Kansas Here I Come!

Hello 2017!

I was planning a column for the Christmas season when they announced the appointment of two new auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Their ordination was scheduled for January 19, so the crazy Advent-Christmas scheduled for a couple of weeks longer. The ordination even provided an improvisation challenge: how can you stretch an entrance procession to cover 500 people walking into the building?

Maybe it was only 450, but everyone in the upper and lower sanctuary as well as all the people in white on the right entered in procession. We did two hymns with interludes after every verse. What’s the longest procession you’ve played for? What did you do to keep the music interesting?


As I was catching up on my reading after the holidays, I discovered that the American Guild of Organists has scheduled their next pedagogy conference, and its focus is improvisation! Organ and Improvisation Study in the French Conservatoire System will be held October 18 – 21, 2017 at The University of Kansas. I promptly signed up to attend. The lineup includes Olivier Latry, Michel Bouvard, Vincent DuBois and Philippe Lefebvre. More information is available at:
Please let me know if you plan to be there.

Simple Christmas Music

So the idea I wanted to get out for Christmas was based on one of the Orgelbüchlein chorales: Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich, BWV 605. The score (with a little alto clef for fun) starts like this:

At least in the US, virtually no one will recognize this as a Christmas tune, but the structure of the piece is simple enough that I thought it could be easily applied to Christmas tunes that people do know. The soprano is a straightforward presentation of the tune on a solo stop. The bass is a very simple harmonic bass with occasional passing tones. The interest of the piece comes from the treatment of the alto and tenor. The tenor has a dotted eighth and sixteenth note pattern while the alto fills in between the two tenor notes with either two thirty-second notes or a sixteenth note before finishing the beat with an eighth note.

The rhythmic pattern simplifies into or can be derived from a standard 4-part chorale harmonization very easily. I opened the hymnal at random and applied it to a few Christmas tunes: While Shepherds Watched (WINCHESTER OLD), How Brightly Shines (WIE SCHÖN LEUCHTET), and Good Christian Friends, Rejoice (IN DULCI JUBILO). While Christmas is over, you could certainly do the same with tunes from other seasons.


In other news, I have been asked to lead an organ masterclass at the National Pastoral Musicians Conference this summer in Cincinnati. The masterclass will cover repertoire or improvisation according to what the student wishes to work on. If you’d like to participate, please check out the convention brochure.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and that 2017 is off to a fabulous beginning for you.


Newsletter Issue 62 – 2017 01 30

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Es ist ein Ros entsprungen

Es ist ein Ros entsprungen
Often translated in to English as “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” the German chorale “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” first appeared in print in the late 16th century. The most familiar harmonization was written by German composer Michael Praetorius in 1609.

See a list of other hymn and chorale themes here.

Eric Dalest – Improvisation on “Es ist ein Ros” – Virtual organ of ST MAXIMIN
Paul Damjakob – Kommet ihr Hirten und Es ist ein Ros – Würzburger Dom

A News Update and Happy Holidays

First, I wish to offer my apologies for not sending out newsletters or posting regularly at organimprovisation.com for the past month. My schedule has been subject to change on an almost daily basis for the past two months as I have been coping with two different events in my life. In a live conversation, here is where I would ask if you want the good news or the bad news first. Since I’m writing and have to make the choice for you, we’ll start with the….

Bad News

On December 9, early in the morning, my mother passed away. She developed other difficulties while undergoing her second round of chemotherapy for lymphoma. Her condition kept us and the doctors guessing for several weeks as she would seem to be deteriorating as we got good test results or otherwise showed signs of improvement. I was able to spend a couple of weeks with her and my family as we journeyed through this difficult time together. I played for the funeral, improvising the prelude. Another organist friend sang a composition I had written earlier in the year when I began to face the possibility that my mother would not be with us much longer. For me, improvising is not just a skill for making music, but also a life skill. Being able to change directions and make choices that reflect your values and the current conditions is not simply a useful skill for creating a piece but also for daily living. I’ve had to employ it quite often while coping with the bad news and the …

Good News

On January 15, I will begin my new position as Director of Music for the Cathedral and Archdiocesan Liturgies at the Cathedral of Mary, Our Queen in Baltimore, MD. The space is fabulous with a large four-manual pipe organ. There is a tour of the building on-line here. With such a wonderful instrument at my disposal, I hope to begin posting videos in the new year where I can provide examples and lessons for the content I have been providing here. In the mean time, my postings may still be a little erratic, but I plan to be back on pace by the end of January once I am settled in Baltimore.

Happy Holidays

As I suspect this will be the last newsletter issue until after the new year, I will wish you both Merry Christmas and Happy New Year now. Thank you for your interest in organ improvisation. For your holiday inspiration, I found the clip below showing Pierre Cochereau improvising on a noel. Enjoy all the marvels of the season!

May all your improvisations be competent, convincing, coherent and colorful!



Recent additions to organimprovisation.com:


Newsletter Issue 31 – 2014 12 24
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Felix Mendelssohn originally composed this melody as part of a cantata in 1840 to celebrate the invention of printing with movable type by Johannes Gutenberg. William H. Cummings adapted the melody in 1855 to fit a text by Charles Wesley that was first published in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems. The first line commonly used today, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is an alteration by George Whitefield in his 1754 Collection of hymns for social worship.

See a list of other hymn and chorale themes here.

Puer Natus Est


Puer natus est is the introit chant for the Third Mass of Christmas Day (Mass of the Day). The chant is in the mixolydian mode.

Find a list of other chant themes here.

Olivier Messiaen – Improvisation “Puer Natus Est” – La Trinité
Tobias Schmid – Improvisation ‘Puer natus est’ – Rottenburger Dom
Jonathan Wessler – Fantasy-improvisation on Puer natus est nobis – Christ Church Episcopal, Rochester, New York

Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her


Composed by Martin Luther in 1535, “Vom Himmel hoch” was first published in Valentin Schumann’s Geistliche Lieder in 1539. Johann Sebastian Bach used the melody in his Christmas Oratorio and as the theme for his Canonic Variations.

See a list of other chorale themes here.

Cor Ardesch – Vom Himmel hoch – Grote Kerk, Dordrecht
Maria Scharwieß – Vom Himmel hoch – Nathanaelchurch Berlin-Schöneberg

Eric Dalest



YouTube Channel:
https://www.youtube.com/user/dalestorgue You can also hear him on Spotify.

Born in 1974 in Marseilles, Eric Dalest studied at the Conservatories of Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. He obtained his Médaille d’Or with unanimity of the jury presided by Jean Guillou. He subsequently studied improvisation with Jean Guillou and received the Diplôme Supérieur from the Schola Cantorum in Paris where he studied with Paul Imbert. Since 1996, he has been the organist at St. Sauveur in Aubagne. He has concertized widely across Europe.


Eric Dalest: Improvisations

Eric Dalest: Organ of Telfs in Tirol Improvisations

Christmas Organ Improvisations at Tezze Sul Brenta

Christmas Improvisations (Live)

Eric Dalest: Improvisations Symphoniques Organ

Eric Dalest – Improvised Waltz
Eric Dalest – Improvised Berceuse