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Vidas: Let’s start Episode 134 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. This question was sent by Bruce, and he writes:
“Thanks for extending my review period of Total Organist - it will be a help. I will be traveling most of December, taking care of family, and won't be able to get to the organ much.
Thanks for asking what I'm currently struggling with. My main initial goals will be those of a pianist who wishes to extend into the organ. I'm thinking some things will be especially new to me:
Pedalwork, of course. It's a real mind twister for me, to play pedals while keeping my left hand doing what it is supposed to do. It's weird, how getting my brain to accept that footwork is necessarily independent of bass lines as processed by the left hand. Fascinating, actually - I'm hoping it will be fun to work this out. From your inventory of teaching aids, I expect I'll start with your pedal course, and also look into your course in left hand skills. And l welcome your advice on how to get started with pedals.”
First of all, let’s congratulate Bruce, Ausra, right?
Ausra: Yes. That’s a challenge--to switch instruments from piano to the organ.
Vidas: A lot of people are afraid of pedal work. And I was afraid, too. Were you afraid, at the beginning?
Ausra: Yes, I was afraid of it, yes, very much.
Vidas: Have you ever cried because of pedal passages which were difficult to learn?
Ausra: Definitely. Definitely, yes. That was my biggest struggle at the beginning. And only later on I understood that Baroque articulation is actually much harder than playing pedal.
Vidas: I’m always amazed, somehow, when I see younger students today playing pedal lines without much effort at all; in our Unda Maris studio, for example, or in Čiurlionis School, we had very gifted students, before. But it was not the case for me. It was really, really frustrating.
Ausra: Neither for me. I think it depends on how good your coordination in general is; and it’s sort of a thing that you just either have or you don’t; and if you don’t have it, then you have to develop it. There is no other way.
Vidas: Do you think, Ausra, that it’s part of human evolution, of the human species, that the next generation can play pedals better than the previous one?
Ausra: I don’t know. That’s a good question, that’s a question for scientists.
Vidas: Yes, they should compare our DNA, and think if they could isolate the gene for pedal playing.
Ausra: But actually, you know, I’ve realized, now, by working at the Ciurlionis Art School for 12 years already, that nowadays kids are much more gifted than we were, actually. And so many have perfect pitch. In my days, when I was studying at the same school, we were lucky if in one class we would have like 1 or 2 students with perfect pitch; that was something. And nowadays, you can have like half of the students in your group that have it.
Vidas: Absolutely. So, the human species is really, definitely moving forward, at least in pedal playing!
Ausra: But that’s not the case with logical thinking. So I don’t think the human mind is developing as fast as their bodies. That’s my observation, from my experience. Because if you give them, like, logical assignments...they don’t come up so easily.
Vidas: I know. For me, mathematical exercises, and verbal exercises, are more difficult with every passing year, I think. And 2018 will be no different.
Ausra: Yes. So, what I could suggest for Bruce would be that he would not be afraid of playing pedal. That’s the main thing. It will come in time--maybe not as fast as he would wish, but overall, if he will practice daily, I think he will succeed.
Vidas: Do you think, Ausra, that Bruce could think about pedals--his two feet, basically--as an additional third hand?
Ausra: I never think about it, myself; but that’s a possibility. Why not?
Vidas: Because usually, people play a solo line on the pedals, not double intervals--although there are pieces which require octaves and parallel intervals and double pedal lines--right? But even then, it’s really possible to play two voices with one hand. Right? It’s possible.
Vidas: So I think it’s not far from the truth to say that your pedal work should be treated as an extra hand.
Vidas: What that means, then, is that you simply look at pedals from the perspective of your hand playing. Imagine if you spend time developing your hand technique for several years as a pianist, right...And then, suddenly, you discover, “Oh, by the way, I have a third hand here. And I can use it!” So at first, it’s really difficult, right? Playing with your feet.
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: But little by little...It’s like going back to the first grade of piano playing, for your feet.
Ausra: That’s right; but you know, my suggestions would be to find the right spot on the organ bench, to play in a slow tempo, and to work in combinations. Never play--especially if you are a beginner, and you have trouble playing pedal--never play all the voices together. Because in that case you will not have good results.
Vidas: Do you think that the Pedal Virtuoso Master Course pedal scales and arpeggios would be beneficial to Bruce?
Ausra: Sure. I think they would be beneficial to any organist.
Vidas: Even for beginners?
Ausra: Well, yes...maybe he could not do all the exercises right away, and maybe not play them in a fast tempo, but definitely he would find some useful stuff.
Vidas: I think he has to combine exercises with repertoire, too. So, in order to feel the progress and a little bit of joy, too, because out of exercises, not too many people can stick with them for a long time and still feel joy, right?
Ausra: That’s right.
Vidas: So you have to supplement them with, like, additional treats--to give treats for yourself, like beautiful music, in addition to bread and salt and butter.
Ausra: Yes, and for that repertoire, maybe that could be pieces at the beginning where it just has a pedal point. There are some pieces like this, especially in Italian music. Think about such composers as Domenico Zipoli, for example.
Vidas: Yeah, 2 notes for the entire piece.
Ausra: Yes. Like tonic and dominant, and back to tonic. Or you know, there are also other pieces that don’t have such a hard pedal part, but have some beautiful melodies.
Vidas: If you were starting today, Ausra, playing pedals and organ, and going back in time--and now you know so much, right? How would you learn differently, or would you learn differently or not?
Ausra: I don’t know. You know, for me, I realized that if you come to the organ after playing piano for some time, it’s easier to start with Romantic and later repertoire, where you use basically legato technique, which is so similar to what you did on the piano, or more similar. But you know, because I started with Baroque music, it was very hard--I found it very hard to grasp and digest all that Baroque articulation, together with pedal part and playing polyphonic music--that’s a challenge for beginners.
Vidas: Maybe it’s because your teacher was so demanding, and gave you quite advanced pieces right away.
Ausra: Yes, that’s true, too.
Vidas: Well, that’s understandable, because you studied at a higher institution, right? And institution of higher learning--the Lithuanian Academy of Music. So above that it’s only heaven, right? So basically they needed you to push forward. But for people who are studying for their amusement: you don’t have to play Bach’s Toccata and Fugue right away--or even any type of fugue right away. You could play a small chorale prelude, just like “Ich ruf’ zu dir” by Bach.
Ausra: Yes, that’s a nice piece. Beautiful, and not that hard!
Vidas: Mhm. Exactly. So please, guys, apply our advice in your practice--it really helps when you do the steps, when you take it to the next level, and try to incorporate that in your daily routine. And send us more of your questions, right Ausra?
Vidas: Do you have fun answering them and helping people grow?
Ausra: Yes! It’s really fun, and especially it’s fun to receive responses to our answers.
Vidas: When somebody has applied them, and it worked out well, and they have progressed, and see success, right?
Ausra: That’s the most gratifying thing.
Vidas: Excellent. And guys, don’t forget, because 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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