The Baltimore Chapter of the American Guild of Organists is offering a workshop on improvisation on Saturday, October 14 from 9:30am to 12noon at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. Glenn Osborne will coach volunteers in improvising interludes and extensions for those times in worship that a piece needs to be stretched to cover the liturgical action. He will also offer tools and ideas for improvising pieces for prelude, postlude, or other moments during a service. All level of improvisers are welcome.
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 using the piece for several years at Chrism Mass in Orlando and Baltimore, I finally was able to capture a live performance recording to share. This was recorded (on my iPhone) at the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore on 10 April 2017. The Archdiocesan choir had one rehearsal with the piece, though some of the people have sung it previously. There is a brass quintet playing choir two.
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.
The recording is also available through iTunes.
Aus tiefer Not, BWV 686
Johann Sebastian Bach
Herzlich tut mich verlangen
Psalm Prelude, Set 2, no. 1 – De profundis
IV. Longing for Death from Job
Dominica in Palmis
Suite in French Classical Style on ‘Vexilla Regis’
Wm. Glenn Osborne
Da Jesus an dem Creutze stundt
III. Crucifixion from Symphonie-Passion
Wm. Glenn Osborne
From Advent IV Year A – Let the Lord Enter, He Is King
Psalm 24 set using the French carol, BESANÇON for the refrain and the Revised Grail Psalm verses set to a Gelineau-style tone.
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.
The service, reminiscent of its English heritage, is sung in a candlelight setting by the Cathedral Choir. Traditional Carols and anthems celebrating the joy of the Christmas season will be offered. Wm. Glenn Osborne will serve as director and organist for the celebration. In addition to traditional carols arranged by David Willcocks and John Rutter, the program includes Babe of Bethlehem and God, We Would Hear the Angels Sing.
Free and open to the public.
One of the challenges in the Roman Catholic Church is trying to find ways to encourage and enable the congregation to sing. Unless you use a seasonal psalm refrain, this generally means the congregation has a new melody to learn every week with the responsorial psalm. Sure, you can build up a repertoire over time, but there’s not a lot of repetition in the three-year lectionary cycle. One of the easiest ways to learn a piece is through repetition, so I decided to use hymn tunes as melodies for the psalms. This reinforces the singing of the hymns and gives something familiar to the people for the psalm. I created numerous of these settings while at the Cathedral in Albany and now am in the process of revising them (and perhaps finishing the set) to go with the new Revised Grail Psalms. We used the first of these new revised hymn tune psalms at Mass this weekend for Advent 2.
Psalm 72 – Justice Shall Flourish
Refrain based on EIN FESTE BURG with Gelineau-style tone by Wm. Glenn Osborne