This is my first ever recorded improvisation on the organ. I've always been fascinated by the art of improvisation and it's how I came to discover @organduo and his online course called the Secrets of Organ Playing. Improvisation is the art of creating spontaneous music on the spot. As a classically trained musician, the idea of improvisation isn't covered at all. I think the closest analogy I can think of in relation to music is the comparison between a classical and jazz musician.
A classical musician can play repertoire, sight read extremely well and is comfortable as a solo performer. A jazz musician would be primarily focused on improvising and collaborating with a group of other musicians. Why do we have improvisation in music? I guess you could say that any piece of music was once 'improvised' (it had to be original at some point!) but then notated for others to learn and play. In the case of say a jazz musician, my assumption is that their performances are about engaging the listener at that particular moment. This type of performance is not really bound by time (piece length) and can be wrapped up whenever it deems appropriate.
In a classical music performance, things are a little more rigid (not necessarily a negative thing). We know exactly what we are going to play, the approximate timing of a piece and the listener is generally going to know what to expect! So why is improvisation such an important thing in terms of organ playing? One of the French organ greats, Tournemire says:
"An organist who doesn't improvise is only half an organist."
It's quite a shocking statement but perhaps he saw things pretty black-and-white! In a practical sense (e.g. playing for church services), improvising releases you from the shackles of repertoire and/or written music. In church services, there are often moments in the liturgy where a hymn or liturgical action requires 'a gap to fill'. There are several options to fill this gap—in ascending order of suitability:
- Don't play anything (awkward silence)
- Play another verse of the hymn as a solo (tacky)
- Play a short piece of repertoire (and risk finding yourself having to wind it up abruptly)
- Play a short piece of music from a book of interludes (they are not so imaginative though)
- Extend the hymn/chant tune through improvisation
- Improvise 'the gap' with your original musical creativity!
I think I'm at number 4...
I've tried several times to practise improvisation at home but I end up getting frustrated or I have too little time to focus more on it. I often have to use the little amount of time I have to learn new repertoire and keep existing repertoire in good condition due to upcoming performances.
Another reason for my frustrations with improvising is that I have too many ideas and what comes out is exactly that—a smorgasboard of musical garbage. Improvisation needs some structure so that the listener can recognise themes and sequences and not get bored with meaningless 'rambling'.
So after, let's say, seven years of wanting to learn to improvise, I've finally reached out to @organduo to be my mentor on this journey. My first assignment (which is this audio) was to improvise something on four pitches. @organduo picked C-D-E-F#. I could only use these four notes (in any octave and registration). Limiting the improvisation to four notes cuts out some choices, which in turn would help this beginning improviser!
Please be easy on the comments but I'd love to hear what you think! I think my next task will be to improvise a two-part piece based on a chant/hymn tune. Until then...
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