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  • My Improvisation and Composition Diary

    Hello all,

    A few weeks ago I started a personal project studying organ improvisation. Every day or three, I record spontaneous improvisations and compositions and post them to the diary. I thought it would be interesting to document this process so I can measure progress over time.

    If you want to check out my project, you can listen to my studies here: http://my-music-diary.com

    I try to keep diary entries brief so that they can be listened to and analyzed without annoyance. As it's my personal diary, you can expect a lot of playing mistakes, bad rhythm keeping, poor registrations, stuff that sounds like other composers, and in general a lot of nonsense and rubbish. But perhaps some of you will find it interesting to track my progress as I learn.

    Best,
    Ben

  • #2
    What wonderful playing and gorgeous organ tones! Thanks for sharing.
    John
    ----------
    *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

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    • #3
      Ben, I am working my way through your improvisations. Very nicely done. I have a few questions I would like to ask, if I may.

      1. Have you studied improvisation with anyone, or are you self taught?

      2. How do you get your themes? Because of my past as a church musician, I usually improvised on one of the hymns in the service, but it sounds like most of your thematic material is original.

      A friend of mine, who is a great improviser, used to meet once a month with another organist to improvise together. They would select a theme for each monthly meeting. It might be "French style toccatas" one month and "Fugal treatments" another time.

      One style that I have not heard in your examples that I personally like very much is an English style improvisation that begins very quietly, builds to full organ and then ends quietly. This is just a personal favorite of mine and I would be interested in how you might improvise in this style.

      Thank you so much for sharing this, and best wishes in your further endeavors.
      Bill

      My home organ: Content M5800 as a midi controller for Hauptwerk

      Comment


      • #4
        Many thanks to both of you for your kind feedback!

        1. Have you studied improvisation with anyone, or are you self taught?
        I have had composition lessons as well as organ lessons, but I'd classify myself as self taught in organ improvisation. I've studied many scores and listened to a great many videos of other improvisers on the internet. This has helped immensely.

        2. How do you get your themes? Because of my past as a church musician, I usually improvised on one of the hymns in the service, but it sounds like most of your thematic material is original.
        The themes come pretty automatically, usually while I'm working my normal day job. In the evening, I try them out on the organ. Some of the improvisations are prepped for about an hour beforehand, others are completely spontaneous. I'm sure many of my themes are subconsciously based off of themes I've heard in other works. In the future, I'd also like to do some improvisations that are bound to given themes, be they from hymns or other works.

        A friend of mine, who is a great improviser, used to meet once a month with another organist to improvise together. They would select a theme for each monthly meeting. It might be "French style toccatas" one month and "Fugal treatments" another time.
        I think your friend's method is a fantastic way to study the art of improvisation-- to really deconstruct a style into its component parts and figure out what makes the style tick. I think there are a couple ways to do this. One method is the "osmosis" method. For instance, I'm spending a lot of time on the North and Middle German styles right now. For the North German styles, I've been listening to a great deal of Vincent Lübeck, D. Buxtehude, and others. The styles eventually "rub off" on one. Another method is more systematic, which is examining a score carefully and isolating the individual discreet elements of a style. These elements can then be practiced and then synthesized into an improvisation.

        One style that I have not heard in your examples that I personally like very much is an English style improvisation that begins very quietly, builds to full organ and then ends quietly. This is just a personal favorite of mine and I would be interested in how you might improvise in this style.
        I'd love to give it a try! I'll make a mental note that I should attempt this.

        Thanks again for writing-- it was an encouragement for me.

        Kind Regards,
        Ben

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        • #5
          George Thalben-Ball's Elegy was originally an improvisation that he later wrote down as best he could remember it because there were so many requests for it. (He played it on a radio broadcast.) This is an excellent example of the English style that I was referred to in my earlier post. There are other examples, but that is one of the best.
          Bill

          My home organ: Content M5800 as a midi controller for Hauptwerk

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          • #6
            Very fine improvisations! Thanks for sharing. I have not listened to all of them but I appreciate your selection, and also your shared thoughts (for instance, why you do tonal music). It’s very nice you decided to share your musical efforts rather than keep them in isolation.

            Just one thought, which may be nit picking, regarding selections such as your ‘Elements: Hydrogen and Caesium’, or ‘Metamorphosis I’. It may feel good to feel really connected to a composition or improvisation, as if it really represents how we feel. Though a clear expression of how we feel is not always worthwhile, because how we feel is not always worthwhile. Several pieces l’ve written I felt really captured how I was feeling at the time and I loved them because of that. In retrospect, having been able and willing to step back with objective ears, I can see now they are decent pieces but not at all the amazing feat I once thought :)

            I’m not meaning to say those specific selections are not good, but my own personal feeling is that the ‘Elements’ one you seemed to like a lot is less musically significant and less an expression of musical skill than many of your others.

            With that said, I really hope you keep it up and especially that you’re able to share with a congregation. You most certainly have been gifted in this area. Once upon a time (20 years ago...) I used to regularly record improvisations and really enjoyed doing it. So your efforts resonate with me, although I rarely shared mine. Nowadays I often do improvisations for church music, whether it be the organ or piano, but it’s not a big part of my life anymore.
            Viscount C400 3-manual
            8 channels + 2 reverb channels (w/ Lexicon MX200)
            Klipsch RSX-3 speakers and Klipsch Ultra 5.1 subwoofers

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            • #7
              I just listened to a couple of your improvisations and agree with previous comments that you have a musical gift that you should continue to develop. Thank you for sharing them with us; I'm looking forward to listening to more of your posts as I have time.

              I really like the energy of "80's Kid at the Cinema" - it reminds me of the compositions of Ad Wammes and Mons Leidvin Takle (performances can be found on YouTube). The variety of your work is quite enjoyable and fresh - something the organ world needs if younger people are to be attracted to the genre. Perhaps you could start a YouTube channel for selected compositions for a wider audience. (While there are always trolls on YT, there are also lots of professional and amateur organists who might contribute constructive comments.)
              Larry is my name; Allen is an organ brand. Allen RMWTHEA.3 with RMI Electra-Piano; Allen 423-C+Gyro; Britson Opus OEM38; Steinway AR Duo-Art 7' grand piano, Mills Violano Virtuoso with MIDI; Hammond 9812H with roll player; Roland E-200; Mason&Hamlin AR Ampico grand piano, Allen ADC-5300-D with MIDI, Allen MADC-2110.

              Comment


              • #8
                Just one thought, which may be nit picking, regarding selections such as your ‘Elements: Hydrogen and Caesium’, or ‘Metamorphosis I’. It may feel good to feel really connected to a composition or improvisation, as if it really represents how we feel. Though a clear expression of how we feel is not always worthwhile, because how we feel is not always worthwhile. Several pieces l’ve written I felt really captured how I was feeling at the time and I loved them because of that. In retrospect, having been able and willing to step back with objective ears, I can see now they are decent pieces but not at all the amazing feat I once thought :)
                So true. Thanks for the candid words, rjsilva--fantastic stuff! I'm going to have to go through the "early" entries of the diary and re-score some of them. I'm actually constantly modifying the score of tracks. One thing I want to do is document why I started to dislike a track, or why I started to like a track that I used to dislike. It's certainly somewhat painful to listen to some of the material again, especially the tracks with poor rhythm keeping, which one doesn't necessarily hear whilst improvising.

                I’m not meaning to say those specific selections are not good, but my own personal feeling is that the ‘Elements’ one you seemed to like a lot is less musically significant and less an expression of musical skill than many of your others.
                Agreed. I just docked this track a point. You're right-- it doesn't deserve such a high score. As an aside, the "early" tracks were written for a audio/visual art project involving a space with an organ, which was the impetus for starting this diary.

                With that said, I really hope you keep it up and especially that you’re able to share with a congregation. You most certainly have been gifted in this area. Once upon a time (20 years ago...) I used to regularly record improvisations and really enjoyed doing it. So your efforts resonate with me, although I rarely shared mine. Nowadays I often do improvisations for church music, whether it be the organ or piano, but it’s not a big part of my life anymore.
                Thank you for the encouragement and valuable feedback!

                - - - Updated - - -

                I just listened to a couple of your improvisations and agree with previous comments that you have a musical gift that you should continue to develop. Thank you for sharing them with us; I'm looking forward to listening to more of your posts as I have time.
                Thanks, Larry!

                I really like the energy of "80's Kid at the Cinema" - it reminds me of the compositions of Ad Wammes and Mons Leidvin Takle (performances can be found on YouTube). The variety of your work is quite enjoyable and fresh - something the organ world needs if younger people are to be attracted to the genre. Perhaps you could start a YouTube channel for selected compositions for a wider audience. (While there are always trolls on YT, there are also lots of professional and amateur organists who might contribute constructive comments.)
                Yes, I'm planning on doing this, after I experiment a little more and gain more material. I also have to work up the courage to expose myself to Youtube trolls. :-) Thank you for the encouraging words.

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