Jazz and Roman Catholic are two worlds that don’t meet up very often. Jazz has been used in other worship traditions, but the liturgical structure of Roman Catholic worship provides challenges for the free improvisatory nature of jazz. Yes, there are Jazz Masses that have been composed, but even most of those would be considered concert works and vary from the imposed structure of a liturgical celebration.
When we celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Homecoming weekend, we are including Evening Prayer on Sunday afternoon. All of the music will be in the jazz idiom and accompanied by the Kevin Myers Quartet. In order to fit the liturgical requirements for the celebration, I composed two psalms, a canticle, and some other incidental responses. We had a first rehearsal with the singers and band leader Kevin Myers last Friday. Here are a few samples from the celebration. I hope to post videos from the celebration after it is over.
When I composed the Audubon Park Psalter, my intention was that most all of the settings would be flexible enough to work in a traditional setting with organ and choir as well as a more contemporary setting with piano and guitar. While I have attempted to make recordings of the Contemporary Group at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen before, because I have been the one at the piano, it has been difficult to capture anything remotely balanced. This week, I was able to be out in the congregation, so captured the psalm while standing next to a pillar. Here’s the resulting video:
What I really appreciate is being able to hear the people sing, even though this is a new piece for them.
I also captured the psalm at the 11:00 Mass with the choir and organ:
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.
The Old Testament reading for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C is the story of Jeremiah being thrown into a cistern where he is expected to sink into the mud and die. The Responsorial Psalm that follows is a set of verses from Psalm 40 with the refrain, “Lord, come to my aid.” When I first encountered this set of readings back in 1995, the most obvious musical idea was to make it a 12-bar blues. It was a little bit of a stretch to get the verses and refrain to line up consistently, but perhaps more of a stretch to do the premier on a little two-manual German baroque style organ!
As the setting only appears once every three years, I don’t really know how often or where I’ve been able to do it since then. Many times, this pushes the envelope of what is accepted or expected for music in the churches I have served. There is a contemporary group at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, and I’ve heard some requests for some more modern music, so I put it on the schedule this year. Here’s the video from the 9:30 am Mass on 14 August 2016:
A child decided it was time to play with the kneelers during verse three. It would have been great to have some well-timed percussion, but sometimes you just take what you get.
Note: This is not included in the Audubon Park Psalter, though it could show up in a later volume of more contemporary/gospel/jazz psalm settings.
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?
Georg Böhm wrote three settings of the chorale Vater unser im Himmelreich. This past weekend at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, I played the first one as prelude. With a rhythmic repeated chord accompaniment and ornamented solo presentation of the melody, it has inspired many of my improvisations.
The other two settings could also be models for improvisations, though the last is much more complicated. The second setting is a duo while the last one presents each phrase of the chorale in quasi-fugal imitation.
Here are two new videos from this Saturday’s 5pm Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.
First up is the responsorial psalm for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C. While the chords are triadic in summary, both the right and left hands almost always play only fourths and fifths. The psalm is published in the Audubon Park Psalter.
Next is the offertory. This is a simple improvised piece using the strings and a solo flute. Nothing complicated here. Just a slow pleasant relaxed moment for meditation.
One of the refrains that has survived from my first set of psalms written in 1995 with psalm tone and verses from the new Revised Grail Psalter. The choir is in a new location for this Mass, just over my right shoulder in the front area of the upper sanctuary. We have previously been in the back area of the upper sanctuary much closer to the organ.
Recorded live 2 April 2016 (iPhone)
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
Psalm 103 with the response “The Lord is kind and merciful,” appears several times in the lectionary cycle. This was recorded at a wedding, so the small congregation is hard to hear. Only two verses are included in this video because the lack of memory on my iPhone prevented me from capturing the entire psalm setting.