Vidas: Hi, guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra
V: Let’s start episode 533, of Secrets Of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by May. She’s our Total Organist student. And he writes:
I read from your post that you classify BWV 565 as advanced level. Actually, which part of this piece do you think is the most challenging? I personally find the fast passage towards the end (especially that part to be played by hands only with alternate hands. I find it very difficult to play each note evenly and clearly. Is this the most difficult part of this piece in your mind? What do you suggest I can do to improve my playing of such fast passages?
Vidas: Do you like playing Hanon exercises, Bach Inventions and Sinfonias?
May: Thanks Vidas! I wish I played more technical exercises before. The fact is, my piano teachers never instructed me to do so in the past (when I was a teenager). My piano at home is now awfully out of tune. I seldom play it ever since I started learning organ.
To be honest I would rather spend time on compositions that require pedals. I always choose compositions that require more hands-feet coordination and less manual techniques. This doesn't mean I do not want to improve my manual skills. I just don't want to spend too much time on manual only pieces like Bach's inventions and sinfonias.
I have little knowledge of Hanon exercises. How many of exercises does it have and how many shall I work on? I assume I'll have to practice them on the piano...
Vidas: How about Bach's Orgelbuchlein? How many chorales have you mastered from this collection?
May: Hi Vidas,
With the Orgelbuchlein, here's the list of pieces I have played in the Church and that I am fairly comfortable with.
BWV 609, 610, 621, 623, 625, 627(verses 1,2,3), 631, 636
Below is the list that I believe I have mastered.
BWV 599, 602, 605, 606, 613, 626, 630, 639.
I am quite comfortable with BWV 659 and 645.
V: By the way, 659 is Nun komm from Eighteen Great Chorales, the first one, and 645 is "Wachet auf" from Schubler collection.
May: I have been playing them in Church during the advent season in the past few years.
Any advice from you will be greatly appreciated.
Vidas: And I finished my writing to her like this:
Thanks May! There are 45 chorale preludes in this collection. It's worth mastering them all. Also the Schubler chorales. Do one per week. In fact, you can record one piece every week for our Secrets of Organ Playing Contest. This would quadruple your results.
V: What do you think, Ausra?
A: Well, I think that you never give up a chance to advertise your competition on the…
V: But it’s our competition.
A: Well, it’s more your competition than mine. But anyway when May mentions that she struggles with D minor Toccata by J.S. Bach, I thought that she really needs to exercise on the piano and to do the manual part because those spots that she indicated shows the lack of muscle strength, strength from on her fingers.
A: Because I think that D minor Toccata in general is the piece suited actually for piano performers, because it doesn’t require a lot of pedal technique, but it takes good finger work.
V: What about the fugue?
A: Well the fugue is already more complex piece.
V: Mmm-mmm. Toward the end of the fugue there is this passage or couple of passages with a little more pedal involved. But yes, it’s sometimes difficult to play in a fast tempo reliably those passages in the hands which have echo between the hands, alternating hands. You jump from manual to manual. This is difficult for me too. So, yes, playing exercises like Hanon, wouldn’t hurt for her. But if she wants to play something with pedals, I definitely recommend Bach’s Orgelbuchlein and Schubler Chorales—all of them.
A: Well, you know, I love Schubler Chorales, but to be honest, some of the Orgelbuchlein Chorales are boring for me, for example. Of course I’ve played them all but…
V: What do you mean, boring?
A: Well, they are, most of them are not exactly like concert level pieces. They are well suited for liturgical purposes.
A: And for in general studying the style of Bach, and baroque figures too. But it’s not the most exciting collection Bach composed.
V: But in her situation it would work, wouldn’t it?
A: Yes, of course. And she has learned already quite a lot of them.
V: But she only had mastered one, two, three, four, five, six, seven and eight. Eight out of forty-five.
A: Do you think it’s crucial to master all of them?
V: I think it wouldn’t hurt, yes.
A: But I always go back to that question and ask myself ‘why Bach hasn’t finished composing this collection’.
V: And, your answer is, what?
A: That maybe he got bored with himself.
V: Like you are bored with…
A: In that collection. Is that possibility?
V: He clearly didn’t think it as a priority at the time. He got distracted by more important projects, probably.
V: But these pieces which were created, right, only a third I think from the planned collection. There should have been much more, many more. Those which are created would serve pedagogical level very well because in every piece pedal is completely obbligato.
A: Yes, that’s right. And there are some really, really tricky pieces, like Hilf' Gott, dass mir's gelinge, BWV 624 for example.
A: He used various polyphonic techniques and it’s quite challenging. Actually I would find some of those chorales actually even more challenging than that spot of D minor Toccata that she describes.
V: And if she masters all of them once a week, in let’s say, in a year or even less probably, she can come back to D minor Toccata and check how she is doing with that difficult passage. My guess is, it will not be as difficult any more.
A: Yeah. Could be.
V: Thank you guys, for listening, for applying our tips in your practice. Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice…
A: Miracles happen!
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