Jeannine: Born in Lithuania, what were your first musical experiences?
Dr. Pinckevicius: I was a weird kid growing up. When I went to a choir trip to St. Petersburg, our director took us to the record store. A famous place. Everybody bought pop or rock music and I bought “Ruslan and Ludmila” by Glinka. I don’t know what I was thinking. I probably wanted to impress girls. Never worked.
The earliest experience with music was probably me directing Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusic” with my mom’s brushes in her workshop to the music of LP record.
On another occasion I remember going with my mom and aunt to visit our neighbors and I would teach them how to sing “Kyrie” by Stanislaw Moniuszko we’ve been singing in the choir at school.
Jeannine: How and where did you discover the world of the organ?
Dr. Pinckevicius: Not far from our summer cottage where I spent my summers growing up as a kid was a small wooden church with an anonymous one manual organ in it. It had to be pumped by hand. My mom took me there and asked the priest if I could play this instrument since I was studying at the music school.
The priest agreed and I enjoyed playing this instrument for a couple of hours while my mom pumped the bellows by hand. She was sweating and I was happy.
The priest liked how I played it and asked, if I could play for the wedding anniversary mass next Sunday. I foolishly said “yes”.
But I spend the upcoming days practicing the hymns on this organ which was fun. Oh and by the way, I missed the Sanctus on the live event. I was embarrassed but the priest was thankful.
One evening I received a phone call from Elena Paradies who was one of the piano teachers in our school. She is also an organist and incidentally lives in the US now. She asked me, if I would like to learn how to play the organ and take lessons with her on a newly built studio organ in our school. “You could study with Prof. Leopoldas Digrys”, she said. Digrys for Lithuanian organ culture is like Floor Peeters for the Netherlands. Big deal. Because I was a lousy choir conductor and didn’t see my future in choir, I said “yes”.
Jeannine: Your studies have taken you from Lithuania to the US and back. What were the highlights of that work?
Dr. Pinkevicius: In Lithuania I learned the basics and became a young professional. Because of organ I met my future wife, Ausra which of course would’ve never happened without it. One day I found a flier about the 2000 International Organ Academy in Gothenburg, Sweden. Ausra and I decided to apply.
Since Lithuania became regained its independence in 1990, the Nordic countries were strongly supporting us in many ways. So they gave us stipends and waived the registration fee. The same happened in 2002.
But, here’s the catch: we had to let people in during the night to practice on a large North German Baroque organ they had in the New Orgryte church.
So we had a chance to play it too but we didn’t sleep much during the Academy. I guess you have to choose between learning to play an old style organ with split semitones or sleep well at night.
This Academy opened many doors for us. We met wonderful professors, including our future Professor from Eastern Michigan University, Dr. Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra. A year after that we went to do our second Master’s degree with her.
We are also very grateful to Dr. George Ritchie and Dr. Quentin Faulkner from University of Nebraska-Lincoln who taught us at UNL for 3 years during our DMA studies.
Playing the famous Bedient organ at Cornerstone chapel in Lincoln was a lot of fun. I felt transported some 400 years back to the Netherlands where Sweelinck “the Deutscher Organistenmacher” was active.
Our studies in the US was an amazing time. That’s where we really understood what it means to study and met a lot of wonderful people who were very helpful to us. We are great friends with all of them until now.
Jeannine: You have a wonderfully varied career from concert organist and composer to pedagogue and blogger. First, please describe the “Unda Maris” organ studio at Vilnius University and your work at the The National M.K.Čiurlionis School of Art.
Dr. Pinkevicius: At Vilnius university we have this unique possibility to teach community members of the university to play the organ. They are amateur organists, people of various professions – mathematics, physicists, chemists, philologists, medics etc. who all share a common passion – pipe organ. Some are students, some are professors and some are staff members of the university. In fact, we even have a physics professor in our studio who came to us with his student. We gather once a week at the largest pipe organ in Lithuania and make music together. At the end of the school year we play a joint recital on this organ and celebrate the end of the season.
I founded “Unda Maris” 6 years ago but this year Ausra is also joining me in leading the rehearsals. It’s fun and useful because two heads are wiser than one.
At the National M.K. Ciurlionis School of Art I teach ear training classes for 7 and 8 grade students. I also have a couple of piano students and one really talented organ student who is pianist but will try to pursue a career in organ playing. Both “Unda Maris” and Ciurlionis classroom activities give me a lot of ideas for my little blogging enterprise.
Jeannine: Your work to promote the organ and provide online instruction through your blog, The Secrets of Organ Playing, is most interesting. Tell us about this important instructional tool.
Dr. Pinkevicius: At the beginning of December 2011 I first started writing educational articles and publishing them online. On December 23 I then began writing a blog at http://www.organduo.lt which I continue to this day. My first ten email subscribers came on December 5, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 15, 17, 18, and 19. At first one a day, then 2, then 3 and so on. I made my first 100 dollars while helping them on March 27, 2012.
It's been more than 5 years since I've been helping organists from all over the world reach their dreams in organ playing. If it wasn't for my loyal readers, I've never would have been able to provide tips, advice, and specialized training for organists. Right now we have a vibrant community of 3200+ subscribers to this blog, plus people who follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. About a year ago Ausra has also joined me in these educational efforts and we alternate our postings and trainings regularly.
It all started with humble beginnings (Stage 1) – as I mentioned above, around Christmas of 2011, I started posting articles with various advice on how to play the organ. Interaction with my subscribers led me to create various training programs later on. To help those people who are the most committed, in April 2013 I started my membership program - Total Organist. This was the beginning of Stage 2.
Since August 2015 we entered Stage 3 of Secrets of Organ Playing – weekly SOP Podcast interviews with internationally renown experts from the organ world - concert and church organists, improvisers, educators, composers, organ builders, musicologists and other people who help shape the future of our profession. These audio conversations and stories are definitely inspiring to a lot of people from our community. The number of these shows are slowly getting close to 100.
Jeannine: You and your wife Dr. A. Motūzaitė-Pinkevičienė, often perform in organ duet together. Organ duet repertoire is little known and not often performed. What are some of your favorites?
Dr. Pinkevicius: Imagine for a second two organists sitting on one organ bench. In order for their hands not to be confused, a performer on the left side plays the lower part of the piece and the person on the right – the upper part. Very often it is convenient for the organists to divide their music so that the left page is played by the organist performing the 2nd part and the right page - for the 1st part.
Personally for me, such division of the music makes it really difficult to follow the music of the partner. There are more chances that one organist would lose the beat and consequently the duet will fall apart. For this very reason it is quite necessary sometimes to look at another organist's page and try to find the right place in the music.
Because of this simple reason I find that the easiest division of the music on the page is when both parts are visible for both performers and placed one under another. This way the entire musical view can be seen.
To make music together for 4 hands (and feet) is very fun thing to do. It is possible to play not only the original compositions for organ duet, but also arrange choral or orchestral music because when you have 2 performers, technically there are twice as many possibilities. It is also possible to improvise.
Because 2 performers sit on the same organ bench, both can very often turn pages and change organ stops on each other's side of the instrument. Of course, you need to feel your partner well because otherwise both people could try to turn the pages or pull the same stops at the same time which would make a lot of chaos for the entire performance.
Here you can listen to Franz Seydelmann’s (1748-1806): 6 Sonatas for 4 Hands (1781). It was recorded live at Vilnius University St. John's church in Vilnius, Lithuania on 2016-05-07: https://youtu.be/iAtIAZYbyYk
We also enjoy playing Bach’s Brandenburg concertos together and polychoral motets by Hans Leo Hassler. Of course finding suitable repertoire for 4 organ duet isn’t easy so we have to make special organ duet transcriptions ourselves.
Jeannine: You have piqued my curiosity with your storytelling improvisations. Are these for children?
Dr. Pinkevicius: I started improvising long recitals maybe 4 years ago. It was scary at first and it’s still is to this day. You have to constantly be aware compositional elements that go into a good piece – rhythm, melody, harmony, form, registration, texture etc. and constantly make it engaging and interesting.
The goal is to have a spontaneous but a complete musical experience and the one that could be transcribed into musical notation, if needed. In fact, I have transcribed several shorter of my improvisations for other organists to play and enjoy.
I'm specializing in storytelling based on biblical and liturgical themes, literary works, poetry, visual art, fairy tales, legends and myths of various nations of the world.
Here's a sample of my improvisations:
https://youtu.be/92Zl6jnF-Rk It's based on the fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" by Hans Christian Andersen.
You can find all of my improvisations here: https://www.youtube.com/playlistlist=PL5O59epyiepak4Q24atMnloLgNPXidHvM
Usually the listeners of such events where I play have a program with a detailed synopsis of the story being played. Therefore, they can follow the action very closely which helps them to connect with organ improvisations on a much deeper level. These stories enable to find new friends of the organ who wouldn’t perhaps otherwise be exposed to regular classical organ repertoire.
Improvising an hour-long musical stories is difficult but it’s also fun because I can tell musical stories that will connect with my audience. I believe those improvisations have an amazing potential in finding new audiences for the organ.
Every year as part of Children University initiative of Vilnius University 8-11 year-old kids at our church have a chance to experience the organ. After last year’s event before climbing to the organ balcony I told the kids the story of Damned brothers (some of your readers might enjoy listening to my improvisation on this legend). I saw how fascinated children are by the stories, especially the scary ones.
So this year I chose to do the event not as a regular organ demonstration but as a storytelling improvisation based on the famous fairy tale of Brothers Grimm "The Musicians of Bremen". Not only the listeners listened to the musician being improvised on the spot but also my dramatization of the story.
Also I asked them to draw the story and the organ. I made a sound recording and took pictures of drawings and made them into a 29 minute movie. Although the story is being told in Lithuanian, I hope you'll still appreciate the wonderful drawings of the little ones. Enjoy!
Jeannine: Other ideas/thoughts you’d like to share with our readers.
Dr. Pinkevicius: For the last 5 years I've been teaching people through this blog how to play the organ. Through this incredible journey I met many wonderful people I didn't know existed, many opportunities presented themselves that I didn't now were possible.
I constantly meet people who want my help in teaching them about blogging what I have learned along the way so they could replicate my success too. Let's face it. It's hard to start a blog. It's even more difficult to keep going relentlessly.
But the only thing harder than blogging for me is to walk around and meet people from all walks of life who are enslaved by their job, by their boss, who think it’s the way it’s always been and it’s the way it will always have be. Who think they have no choice but to obediently follow instructions until they die. But the world has changed and those middle men are losing their power (many of them still don’t understand this).
With the changes that technology has brought about, the power has been given to an individual, to a person who is no longer satisfied to be an anonymous cog in the machine. For the first time in history, it’s possible for a person to do the things that truly matter.
So that’s what I’m helping people with now - to change their lives for the better with their blog by creating their own rules instead of following the rules of someone else. Basically helping them empower themselves. That’s why I’ve created Vidas Blog Academy at http://www.vidaspinkevicius.com. So my blogging journey continues with Stage 4. We’ll see where it’ll lead me next.
Thanks for your wonderful questions. I hope my experiences will inspire some of your readers to start empowering themselves too. That’s exactly what you and David are doing.
You are generous, persistent and connected. These 3 qualities will make you indispensable to the people around you. Create, share, repeat!
Jeannine: Thank you, Dr. Pinkevicius, for sharing your life's work with us.