybe 8, 7, 6 years of not practicing from this course. Maybe let’s recommend that Stephen go back to this course!
Ausra: Yes, it might be beneficial to refresh your pedal technique.
Vidas: He will be surprised, obviously. It’s not that he would have forgotten everything that he learned if he had completed this course in the early days, but it will be beneficial, nonetheless, to refresh. What about memorization? Can he try to memorize?
Ausra: Yes, of course, if he thinks it is beneficial for his brain, then of course, why not? Personally, I don’t memorize music very often, because that way I cannot do as much repertoire as I would want to do, because for me, it’s better to learn more pieces than to memorize one piece during that time. But some day I might change my mind!
Vidas: When you have played all of them.
Ausra: I don’t think that’s possible.
Vidas: Yeah. We have so many scores at home that we will probably never run out of music. Right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: But yes, I agree with you. I also don’t memorize regularly nowadays because my goal is like yours—to master it, and perform in public, to record, to live-stream as much repertoire as I can, and memorizing takes maybe 10 times as much of work with one piece. Right? So I could learn 10 pieces in that period of time. Right? In my case, it’s not worth it.
Ausra: Yes, because I think the sight-reading new music, learning new music gives your brain enough of exercise. Don’t you think so?
Vidas: Right. Right. Also excellent therapy, like Stephen adds at the end.
Vidas: So choose whatever you feel works well for you in your situation at your age, for example. Right? Maybe people who are past 60, let’s say, 65, have different goals than we have right now.
Vidas: That’s okay! That’s okay. And maybe our goals will change with time.
Ausra: I have no doubt about it.
Vidas: So guys, please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
Ausra: 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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