Today I taught harmony for a group of 14 church organists at Vilnius Cathedral. This course is a part of St Gregory Organ Academy. We will have 4 more classes this semester and today was the first meeting which was combined with liturgical organ playing class. We started with my colleague Paulius Grigonis giving an overview of his course about playing acclamations.
People usually struggle with playing some forms of Amen, Benediction and Preface. So Paulius prepared some sheets with correct answers in one voice notation. The students will have to learn to supply their harmonizations during the semester.
Then they tried playing some answers in octaves and in four parts. I also suggested a two part version.
During the intermission between liturgical organ playing and harmony classes Paulius asked everyone to introduce themselves starting with me. I told them the story about my first encounter with pipe organ at the village church in Bagaslaviskis when I was in the 3rd grade and my mom had to pump the bellows for 3 hours by hand. Because of this experience I got noticed by the local priest and he asked me to play at the golden wedding anniversary next Sunday for which I received my first ever pay - 25 rubles (an average monthly salary in those days was less than 100 rubles). I also mentioned my organ study at the art gymnasium and at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater and the US. I shared with them how the organ blower died when I played the largest mechanical organ in the world at St Joseph's church in Liepaja, Latvia.
Other students also introduced themselves and their reasons of studying at this academy. One answer that stuck was that a person needs a challenge at this point of life where his organist work is already stable and he is in mid 30s.
After all the students finished introducing themselves I asked them to play 4 part harmony a small 4 measure fragment of one hymn. Based on their skills I assigned them into 2 levels - 2 people got into the 2nd level and the rest will study from the beginning.
I then showed them my handout with 5 hymn tunes for which they will have to provide the bass line only (playing the instrument and on paper in writing). I do this two voice texture intentionally so that even people without formal music education would prepare themselves for 4 part harmony.
Students seem to like this approach and I sat down on the organ bench and played very slowly the 1st hymn in two parts saying out loud the intervals that were sounding. The trick was to avoid dissonant intervals of 2nd, 7th and tritone and use consonant intervals of 3rds, 6ths, octaves and 5ths. But there is a rule to avoid parallel 5ths and octaves. This can easily be done by using contrary motion between the hands - when the melody goes up - the bass moves down and vice versa.
I asked them to learn to play and write all those 5 hymn tunes for our next class in two weeks. I have high hopes for their advancement.
Then I came back home and we celebrated Ausra's birthday with grilling sausages...
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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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