Music is a language. Through it we express joys and sorrows beyond words. Composers across the centuries have given us pieces crafted in the language of music that we perform repeatedly. We trust in their skills and creativity to create the atmosphere or transmit our feelings to others.
In our spoken language however, we do not rely upon great writers to express ourselves. Imagine trying to have a conversation where you could only quote Shakespeare. While we may not be great writers or even great orators like Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr., we are all capable of putting words together and conveying our thoughts to another person in a coherent manner.
For me, improvisation becomes the ability to converse in the language of music. When we enter the world of music, why do we suddenly lose faith in our own ability to communicate? Everyone learns his or her native language, and perhaps a few others. All musicians should learn not just to recite the music others have provided but to create their own expressions in music. Complex sentences and large structures are not required in our everyday conversations. Why should we consider a good improviser only someone who can make complex music? To improvise well should be as easy as speaking a well-constructed sentence.
For the AGO workshop on October 14, I want to help you learn to express yourself in music. Whether you are an advanced or beginner organist, skilled improviser or scared to death of improvising, I believe looking through the simile of language will offer you ways to increase your improvisation skills. After some introductory remarks, I want to help you convey your thoughts in music. Come with your questions and, if you are willing, prepared to sit on the organ bench. If you can speak English, then you can speak music.
The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen hosts 10 high school graduations every year in addition to having our own Cathedral School 8th grade ceremony. While not all of the schools use the popular piece by Elgar, enough of them do that I’ve had to find ways to amuse myself while playing these short 32 measures over and over again. The longest procession for 270+ graduates takes 23-25 minutes! After my first rehearsal, I knew I would need to work out some pistons for different registrations, and I also thought about how to create other variations to keep my mind occupied.
The piece basically has a melody, chords, and a bass line. I have a right hand, left hand, and feet. Through the rehearsals and graduations, I have managed to become skilled enough to play any of the parts of the piece with any of my appendages. Thus you get the following video presenting the options:
Not a perfect rendition, but an exploration of the variety of ways I keep myself entertained when I have 10 graduations to play for each spring. First six presentations in order are:
1)RH tune; LH chords; Ped bass
2)LH tune; RH chords; Ped bass
3) Ped tune; LH Bass; RH chords
4) Ped tune; RH bass; LH chords
5) LH tune; RH bass; Ped chords
6) RH tune; LH bass; Ped chords
It’s not perfect and the solo trumpet is at the other end of the building, but I thought it might be entertaining for you to see how I entertain myself during this season of graduations.
After a few years of sitting figuratively “in the closet collecting dust,” I finally had an opportunity to brush up and record this composition for organ and brass quintet which I composed in 2014 for the wedding of my brother-in-law. This was written as the entrance procession for the attendants and bride to enter. There is a second movement for the recessional that I hope to get recorded as well.
Written for a colleague who was searching for a Dupré-style setting of the Passion Chorale for use as a postlude on Palm Sunday, this piece was written in 2015 and will likely grow into either a larger set of variations on the tune or a collection of short pieces for Lent and/or Holy Week. Here’s the video from when I played it as the postlude for Mass this weekend.
When I began my duties as Director of Music at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in January 2015, there was an opening on the concert series in March. This CD is the program that I played to fill that slot. The program reflects the season of the church year from different musical styles and eras. I also wanted a program that would demonstrate the variety of colors available on the instrument. This was not just to please the audience, but also a way for me to become acquainted with the instrument. As the program came together, I thought of recording the program to share this instrument with a wider audience. I hope the music here reaches the deep longings of your soul, and inspires you to come visit the Cathedral and hear the instrument live.
Aus tiefer Not, BWV 686 Johann Sebastian Bach
Herzlich tut mich verlangen Johannes Brahms
Psalm Prelude, Set 2, no. 1 – De profundis Herbert Howells
IV. Longing for Death from Job
Dominica in Palmis Jean Langlais
Suite in French Classical Style on ‘Vexilla Regis’ Wm. Glenn Osborne
Da Jesus an dem Creutze stundt Samuel Scheidt
III. Crucifixion from Symphonie-Passion
Improvisation Wm. Glenn Osborne
A solo piece for soprano, organ, and trumpet written for and premiered at the Holiday Brass concert at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore, MD on 29 November 2016. Video of the premier performance is below:
Downloadable score packet includes part for Trumpet in Bb and in C.
As part of a series of articles on Charles Tournemire at www.organimprovisation.com, I set about to actually compose a suite modeled on L’orgue mystique. Tournemire did not write much music for Advent, so I decided to use familiar melodies from that season as themes for each movement. Three of the five movements are written now, and I played the one based upon Nun komm der Heiden Heiland as prelude today at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. I hope to have the other movements finished soon.
My last lesson for www.organimprovisation.com featured instructions on transposition and suggested using a piece by Louis Vierne as the transposition exercise and a model for improvising. The piece is a relatively simple piece from the 24 Pièces en style libre: 1. Préambule.
After that, I followed the score as a model and improvised some imitation Vierne in F Major and in G minor. There are some hesitations as I searched for similar interesting tonal gestures without following exactly what Vierne did, but that’s why we practice. I decided to make this exercise my prelude this weekend, so there are two more that follow the score less slavishly in A minor and D minor as well.
The trio sonatas of J.S. Bach are musical gems and technical challenges. The first one I learned was Sonata No. 5 in C Major. Here is the first movement as I dust it off after letting the score rest in the file cabinet for a few years.
Organists always love to make lots of sound. Improvisers typically use both hands and feet to play almost all the time while improvising. This weekend, I thought I’d do something a little different and play only one note at a time during the offertory.
Saturday evening, I improvised a slow monody thinking perhaps of a solo cello piece:
Sunday, I decided to aim at something a little more sparkly and bright:
Do you have the courage to improvise only a single melodic line?