Friday, May 17, 2013

A Grand old hymn for Pentecost

One of the exciting things this year on Pianonoise is that I am able to bring you music by living composers. Where last year many of the pieces that I played during church services were listed by title and then festooned with the ubiquitous copyright symbol, which, if you clicked on it, would explain that I couldn't legally post the music, this year there have been some changes in that department. It isn't because I've decided to go rogue: I have this bizarre idea that breaking the law is still breaking the law even though I probably wouldn't get caught. And since apparently 95% of music downloads on the web are illegal few of you seem to agree with me. But in situations where the copyright is owned by a small company and/or the composer, I have written to them asking permission to record and post their music. So far I've posted the music of three composers, and I hope that's just the start.

This is important to me because, while you would expect a catalogue of interesting piano and organ music to be weighted toward the past, it is, I think, necessary to include the present as well. Classically trained musicians can find all sorts of wonderful and effective music in past centuries, where our homework has already been done for us in sorting out the composers with the most to say musically, but it is a mistake to assume that today's composers aren't making interesting contributions. These composers have to make a living somehow, though, and unfortunately that sometimes leads to a wall of copyright protection administered by a forbiddingly large company which seems to have no awareness of the existence of the internet (they often insist on doing everything by snail mail). Thus far my efforts to obtain permission in these cases has resulted in being roundly ignored.

But in those cases where I've been able to talk to the composer directly, they have all been gracious enough to permit me to post their works simply by linking to their own websites. I wouldn't mind it a bit if listening to one of my recordings led to increased sales or web traffic (hint, hint). At any rate, this past year I've met several interesting persons online and been enriched by the musical experiences they've brought me.

One of these persons is named Vidas Pinkevicius. Vidas lives in Vilnius, Lithuania, which happens to be where a friend of mine from graduate school grew up so I sort of feel like I know the place (from stories) even though I've never actually been there. Vidas has a blog dedicated to helping organists learn to play the organ better. An organist at the university, and apparently a church in town which has an organ that dates back to 1776 and is currently in need of restoration (naturally enough, Vidas is leading the charge), he keeps himself very busy promoting the art of the organ in Lithuania, playing a series of concerts, creating all kinds of resources in the form of teaching editions of organ scores, videos, and blogs, and answering scores of emails. After I downloaded his score for the piece that I'm playing this Pentecost Sunday, I emailed him that I had some concerns over the score's legibility in some spots (if you've ever fought with a software music scoring program you'll know why) and some other minor issues. Vidas got back to me within hours with an improved score!  Vidas can make me tired just thinking about his industry.

This is the second year I've managed to play a work written in the past two years for Pentecost. Last year I found a particularly jazzy arrangement on Youtube; unfortunately the composer never got back to me when I left a comment on his channel asking if I could have a copy of the score; I never made a recording of it since I had no authorization. That didn't stop me from playing it in church, however! (worship service exemption, if you are wondering) I simply listened to the video and took dictation. Unfortunately, the composer has recently removed the video (as well as hundreds more--I think he was concerned with the sound quality and is effectively starting his channel over again).

On that occasion the entire congregation processed (or danced) their way into the church with colored streamers while the organ played. This year we are planning a kind of "flash mob" to occur during the passing of the peace right after the opening announcements--people will be greeted in different languages. The hubbub is supposed to increase while one choir member intones the plainchant "Veni Creator Spiritus" on which the organ piece is based, at which point I will interrupt the proceedings with a loud chord. That's the plan, anyhow.

Here is the music. It turned out to be trickier than I thought it would be--it took about a week and a half to learn. It is also nearly a minute faster than the composer's own rendition (see below for a link), and, now that I've given it a week to slumber and have come back to it a few days before the service, I think I played it too fast--particularly the opening, which needs more grandeur. In truth, I was a bit worried that the sectionalized nature of the piece might not hang together well if I didn't give it a sense of forward propulsion. That is why it is necessary to spend time with music, and allow time for your ideas to change, something that both blogging and a week to week church schedule don't really encourage. When there's time--probably in a week or two--I'll make a second recording, which more accurately reflects how I am likely to play it in church this weekend.

In the meantime, I have to run off to another rehearsal. This week I'm playing a bit of Handel on the grand organ at the University. We'll see how that turns out!

Veni Creator Spiritus    by     Vidas Pinkevicius  (2010)

Vidas' blog is at

the score of this piece, and a video of the composer playing it, can be found at

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