Practice, Practice, Practice


carnegie3I forget the exact setup, but the standard joke is a musician on the streets of New York asks, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” and the reply is, “Practice, practice, practice.” From the research widely publicized by Malcolm Gladwell, we know that in order to become an expert at just about anything, it requires 10,000 hours of practice. While I’m sure I’ve put in at least that much time at the organ, I’m still looking for opportunities to improve and learn more.

Rice University

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the symposium on French music and improvisation at Rice University. Featured on the schedule were performances by Ken Cowan, George Baker, Tom Trenney, Johann Vexo, and Philippe Lefebvre. Because I had worked with Philippe Lefebvre previously, I was very excited to see him again and to see what new tips and tricks he might have to share with us this time.

Fisk109RiceThe instrument for the class was C.B. Fisk, Inc. Opus 109 / Rosales Organ Builders, Inc. Opus 21. When I was looking for someone to build a French-style instrument for the Cathedral in Albany while I was music director there, I heard a great deal about this instrument, so was delighted to finally be able to see and hear it. It is decidedly well-suited for the French repertoire and offered many tantalizing sounds for the concerts and masterclasses. One of the elements that Philippe Lefebvre shared with us in the final improvisation masterclass was how he searches for new and different sounds at the organ. Most organ stops have very traditional uses and functions, however, he encouraged us to consider non-standard uses and registers. Instead of using the 8′ Harmonic Flute as the solo, why not try the 2′ Octavin played two octaves lower? Or the Quint or Tierce by itself as a solo stop? I have always been attracted to the organ because of the variety of colors available, but Philippe showed us an even wider palette of possibilities!

Improvisation Practice

While many musicians are accustomed to practicing repertoire (after all, how else will they get to Carnegie Hall?), many seem confused at the idea of practicing improvisations. Aren’t improvisations supposed to be “instant music” created on the spot? How can you ever practice such a thing? The truth is that to do it well, those same 10,000 hours of practice are required.

Any one who has attempted to learn a foreign language should recognize the difference between being able to read or pronounce what they see on the page and being able to carry on a conversation. For me, musical improvisation is being able to carry on a conversation. We have to learn the rules of grammar and be able to apply them spontaneously to convey our thoughts in a way that is meaningful to the listener(s). Just as a child learns to spell, we must learn how to spell musically. Which notes will follow in what order to create what words? How do we fit the words together to make sentences and paragraphs? These are all items that we must study and practice if we are to improvise well.

The concert by Philippe Lefebvre at Rice was one of the best organ recitals I have heard in quite some time. He took us through a Sunday at Notre Dame, sharing both improvisations and repertoire that reflected the typical activities of the day. Having heard him play there, I truly felt like I had been transported to Paris for the evening! Thanks to the marvels of YouTube, we can all visit Notre Dame from the comfort of our own homes without any jetlag! Below is a fugue that Philippe improvised for Communion at Notre Dame.

Enjoy the music and keep practicing!


Newsletter Issue 13 – 2014 01 16
See the complete list of newsletter issues here.

Merry Christmas!

ChristmasMallMerry Christmas!

Last night, we finally put up and decorated our Christmas tree. As my schedule keeps me out of the house for concerts and rehearsals quite often before Christmas, and then we have typically been traveling to visit family immediately afterwards, decorating a tree has not been a common occurrence since I left the parental household. In fact, last night, we almost didn’t get a tree either as the lots where we have bought trees before have been replaced by a Dunkin Donuts and a WaWa! It also appears that in this more temperate southern climate, people put up their trees earlier, so the selection was slim. But now that most of the concerts are over, and because I’ll be here for Christmas, I look forward to enjoying our tree.

Concerts Galore, Part 2

The last two weekends have been absolutely packed with wonderful events: the Christmas concert at the Basilica, Advent Lessons and Carols at the Cathedral of St. Luke, Messiah at North Orlando SDA Church, and a Carol Sing at Holy Redeemer. The most challenging part, however, was going from the Orlando half-marathon straight on to rehearsal for Lessons and Carols. Luckily, I was in much better shape at the end of this race than Nashville. Even so, I think I know why Ben Lane and the choir stayed at the other end of the building that morning:

The Angels Sing

The Basilica Choir is one of my favorite groups here in Orlando. In addition to playing and conducting for them, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to compose for them as well. Included on their latest CD, Christmas with the Basilica Choir, is my setting of the text by John Dalles, “God, We Would Hear the Angels Sing.” And if you’ve heard the Basilica Choir sing, I hope you’ll agree with me that they indeed sound like angels. If you haven’t heard them, then you’re in for a treat below. I was able to record the performance of my carol at the concert and put it up on YouTube for your listening pleasure. May the angels bring you lots of Christmas cheer!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!


Newsletter Issue 11 – 2013 12 17
See the complete list of newsletter issues here.

RSCM Tulsa

Prelude and Fugue on themes from RSCM Tulsa 2013This past week I was able to attend the RSCM Tulsa Course with Malcolm Archer as director and Bruce Neswick as organ instructor. It was a wonderful week of music making which included the following partial repertoire list:

  • Missa omnes sancti – Malcolm Archer
  • Rejoice in the Lamb – Benjamin Britten
  • Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in A – Stanford

Included as part of the week’s activities was a talent show on Saturday evening. After deciding to perform a piano duet with another participant, I offered to write a piece for us to play. In addition to themes from the pieces listed above, I included a musical rendition of the name of our conductor for the week: M-A-L-C-O-L-M A-R-C-H-E-R. I was a little concerned about meeting the deadline with so little free time in between and after rehearsals, but I think the piece was clearly a success, especially for all those who recognized the theme citations. The video below was recorded on my iPhone. Enjoy!

The British Way Concert Videos

While looking around on-line today, I discovered that TampaKurt had posted videos from the Festival Singers of Florida concert in January. The video playlist includes 11 selections from The British Way! and may be seen here. It was a pleasure to work with Dr Kevin Fenton and the Festival Singers.

As a teaser, here’s the first piece on the program: ‘Let The People Praise Thee, O God’ by William Mathias

The British Way!

Event Description:

Join us as the Festival Singers of Florida, conducted by Dr. Kevin Fenton, celebrates British Choral music, including Vaughan Williams, Taverner, and the newly composed Missa Brevis by Jonathan Dove. The “crowning moment” will surely be the Rutter Gloria, including full brass and organ.
Tickets: $10

Event Date


Event Time

7:30 pm

Event Venue

Winter Park Presbyterian Church
400 S. Lakemont Avenue
Winter Park, FL 32792

Directions are available here.

Included on the program will be “Seek Him That Maketh the Seven Stars” by Jonathan Dove. You can see the last performance of this work by the Festival Singers of Florida below:

Also included will be “Let the People Praise Thee, O God” by William Mathias. While preparing the piece, I discovered this recording done by fellow Westminster Choir College alum Mark Husey at Saint Peter’s Catholic Church in Columbia, South Carolina. Enjoy!

Papal Alleluias

Dr. Jennifer Pascual asked me to make the orchestral arrangements of the Alleluias for the Papal Masses in New York city in 2008. The Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral would use the Alleluia refrain from O Filii et Filiae. The Mass at Yankee Stadium used the refrain from VICTORY. Even though the melodic material was given, I knew I would have great players in the orchestra and a top-notch choir, so I had great fun making these arrangements.

CatholicTV still has the Mass from St. Patrick’s available here and the Mass at Yankee Stadium here. At Yankee Stadium, the Alleluia starts at 100 minutes into (about half-way through) the coverage on CatholicTV.

I wasn’t sure any of the broadcast video would still be up, so I went looking on YouTube first and found this excerpt which includes my arrangement of the Alleluia before the gospel is proclaimed:

Woodland Presbyterian Church

I had my first organ lesson at Woodland Presbyterian Church during the fall of my freshman year of high school. The instrument is Op. 758 of the Austin Organ Co. from 1917 with some revisions in the 1980’s by Milnar Organ Co. Though I haven’t played regularly at Woodland for over twenty years, because my parents are still active members there, I still get to stop by and play the instrument when I go home to visit. This time, we brought along a video camera and recorded a few repertoire selections. Below is a piece by American composer Dan Locklair: “The Peace may be exhanged.” from Rubrics.

Additional Wedding Music Selections

This is a second video with excerpts from wedding music selections. It offers some alternative traditional selections. I made these two videos for couples who are preparing to get married at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, especially those who reside out of town. The first video presents the most popular traditional music options.