SOPP630: If in a church there is a need for an organist, and the only two keyboardists are a professional concert pianist and a mediocre/intermediate organist, who do you think would be better to play on the organ?
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Ausra: This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better organist.
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A: ...and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene.
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V: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
Vidas: Let’s start episode 630 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Andrei, and he writes:
“Hi Vidas and Ausra!
I have a question for you:
If in a church there is a need for an organist, and the only two keyboardists are a professional concert pianist and a mediocre/intermediate organist, who do you think would be better to play on the organ?”
Vidas: That’s an interesting question, right Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, but if I would have to choose, I would choose the mediocre intermediate organist, because you can be a perfect professional concert pianist, but that doesn’t mean you will be even a mediocre on the organ if you don’t know how to play it.
Vidas: Because let’s face it; piano and organ have similarities, only certain similarities, like the keyboards are the same, right? Sometimes reverse color, but basically the keys are in the same order. What else, Ausra?
Ausra: And that’s pretty much all they have in common. Everything else is different. Even the sound is produced by a different principle.
Vidas: Yes. On the piano, they produce the sound with the help of the hammers and the strings, hitting the strings, and as soon as the hammer hits the strings, the sound starts to fade. What’s different about the organ, Ausra?
Ausra: Organ basically is a wind instrument, because it consists of pipes, and it has bellows, so basically it’s a different kind of instrument comparing to the piano, and the approach to it is very different. Of course, if you have a good piano technique, it never hurts for you, and it would help for you on the organ, but still, it’s not the only thing.
Vidas: What if you really are a professional concert pianist and want to play the organ? Is it possible to get used to the new techniques?
Ausra: Sure, but I guess you will still have to have some, at least some, organ lessons that will teach you the basic approach to the instrument, because it has pedals, because if you will only play the manual part or accompany hymns on the manuals, it wouldn’t do any good because playing pedal is a crucial part of any organists routine.
Vidas: What about if the situation were reversed, and you needed to play professionally the piano and there are a mediocre pianist and then world class concert organist? What’s then?
Ausra: Well let’s not bother to turn our heads about that, because this is not our question; not what Andrei is asking.
Vidas: But, hypothetically, this situation might arise in some churches if they only have like a piano, and two choices: very poor pianist, poor sight-reading pianist with poor technique, and very good organist. The organist probably would do it. Right? On the piano…
Ausra: Yes, I think that’s the easier way than another one.
Vidas: So probably organists are in more demand than pianist, right Ausra, because of this?
Ausra: Yes, because piano doesn’t require such a good coordination as does the organ. Let’s face it, it’s thinking in sort of steps while playing the organ, and while playing the piano you have only one keyboard, of course it’s much wider, but still, you don’t have to coordinate so much. You just have to coordinate between your right and left hand, but with an organ you also have plus two feet, two manage, too.
Vidas: And we’re not talking about the most advanced piano repertoire. We are talking about general basic piano repertoire that could be played in a church setting, liturgical setting. Of course, the organist will have an easier time adapting, but what’s different with the organist is the organist will then have to learn how to use the sustain pedal—the right pedal—from scratch. Right? But usually, organists play piano before starting to play the organ. Right?
Ausra: Yes, so I don’t think that’s a real problem. I think it’s harder to go to play the organ if you only took piano before. It takes a while. It takes a while to find the right touch and to manage to coordinate everything. Well, because, you know, just don’t think that if you are a good piano player that you will sit on the organ bench, you will do exactly the same thing that you did on the piano and that it will work. No! It will not! Definitely it will not!
Vidas: So you need some basics, basic foundation techniques to learn about the organ, get used to it, maybe observe a real organist working on the organ for starters, and then a little bit later, ask permission to play a short piece here and there with the guidance from a real organist.
Ausra: You know, I have happened to observe a few times in my life as the good pianist comes to the organ, for example, to accompany a choir. That’s a very common situation. And he or she sits down at the organ and starts to play and starts doing all these twists and elbows motion, and using your shoulders, and basically it’s so different from the organ, and they try to force it as they do on the piano to make the sound deeper or louder, and it’s just not how it works. Instead of that, you just have a slower tempo and a really big mess!
Vidas: Yeah, one of the most crucial differences on the organ from the piano is that you have to control your releases very much—the endings of the chords. When you release both hands together or not together, it’s really audible on the organ, much more so than on the piano.
Ausra: Definitely. That’s because the sound doesn’t die on the organ.
Vidas: Right. But that’s a good question. Sometimes really churches have to pick which one they would find more usable in a liturgical setting—professional concert pianist or a mediocre organist.
Ausra: Well, though in Lithuania, usually the church organists don’t get paid well enough, so I think even to have a mediocre or intermediate organist is too good for the salary that usually organists in Lithuania get, so…
Vidas: Yeah, the salary that they pay is usually only for showing up. Right? If you showed up, I think that’s good enough for that salary. But if you want to play something in a Western society, it would be just not enough to survive.
Ausra: Yes, but let’s say if that professional concert pianist is young and is willing to learn, I’m quite sure that with time, he or she could adjust and become an excellent organist, as well. And if that organist, let’s say, is older in age and is only mediocre and intermediate level and doesn’t want to improve, then I think it would be harder to achieve a higher level. So it depends on the situation, and of course it depends on what the church needs, actually, what kind of music they need to support their liturgy.
Vidas: Yes, whether they need more organ music or keyboard music. That’s the big big difference. Right? If they need the piano music more than the organ, then… you know.
Ausra: But if they do a lot of congregational singing and value the hymns, then I would say that an intermediate organist works better than a pianist.
Vidas: Agree. So guys, we hope this was useful to you. 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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