Gerben Mourik

Gerben_Mourik_300Website:
http://www.gerbenmourik.nl

Gerben Mourik began organ studies with Albert van der Hoeven and Jolanda Zwoferink, and continued studying with Ben van Oosten. At the Brabant Conservatory, he earned his degrees as Performing Musician (levels 1 & 2) while studying with Bram Beekman and Henco de Berg He also studied improvisation privately with Ansgar Wallenhorst and Naji Hakim. Presently he serves as organist of St Michael’s church in Oudewater.

Gerben Mourik won first prize at the National Organ Improvisation Contest in Zwolle in 2003. In the next year, he was a finalist in the International Organ Contest in Haarlem and won first prize in the international organ improvisation contest at St Albans, UK. He was awarded first prize at the International Improvisation Contest in Haarlem in 2008.

Videos:
Gerben Mourik – Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme – Brouwershaven
Gerben Mourik – O come, o come, Emmanuel – Brouwershaven
Gerben Mourik – Free Improvisation – Apeldoorn

Jörg Abbing

JoergAbbingWebsite:
http://www.joergabbing.de/

Born in 1969 in Duisburg, Jörg Abbing began studies in piano and composition with erste Alexander Meyer in Bremen and organ with Günter Eumann. He then studied church music, organ playing and musicology in Düsseldorf and Saarbrücken where his teachers included Almut Rößler and Volker Hempfling. He also studied organ with Gaston Litaize. He also studied privately in Paris with André Isoir, and Naji Hakim.

Since 1995, he has served as Kantor and Organist at the Ev.Stiftskirche St. Arnual in Saarbrücken. He also teaches liturgical organ playing and improvisation at the Hochschule für Musik Saar in Saarbrücken. He has written biographies on Maurice Duruflé and Jean Guillou.

Recording:
Symphonische Orgelimprovisationen
IFO-Verlag, Saarbrücken: 1998.

Videos:
Jörg Abbing – Improvisation (Intermezzo) – Saarbrücken
Jörg Abbing – Improvisation – St Matthias Kirche, Berlin

Naji Hakim – The Improvisation Companion

HakimCompanion

I would dare to say that I owned the first copy of this book imported to the USA by Theodore Presser. I forget now exactly how I discovered it was in preparation, but I do remember contacting Naji Hakim directly in order to find out the publication schedule and how to order one. Improvisation method books were (and still are) such a rarity that I was very anxious to see what this modern day master would include in his text.

The Improvisation Companion is intended as a reference book for all musicians looking for a form of personal artistic expression on their instrument. While the organ is mentioned, the material is more generally related to aspects of composition (theme, development and forms) than to specific application at the organ. The two appendices cover the basic principles of harmonization and give a repertoire of themes. The title provides a very fitting description of the contents: there are no lessons or assignments here for the student to master. This is a catalog of ideas to explore and implement as the student explores the world of improvisation.

One of the most useful sections of this book is the second appendix containing themes. Hakim provides 15 themes for each of six different categories: Traditional songs, chorales, Gregorian chants, free themes, fugues, passacaglias, and literary texts. Another bonus included with the book is a CD of Hakim improvising live in concert at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, IL. The recording includes a choral partita, Gregorian paraphrase, passacaglia, symphony, and a fantasy on a folkloric tune.

Anyone attempting to learn to improvise from this volume would likely find it to be a very difficult art to learn without the aid of a teacher or second text. However, for a student working through another text on improvisation, this proves to be a great resource of ideas and themes. Stuck on how to develop the theme? Try one of Hakim’s suggestions in Part III. Need a theme to work on for your exercise? Look in Appendix II. The Improvisation Companion makes a great secondary volume for a student’s course of study.

A Next Step to Harmony

Last week, we looked at Harmonizing: A Method to Encourage the Art of Improvising by Sietze de Vries. It focused primarily on basic chords in the same key as the melody. Today, I’d like to offer an idea on developing a tonal vocabulary more in the style of Jean Langlais.

Building Chords

Common practice harmony uses chords built by thirds. When choosing how to harmonize a melody note, it typically is the root, third or fifth of a chord. Eventually, we could consider the possibility that it is a seventh, ninth, or a non-chord tone, but we’ll keep it simple for now. Keeping only to major and minor triads, this will give us six options of how to harmonize a single melody note:

HarmonyExample1Sm

Using our chorale Lobt Gott den Herrn, ihr Heiden all from last week, our first step will be to harmonize the theme with one of the six chord types all the way through. Here is the first phrase with the melody as the root of a major triad:

HarmonyExample2Sm

Play through the entire chorale using each of the six types of chords one at a time (Root of a major chord, root of a minor chord, third of a major chord, and so forth). Enjoy the cross relations like the C# and C natural in the second measure above. Eventually, you can venture into diminished and augmented triads, or even seventh chords:

HarmonyExample3Sm

Once you can consistently apply one chord type to the melody, it’s time to start looking for different progressions that will provide the most interesting colors. If the melody note stays the same, be sure and change the type of chord (from root of a major chord to third of a major chord for example).

HarmonyExample4Sm

Lobt Gott den Herrn is a very stepwise melody. Be sure and practice with other themes that include mores skips (especially thirds!) in them so that you are very comfortable with the cross relations that develop from keeping the chord type consistent. You can practice this using only one hand at a time (Yes, you should do it with your left hand alone!), both hands playing the same notes, or eventually right hand chord with left hand (or pedal!) playing the root. This last one can become particularly tricky once you start changing chord types. Remember the instruction from Naji Hakim (a student of Langlais): “Never play faster thank you can think.”

Finally, add a little rhythm, a few manual or registration changes, and you are well on your way to creating a piece like the Pasticcio from Langlais’ Organ Book or the Dialogue sur les mixtures from Suite Brève.

Hoping your harmony is colorful!

Glenn Osborne


 
Recent additions to organimprovisation.com:
I’ve added a new section to the store with recordings of piano improvisations in classical styles. It includes recordings by Gabriela Montero, Ola Gjeilo, and my favorites by John Bayless on Happy Birthday and tunes by The Beatles.

Organists:

Themes:


 
Newsletter Issue 7 – 2014 06 09
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The Four C’s of Improvisation: Coherent

As we continue our journey through the month of May and the Four C’s of Improvisation, this week, we arrive at #3: coherent. We already explored the first two (competent and convincing) and colorful will be our topic next week. Last week’s lesson from Naji Hakim – “Never play faster than you can think.” – will also be a key to being coherent.

Style

Continuing our general metaphor of music as language, style can be considered the type of language or dialect that we are using to communicate. A coherent speech will be given in the same language. Hopefully, it will be one that the listener can understand. Anyone who has ever had the privilege to attend a multicultural celebration (mass or other worship service) where languages were changed frequently will quickly recognize the difficulty in achieving a coherent celebration when certain segments of the population can not understand what is being said in one or more of the languages used. Just imagine for a moment constructing sentences where all nouns are in German, verbs are in French, adjectives are in English and adverbs are in Spanish. Even though my general comprehension is pretty good in all four of those languages, combining then together into a sentence makes an incoherent mess: Ich voudrais chocolate Eis hoy. While I recognize there are occasional words that have crossed from one language to another, even then, the pronunciation usually changes. It is far more coherent to present in one language than to mix them all together. So it is also with music. Choosing a musical style that one has mastered or playing slow enough in a style in order to master it is a key element to coherent improvisation.

Form

The order can in German words change.
Even if we manage to use the same language, if there is no apparent form, we lose coherence. I remember from my study of German that you could put just about anything at the beginning of the sentence in order to choose to emphasize some particular element. Someone once pointed out to me that I would never hear a German interrupt another German speaking because until you heard the verb – which often was at the end of the phrase- you wouldn’t necessarily have any idea what the person was actually saying about all the other elements you had heard. There are simple forms and complex forms that we can use to improvise: binary, ternary, passacaglia, variations, rondo, sonata allegro, fugue, and so forth.

We can also construct our form as we go through motivic development. The key here is to have a plan in mind. Sure, we may need to end the prelude or offertory quicker than expected, so our form may be subject to change along the way, but if we started with a plan and know where we are in it, then we should have a pretty good idea of how to bring the piece to a coherent close. I remember once hearing Naji Hakim improvise for an offertory where he started treating a chorale (or chant) in a specific way as an ornamented chorale. It became clear to me that if he continued this for all the phrases of the chorale, the piece would be too long, so just before the last phrase, he changed and did something different. I remember being quite shocked at the time, but in the twenty or thirty seconds that he took to wrap up the piece and include that last phrase, he managed to turn it into something completely coherent with what he had done before. I could have hardly imagined a more fitting ending to the piece. One of the simplest, yet perhaps most difficult ways to practice form is to practice repeating oneself. Play a melody or chord progression and then immediately repeat it. Increase the length or complexity of the phrase until you have difficulty. Repeat yourself, but change tonal center in the repetition (transpose the idea). If you are playing just a melody, repeat yourself with the other hand or even on the pedalboard with your feet. Repetition is the key to motivic development and a comprehensible formal plan, and these are the keys to coherence.

The Store

Hopefully you found some time to practice your competency and conviction last week and didn’t get stuck in a YouTube spiral watching Derren Brown clips after my last email…. While working to add as much useful information to organimprovisation.com as possible, this week, I set up a store on Amazon.com where you can go to purchase items related to improvising at the organ. When I have access to the items, I expect to offer reviews and critiques of the items in future newsletters or posts. Perhaps because I’ve been working on my collection of improvisation materials for some time, I find the sample available at Amazon.com to be a little sparse at the moment, but then again, I think most of my materials I’ve picked up from a specialty retailer (if not from the organist on the CD directly)…. Have a look and let me know if there is anything that catches your eye that I should review promptly. I also added a list of summer courses in 2014. Please let me know of any others that you might know of.

Next week, it’s on to color!

May all your improvs be coherent!

Glenn Osborne


 
Recent additions to organimprovisation.com:

The Store

Summer Courses for 2014

Organists:

Themes:


 
Newsletter Issue 4 – 2014 05 19
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The Four C’s: Convincing

Last week I introduced the qualities I call the Four C’s of Improvisation: a successful improvisation is competent, convincing, coherent and colorful. Last week I explored the area of competency, discussing knowledge of the organ, technical skills and musical formation. This week, we’ll look at how we can be convincing while living in the moment and being open to a future that of unknown possibilities.

Rhythm

Good public speaking requires fluidity. Words just roll off the tongue of good speakers. No hesitations. No ums or uhs. Even in conversation, unless we get interrupted, our thoughts generally flow from start to finish if we know what we intend to say. To be convincing, I believe improvisers must maintain the same rhythmic flow as good speakers. Any hesitancy makes our statement weaker. What’s the surest way to know a performer has made a mistake while playing a piece of repertoire? A disruption in the rhythm! (And no, rests are not necessarily a disruption in the rhythm. Plenty of good pieces make ample use of them.)

Thinking

When learning a written composition, we usually practice slowly, especially the difficult passages. This enables us to take the necessary time to read the music and find the notes without disrupting the flow. We need to do the same when improvising. One of the lessons I learned from Naji Hakim was “Never improvise faster than you can think.” If our rhythm hesitates, perhaps we are playing too quickly and need to slow our hands and feet down so that our brain can catch up. One of the surest ways to run into problems is to let our hands and feet wander aimlessly over the keyboard. While we might manage to be rhythmic, chances are our coherence may go out the window.

Conviction

There is no better way to be convincing than to play what we play with conviction. One of my favorite British entertainers is Derren Brown. On one of his TV series, he went to the track and through primarily a strong sense of conviction was able to collect winnings from losing bets. He even teaches someone else to do the same thing. (Watch the clip here.) On a visit to New York, he pays for food and jewelry with paper! While he employs a few other tricks, if he had any doubts or hesitation about what he was doing, his chance of success would drop precipitously. If we can make musical statements with as much conviction as Derren Brown uses words, lots of other details can be ignored while still providing an enjoyable experience to the listener.

To be convincing, we must improvise rhythmically, no faster than we can think and with conviction. The first two of these also help in being coherent, our topic for next week.

For this week, may all your improvs be convincing!

Glenn Osborne


 
Recent additions to organimprovisation.com:

Artists:

Themes:


 
Newsletter Issue 3 – 2014 05 12
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Jean Langlais

Jean_Langlais

Website:
http://www.jeanlanglais.com

Jean Langlais (1907 – 1991) was sent to the Paris National Institute for the Young Blind in 1918 where he studied piano, violon, harmony and organ with great blind teachers including Albert Mahaut and Andre Marchal.
Later, he entered the Paris National Conservatory of Music in the organ class of Marcel Dupré, obtaining a First Prize in 1930. In 1931, he received the “Grand Prix d’Execution et Improvisation des Amis de l’Orgue”, after having studied improvisation with Charles Tournemire. He ended his studies with a Composition Prize in the class of Paul Dukas at the Paris Conservatory in 1934.
In 1945, he became the successor to Cesar Franck and Charles Tournemire at the prestigious organ tribune of Sainte-Clotilde in Paris. He left that position in 1987 at the age of 80, having been titular for 42 years. Professor for forty years at the National Institute for the Young Blind, he also taught at the Paris Schola Cantorum where, between 1961 and 1976, he influenced both French and foreign students, including Naji Hakim and Ann Labounsky amongst many others.

Biographies:

Jean Langlais – The Man and His Music
by Ann Labounsky, Amadeus Press, 2000.


Jean Langlais, 1907-1991: Ombre et lumiere
(in French) by Marie-Louise Jaquet-Langlais, Paris: Éditions Combre, 1995.

Recordings:

Jean Langlais Improvises at Great Organs


Jean Langlais, my memories

LanglaisImprovisationsFestivo6951842

The Legendary Jean Langlais
His last recorded improvisations at Ste. Clotilde.

Naji Hakim

naji_hakimOfficial website:
http://www.najihakim.com/

Naji Hakim studied with Jean Langlais and at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris in the classes of R. Boutry, Jean-Claude Henry, M. Bitsch, Rolande Falcinelli, J. Castérède and S. Nigg, where he was awarded seven first prizes. He is professor of musical analysis at the Conservatoire National de Région de Boulogne-Billancourt, and visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music, London. At first organist of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, Paris from 1985 until 1993, he then became organist of l’église de la Trinité, in succession to Olivier Messiaen, from 1993 until 2008.


Book:
HakimCompanionThe Improvisation Companion
United Music Publishers Ltd.
The Improvisation Companion is intended as a reference book for all musicians looking for a form of personal artistic expression on their instrument. The guide uses an educational process of synthesis and is divided into four main parts that deal with the theory of improvisation and of its different components (theme, development and forms). The two appendices cover the basic principles of harmonisation and give a repertoire of themes.

Articles:
Principles of Improvisation. In: Church Music Quarterly, magazine of the Royal School of Church Music, July 2001.
Une entrevue avec Naji Hakim
by Béatrice Piertot in : “La Revue l’Orgue” 2003 (in French)

Audio:
Naji Hakim – Entry in the 33rd Haarlem Improvisation Competition

Videos:
Documentary – On the Edge featuring a Sortie by Hakim
Naji Hakim – Improvisation “Segne du Maria” – Wallfahrtskirche – Klausen

On the music of Hakim:

Selected Chant-Based Organ Works of Naji Hakim: The Influence of Improvisation
by Heather Hernandez