organ improvs
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,809
    ok... been thinking about this for a while now. Eveyone is invited to record and post organ improvs here. If you can, give us when it occurred during the liturgy and what the motive may have been or the inspiration behind the work.
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,574
    Three years ago a parishioner in the pews
    surprised me with an email and a cellphone-captured soundfile.

    Just now while checking some office music computer directories,
    I came across the file and decided to upload it.

    Sunday June 26, 2011 during 8:30 am Mass
    Solemnity of Corpus Christi
    Offertory

    The cantor chanted
    Graduale Romanum Offertory "Portas caeli"
    (as found in Gregorian Missal p 422)
    http://www.musicasacra.com/books/gregorianmissal-eng.pdf

    I started playing about four seconds later
    and continued about 2 minutes.

    Motive: "Portas caeli" and ???
    Imagery: "opened the doors" and "rained down manna" and "man ate".
  • Cantus67Cantus67
    Posts: 201
    My organist Sam IS the definition of girl power on the organ. I love her improvs.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HufcRnVxr7o
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen expeditus1
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 650
    Sam's major ninth below a triad IS a good effect in the pedal .. but really: would anyone COMPOSE this music? NO! I'd rather music be composed than improvised any day.

    Makes a composer humble though, to think that your weeks of work can be replaced by 30 seconds of instinct.
    Thanked by 1hilluminar
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,809
    Makes a composer humble though, to think that your weeks of work can be replaced by 30 seconds of instinct.

    All composers should be up to both. Then, the composer's improv will seem as though it was written out beforehand.

    Cantus67:

    What is the purpose of the page turning if this is improv?
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,809
    mrcopper:

    Lazy improvisation for us organists is to stay in the Tonic and then start stepping down the pedals. What's the first thing we hit? Highly common and unimaginative, but we all use the trick at some point or another.
  • I can improvise over a ground bass, like Canon in D. Things are easier for me on piano, I don't know my feet notes yet!
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,895
    Sometimes, it is helpful to realize that improvisation such as a cadenza, etc is actually planned out in practicing. There are instances where the organist simply has to make it up on the spot, but it can also be done by preparing a thoroughbass as suggested above, or by writing out a melody with chord symbols or by using a given chant melody, and then embellishing it, etc. Personally, I either embellish chant melodies or use thoroughbass preparation.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Humility I would think is a prerequisite state of being for composers, organists, singers and all other musicians who serve the worship of God, a predisposition if you will. As regards improvisation, it may be the case that some who are so gifted may have predispositions that afford them only the opportunity to demonstrate technical prowess. True improvisation requires a uniform conjunction of listening, responding, conversing and choosing one of two or more roads at the crossing that take both performer and audience towards God.
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,508
    I don't do much improvising and the teachers I had never emphasized it as a skill to learn. I keep a copy of The Hymnal, 1940 with me and if I need filler, I have a whole book of great stuff to choose from.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,027
    @mrcopper, I'm glad J.S. Bach didn't just read your posting this:
    I'd rather music be composed than improvised any day.


    He would not approve. Nor Franck. Nor Liszt. Nor (and so on...)
    Thanked by 2Gavin Adam Wood
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,508
    I didn't say there was anything wrong with improvising, and I do it on a limited scale. It is a skill that wasn't stressed much in the old days when I studied - those da*ned Indians were riding around the university yelling so much I couldn't concentrate. Consequently, I didn't spend much time on it. But I have to admit, far too much improvisation I have heard is so dissonant, if not discordant, it is unlistenable for long.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,809
    Charles

    The theory of improvisation is one thing, the execution another.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • Cantus67Cantus67
    Posts: 201
    OK, ok, so it was an exercise in pride. I'm dang proud of my head organist and I'm not afraid to say so, it's why I posted. And she works for me so NYAH!!! ;)
    Thanked by 2kevinf CHGiffen
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,111
    Mr Copper, I would remind you that many composers found their voice through improvisation. A good example is Olivier Messiaen, who worked out his musical language in his weekly improvisations at Ste. Trinite. He was quite overt about the fact that improvisation was the source of his composition. While I love composed music, the fact is that improvisation is a great skill necessary in liturgical organ playing. It is not a skill greatly encouraged in the US, but in other parts of the world (my dear France for example), improvisation is course of study, Also, take a look at Dupre's course in improvisation. Much to glean for compositional purposes.

    Also , when you are in Paris, go listen to Pierre Pincemaille's improvs at St. Denis. Stunning works of prayer and proper to the place at Mass. One can feel the sense of prayer in his playing.

    "Organ music without God is like a body without a soul."-Charles Tournemire, my loose translation.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,508
    Kevin, could you recommend any texts for those of us whose teachers discouraged improvisation. Hopefully, I am not too old to learn.

    Charles, a 66-year-old teenager (with a Metallica tee shirt)
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,111
    Gerre Hancock's book on improvisation is a great start for anyone like Charles who is interested. Called "Mastering the Art", it is available on Amazon.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,508
    Thanks, Kevin. It is already ordered! Amazon doesn't actually sell it but refers you to other sellers. Sheetmusicplus has it for lower than the Amazon posted price and throws in free shipping. Definitely a win/win. Hope you never have to listen to my beginning improv efforts. LOL.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,027
    Charles, as a Hancock student, I couldn't agree more with Kevin...Dr. Hancock's book is so wonderful in building technique of improvisation AND musical form, which is usually the weak point for all of us as improvisateurs.

    Another book that might be nice is Jan Overduin's text: http://www.ohscatalog.org/janovimforor.html My brother used it with another teacher recently and had a lot of good to say about it. I think he did like that, similar to Dupre, Overduin deals more with harmonic and color concerns than does Hancock.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • PhatFlute
    Posts: 219
    Improv is stupid is my opinion. Just play music that is already thoughful.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,142
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=kp&v=CGG3Zcc7yqw

    This is stupid? Have you ever heard a truly excellent improviser perform? It's definitely not stupid.
    Thanked by 2Ben Yanke eft94530
  • PhatFlute 9:17PM Thanks
    Posts: 109
    Improv is stupid is my opinion. Just play music that is already thoughful.
    These kinds of statements are absurd, childish, unprofessional, and distasteful. Consider the audience, write intelligent things, for Pete's sake!

    Improv is a cultural value which is respected by the Church.
    http://www.vatican.va/news_services/press/sinodo/documents/bollettino_23_ii_speciale-africa-2009/02_inglese/b21_02.html
    http://musicasacra.com/commentaries/sttl/
    Thanked by 2Gavin eft94530
  • PhatFlute
    Posts: 219
    It is my opinion, so have I said! Sure Daniel R is good at improvisations, probably, but I donot like the thought. Prepare in advanced, not make-silly up quick. Put thought and time in for our Great redeemer God. Remember :: just my opinion! L.O.L.
  • It is a refined talent which demands respect.
  • image
    Thanked by 1expeditus1
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,595
    I have found improvisation to be one of the most useful techniques one can acquire in Liturgical playing, as literature can easily be either too long or too short to fill the gaps.
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 650
    Kevin in Kentucky, thanks, I'm impressed and persuaded by your argument re Messiaen. Hadn't thought of it that way.
  • PhatFlute
    Posts: 219
    And respect is what've given.
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,438
    The Rev. Carlo Rossini on organ improvisation:

    Improvisation is a great art, but unfortunately, it is too often confused with the extemporizing of a senseless hodgepodge of chords, endless progressions and cheap modulations, snatches of street songs, and operatic cadences, finger-board tricks and anything that comes into the head at the moment. All this can only serve to disturb the religious atmosphere of the church, to divert people's attention from the altar and lead their thoughts to places of amusement, thus making the divine service a curse instead of a blessing. The art of improvising requires a thorough theoretical and practical training, a refined musical taste and a natural gift for invention. How many organists actually possess such an equipment?


    Hence, Rossini's seven volumes of interludes, preludes, postludes, modulations, etc., in all keys to serve as models for "the ordinary organist" and he urges them to memorize some of them, quoting B. Kothe:

    The practice of memorizing short and model organ pieces is very advisable, for the musical memory, like all our other faculties, needs constant exercise in order to develop its vigor; and once an organist has stored up a considerable supply of such pieces in his memory, he will profit by them not only to the extent of being able to play and reproduce the same as occasion may require, but he also will derive advantage from them in various other ways. In fact, they will enrich his mind with new ideas and widen the sweep of his imagination; and gradually, unconsciously, he will absorb their style. He also will learn in a practical way how 'motifs' are employed and how liturgical compositions are constructed. These are all advantages that will serve him in good stead later on, when he undertakes improvisation of his own.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Unified Field Theory of Existentialism: Cosmos=Chaos x multiple dimensions, incalculable universes minus rational thought equals everything is "stupid."

    Just send me my MacArthur Grant to my account in the Caymans, thanks.
    Thanked by 1Continuousbass
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 650
    Melo, I believe what you said is heresy. Are you sure you mean it?
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    William, please tell me youre kidding.....honestly......sigh.....

    Do people accused of heresy in this age get some sort of pin or tie tack?

    "Clowns to my left, jokers to my right. Stuck in the middle with you."
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 650
    Yes, kidding.. I just don't know how to do purple.
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,595
    "#Purple" seems to be in vogue at present.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,367
    With Anton Bruckner so revered by Catholic musicians (including me, especially), the following vignette on improvisation seems relevant:
    Bruckner's contrapuntal skill, as displayed in improvisations on the organ, has passed into a tradition ...

    ... Bruckner profited in a way by [Simon] Sechter's training, so tht he astonished his master, Hellmesberger, Herbeck, Dessoff, and Becker, when he submitted himself to them for an examination in counterpoint. Herbeck, who had even then some idea of Bruckner's skill proposed that, if the applicant were able to develop in fugued style, on pianoforte or organ, a theme then given, the result should be considered as proof of his ability more than any display of knowledge by word of mouth. Bruckner accept the offer, and the all went to a church. Sechter gave a them of four measures. Herbeck asked Dessoff to add four more; and, when Dessoff refused, Herbeck lenthened the theme by eight measures, at which Dessoff exclaime, "O you monster!" Bruckner studied the them for some time, and he seemed anxious, so that the examiners were merrily disposed. At last he began his introduction, which was followed by a master fuge, then by an improvisation. All wondered, and Herbeck said, "He should examine us."

    When I lived in Heidelberg in the early 1970's, I was able to attend a number of organ recitals that were simply masterful, one of the most fulfilling memories I have. Probably a third of these recitals were ones for which the last work was billed as improvisations "über ein vorgegebens (Chor)Thema" ("on given (chorale) melody") ... meaning that approximately 30 minutes before the beginning of the recital, the organist was informed of the chorale melody upon which he/she would be required to improvise. The organist was not permitted to play any keyboard instrument from this time until the beginning of the recital. I recall seeing at least one organist pacing around in the loft, apparently deep in thought about what he might do with the assigned tune. And I recall being ecstatic after nearly 20 minute set of improvisations/variations on the theme. It was a well-deserved vociferous and standing ovation when he concluded the piece.

    Yes, improvisation - good improvisation - is a high art.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,027
    Thank you, Charles. Also, to be honest, this is the best of times for improvisateurs in the US. There have never been more organists improvising!

    For anyone that does not think it is an art, you have never seen an improvisation on a submitted theme by a great organist. Gerre Hancock was a master at this, and many of his students are as well! In fact, one of them, Patrick Scott, won the AGO contest just this week! Exciting times!

    In addition, there is no liturgy better suited for organ improvisation than the Catholic liturgy. Some of our faith's greatest musical moments have come out of that.
  • JonathanKKJonathanKK
    Posts: 458
    Here are two recordings I had handy from this year (2014). Both are from the Traditional Latin Mass, at Offertory, where we sung the simple Regina caeli and I followed up with an improvisation.

    Note that at the vigil, there is no Offertory proper, and thus the improvisation needed to be longer. However, I think the shorter improvisation from the morning Mass was more successful, although it did end about 20 seconds before the "per omnia saecula saeculorum", a bit noticeably early.

    From the Easter Vigil:



    From the Easter Morning Mass:




    In my opinion, improvisation has a certain value in that it is non-repeatable; you are expending musical thought to contribute a unique piece that has never been heard before (I was going to say: will never be heard again, but...) .

    I also associate improvisation with the way in which the Bible will talk about instruments as if they just "made a certain kind of noise" as opposed to the way we moderns think in terms of playing specific "pieces of music". (Ps. 150, "Praise him with the sound of trumpet," etc.)

    When I improvise, the organ sounds.

    Also, as a listener, improvisation may be less distracting than a familiar piece, which needs to be identified ("was that Bach's G minor?") and has connotations ("last time I heard that was... Do you think he'll mess up the...") .

    These things having been said, I must admit that I have not really practiced or learned improvising, but have rather just made it up as I went along.
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 650
    JonathanKK, I'm not denying it kind of works. But you say: "non-repeatable". There is a huge amount of repetition in your Easter morning mass improv. Not criticizing, exactly, just saying, a composer couldn't get away with that.
    Thanked by 1JonathanKK
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,809
    JonathanKK:

    Very nice. Improvisation during the liturgy is something that is different from composed music because it 'exists in the moment' and then it is forever gone, just as you say.

    I personally feel that repetition has a way of 'suspending the moment' or 'slowing or capturing the ethos' that is permeating the church. There may be a lot of repetition in what you played (for the first piece) but your tasteful use of modulation and arriving at a different key helps to allow the moment to continue but not too quickly.

    Often when I am improvising, I will use the motif of the chant or hymn and treat it in many different ways: doubling in thirds, fifths, sixths, tenths, imitation, played in the pedals with rich harmonies using ten fingers, registration changes, etc. etc.

    Simplicity is critical. I feel that if you can play music (as you do here) almost with the purpose to never draw attention to itself but to maintain an attitude of prayer, then the organist has reached a very important understanding in supporting the liturgy and prayer in making the music 'invisible'.

    Improv for liturgy... nothing like it!

    Thanked by 1melofluent
  • expeditus1
    Posts: 483
    He is a modest man, and would probably box my ears for even posting this, but the organ improvisations of Forum member, Aristotle, wound my heart and elicit tears when I hear them. I am transported on a journey of remorse for sins committed, and compellingly drawn to the Heart which so intensely loves us.
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,114
    I can second that, expeditus1!
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    If I may add another layer, when one is providenced with an amazing improviser on the organ, and when the occasion arises, collaboration between said organist and another soloist with capabilities (classical guitar/flute, eg.) can also yield results as described above by exp1. Proof of charisms...
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen expeditus1
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,508
    JonathanKK, those improvisations are listenable and add to the liturgy. Too many improvisations are little more than crashing dissonant chord progressions, usually full organ at recessional. When I hear those, I wonder why some tasteful member of the congregation didn't sneak unnoticed to the basement and cut the power to the organ.
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,438
    I can third that, expeditus1. Aristotle is a real master. Such flights of contemplation and such intense spirituality.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,809
    Can someone 'grab' one of these 'flights of contemplation' and post it here for all to hear?
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,114
    If I think of it sometime, I may.
  • As an untrained improvisor acutely aware of my technical limitations, I am truly touched by the triple endorsement. Thank you.

    If I have any "secrets" to successful improvisation (read: improvisation that stands a chance at facilitating prayer), they are:

    1. Know the melody and text of your improvisation very well.
    2. If you need to choose between fostering an atmosphere of contemplation versus a display of technical virtuosity, choose the former every time. (Some can do both; most cannot.)
    3. Operate within your limits.
    4. Operate within the congregation's limits.
  • Your four secrets remind me of one of my late md's, RIP. He started his whole career selling yamahas by improvising in the customers' favorite style. I remember especially how smooth and tasteful his manual switches were.
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 650
    Continuousbass, forgive the digression into memory lane: my mother, the disciplinarian: her manual switches were supple, smooth, branches from the apple tree. I'm sure there are emotional if not physical marks to be found on me still.
    Thanked by 1expeditus1
  • expeditus1
    Posts: 483
    I was fortunate today to be able to attend a Solemn Pontifical Mass, at which Aristotle improvised on the themes of "Sacerdos et Pontifex" and "Tu Es Petrus." Yes, I exited with a red nose again.
    Thanked by 2JulieColl Ben Yanke