So you want to become a professional performer with advanced experience of improvisation, especially within a liturgical context. You heard this calling and you have answered it. Maybe not right away, maybe you were hesitant to set out to achieve your dream at first because deep inside you knew that you will have to confront some serious challenges in not too distant future.
However, living your life without the organ improvisation has proved to be like you were not reaching your full potential and this feeling has become worse than the actual challenges that are waiting for you along the road. That's why you decided to start your improvisation journey after all.
This journey probably began with lots of initial momentum and high spirits but as the time passed, you feel like it's getting more and more difficult to advance. You have met your challenges.
The first one for you was the lack of learning resources. Sure, there are numerous method books that teach improvisation but the problem is that none of these learning materials are meant specifically for you. Some of the method books contain too much theoretical explanations while lacking graded exercises; others might have plenty of exercises but they seem to be too dry and too many - you don't feel any progress as you progress.
Luckily, you have found some model pieces of your favorite composers that you want to decipher and create some improvisational experiments out of them. You don't want to become another Bach or Buxtehude but you feel like following the footsteps of the masters might lead you to some interesting discoveries of your own along the way.
Then there came another, even greater challenge - as you were studying your model pieces, somehow you felt stuck multiple times because you were not sure what all Baroque pieces have in common. In other words, you didn't understand the musical elements that comprise the musical style of different historical periods. The thoughts of quitting and that improvisation was not meant for you were frequent at this point.
Regardless of all the fear that you might be lost, that you will never learn to improvise in the Baroque style within the liturgical context, you were able to face this challenge with a calm scientific and systematic stance. Although the Baroque pieces might have very advanced polyphonic techniques, by looking at the composition deeply you were able to discover the essence of counterpoint. This gave you the strength to continue.
However, the last challenge made you rethink the efficiency of your practice in general because you felt like you might spend hours and days practicing improvisation but your goal, like the sun on the horizon just kept moving away from you. Here you realized that your lack of efficient practice techniques inhibited your progress not only in improvisation but also in organ playing in general.
But at the same time this realization was like an eye-opener to you, you started to see what was always under your nose - you began to understand that the way you learn a new and advanced organ piece is essentially the same as the way you learn to improvise in a certain genre. Extremely slow practice of fragment by fragment and voice by voice are vital here. Essentially you have to depress the key or a pedal only when you have figured out what comes next.
Your road has not ended yet but you now have a clear and calm mind and feel like you are on the right path. Will new challenges await for you around the corner? Almost certainly. Will you give up and return to your pre-improvisational life? Not possible - there is no coming back. Only forward.
[Thanks for Callum for inspiration]
Voice leading challenge:
Supply the bass part to the above excerpt which is taken from my Processional March in C Major (try not to look at the answer ahead of time).
Fugue (p. 6) from 12 Pièces, Op.16 by Leon Boellmann (1862-1897), French Romantic composer and organist.
Breathe on Me, Breath of God
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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Don't have an organ at home?
Download paper manuals and pedals, print them out, cut the white spaces, tape the sheets together and you'll be ready to practice anywhere where is a desk and floor. Make sure you have a higher chair.