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Tunes and practices for improvising

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  • Tunes and practices for improvising

    I sometimes get asked to play in situations where I wasn't prepared to play anything because the Minister forgot to tell me. Yesterday was one such time; it was Renewing Our Baptism and I played while people came forward and waited their turn, much like they do for communion.

    In these situations, quiet music is generally called for, and I've found I like to improvise. To date, my favorite tunes are

    Amazing Grace

    Simple Gifts

    I like them because they lend themselves to a slow "ramble" - lots of different harmonies work in many spots. I usually start by playing the melody with a fairly straightforward harmonization, then go off a bit with my harmonization, then into improvised melody over some version of the harmonies I've been playing, and back to the "head" (the tune as first played) to finish.

    I'm curious to know what others do, both in tune selection and general practice, in these situations.

    Thanks in advance.


  • #2
    I am in a new church position as well. I am in it about the same length of time as yourself. Service always starts with two or three "Praise Hymns" they are usually but not always from the contemporary side of things. After this there is a short prayer and a moment of silent reflection that is meant to be accompanied by soft music. I pick one of the three songs that have been sung to improvise on. I don't think about it beforehand I just go with what feels right. Usually I pick the most meditative of the three. Elsewhere I improvise on whatever has just been sung. For me improvising on tunes in minor/modal keys brings out more of my imagination "What Wondrous Love Is This". But I'll improvise on anything that's in play in the service already or in the season. Have you discovered "Hymn Arrangements" yet? There is a collection of some called "The Essential Church Pianist (Organist) edited by Jane Holstein. Expensive, but worth it. Not sight readable, but full of ideas for your own musings.


    • #3
      I like to pick simple pieces from the early Baroque era, and improvise around the main motive should the piece be too short. But I don't have to do this often since our new (well, not so new anymore, she started 18 months ago) pastor decided that for her, silence is silence and she doesn't want any music during these parts of the service, and also no music during communion. It's a protestant church, and I know that my catholic colleagues need to do much more improvisation than I do.