CD Imaginary Day, track 10: The Mixolydian Mode - Part Two, organ Stevenskerk Nijmegen

A balance between composition and improvisation can be made by comparing this piece to
The Mixolydian Mode - Part One

An advantage of improvised parts is that one can respond more accurately to the specific qualities of a certain instrument. In both cases the vox humana 8' is used, a reed stop resembling the human voice. Combined with the very high flageolet 1' this produces a particularly penetrating sound.


CD Imaginary Day, track 9: The First Psalm, organ Stevenskerk Nijmegen

The First Psalm was originally intended for a performance by actor Henk van Ulsen, a rather light-hearted approach to a subject which has been for centuries a cornerstone of Dutch Calvinism. This setting of Psalm One has a gentle, innocent character.


CD Imaginary Day, track 8: Yehowah Kpo Kpo, organ Stevenskerk Nijmegen

The twenty-one tracks on Imaginary Day are divided into three groups of seven: Early morning, The afternoon and Late evening, night. These names are related to the sound of the organs on which the pieces were played. The first group of seven, representing the early morning, have the bright sound of the instruments in the Bonifaciuskerk, Medemblik and the Westerkerk, Amsterdam. The second group of pieces, recorded in the Stevenskerk, Nijmegen and the St. Willibrorduskerk, Berkel-Enschot, represent the afternoon, because the organs there have a darker sound. The third group, consisting only of pieces played at the organ in the Stevenskerk, stands for the late evening and night.

Yehowah Kpo Kpo is a Ghanian religious song, which I encountered while playing with African musicians during 1998-2000, in the Scots Reformed Chuch, Rotterdam. Love songs and religious songs from that part of the world often share the same effervescent character. Practising and performing with the Africans made my classical-European opinions about efficiency and professional attitude seem completely irrelevant. This could lead to grotesque situations, often very stimulating. To satisfy my European sense of order, a shortened recapitulation of the song is played after the improvisation, as if nothing had happened.


The Art of Listening with Relaxed Precision and CD Imaginary Day, track 7: The Dorian Mode, organ Westerkerk Amsterdam

Yesterday evening Jan Veldkamp and Hans Fidom spoke very well during the ceremony in which the Schnitger Dream Prize was awarded to me. Among other things, Jan Veldkamp referred to two of my pieces that he liked in particular, i.e. My friend the Indian and Eliah's Ascension. These pieces will be the subject of future blog posts. Hans Fidom very justly extended the meaning of The Art of Playing with Relaxed Precision (a term I used to explain The Art of Doing Nothing), as referring not only to performers but also to listeners. Consequently, through The Art of Listening with Relaxed Precision, listeners also contribute to the calibre of a concert. This reminds me of Ali Jihad Racy's chapter Improvisation, Ecstacy, and Performance Dynamics in Arabic Music in Bruno Nettl's and Melinda Russell's In the Course of Performance - Studies in the World of Musical Improvisation.

From the CD Imaginary Day we have track 7 today, The Dorian Mode. The piece is symmetrical in form: introduction, A section, B section, shortened recapitulation of A and Coda. The A and B section present constant changes of meter. The B section is improvised. The coda develops material from the introduction. Its considerable length is compensated by the shortened recapitulation. Independent of the symmetrical structure, a simple melody, like a cantus firmus, appears halfway through the A section. It is played by the pedal, using a principal 4', whereas the two manual voices employ flute stops.


CD Imaginary Day, track 6: For a Child - organ Westerkerk Amsterdam

The open sound of a trumpet is heard again. The piece is quite cheerful and naive, with the left hand playing a variable ostinato in the middle register and the right hand exploring the high, and later, the low register. For a Child is like many of my pieces a study of what can be achieved with very basic material. Variety is provided by variation in rhythm, articulation and order of the notes. The registration is also very economical: only the trumpet 8' is heard. The end seems abrupt, like a child who suddenly decides to play no longer.


Schnitger Dream Prize and CD Imaginary Day, track 5: Skylark, organ Westerkerk Amsterdam

This evening the Schnitger Dream Prize (in Dutch: Schnitger Droomprijs) will be awarded to me in the Der Aa-kerk in Groningen. This is a great honour and joy. Unfortunately, due to an illness, I am not able to attend to the ceremony myself, but my colleagues and friends Jan Veldkamp and Hans Fidom will receive the award and say a few words of thanks to the audience and comment on my musicianship. After the ceremony, organist Klaas Hoek,who won the prize last year, and others will give a performance with contemporary music.

Today's piece from my CD Imaginary Day suits the aspiration which is necessary to be nominated for the Schnitger Dream prize very well. Skylark refers to a bird with a particularly exalted song hovering high in the sky. The first four phrases of the melody are in octaves. Then the melody is varied in the soprano, with the lower voice providing an ostinato derived from the melody. This section is mainly improvised. Towards the end, a slowly ascending melody represents the bird flying ever higher. With the underlying chord, this gives an impression of how sense of time and place can evaporate when listening to the skylark's song.


CD Imaginary Day, track 4: Pièce en trio I, organ Westerkerk Amsterdam

Pièce en trio I  is, like so many trios in organ literature, not easy to play, with the hands and feet moving independently of each other. Three chromatically related tonal centers are combined to create poly-modality. Theoretically, this would make for grinding dissonances, but the overall sound becomes quite consonant, due to the large distance between the voices and the ample acoustics of the church. Each voice has its own rhythm and tempo, giving an impression of loose construction. The timbre of the voices is very diverse; the bass has low-sounding 16', 8' and 6' principals (the latter emphasizing the third overtone, a perfect fifth). Conversely, the soprano has a very high sound produced by a 1' flute. The middle voice adds a third colour, of an 8' reed. The tonal centers are C, B and C-sharp for the bass, soprano and middle voice


CD Imaginary Day, track 3: The Mixolydian Mode - Part One, organ Westerkerk Amsterdam

The atmosphere is exalted, with the vox humana producing strange cries of joy and agony. The sketches allow opportunities for improvisation, but certain melodic and structural features should be strictly observed. For instance, the first three phrases and the final phrase always begin with a characteristic broken triad. The amount of improvisation can be judged by comparing this piece with The Mixolydian Mode - Part Two


CD Imaginary Day, track 2: Latin Folly, organ Westerkerk Amsterdam

This piece has four sections. The beginning and end of each section are composed, the central parts are to be improvised.


CD Imaginary Day, track 1: Call of the Trumpet, organ Bonifaciuskerk Medemblik

Between 1996 and 2001, I made a number of pieces which were issued on CD by Cybele Records in 2006. The pieces have been recorded in single takes, without editing, in the Bonifaciuskerk in Medemblik, the Westerkerk in Amsterdam, the Domkerk in Utrecht, the Willibrorduskerk in Berkel-Enschot and the Stevenskerk in Nijmegen.

Generally the pieces evolved from a useful idea, an "invention", emerging from improvisation. This elaborated upon and leads to some sketches. A second invention may be added to provide contrast or to enhance the structure. Then the improvisation, played repeatedly from the sketches, slowly crystallizes into a composition. This process could last several hours, several weeks, sometimes even several years, the sketches becoming increasingly detailed. Ultimately each piece may be entirely composed or still permit some improvisation. In this respect however, a composition is nearly always regarded as a "temporarily fixed identity", meaning that the composition can always "de-crystallize" into an improvisation again. As a result, the line between composing and improvising is rather thin.

Call of the Trumpet is based on an organ-point, which lasts throughout the entire piece. With the organ point keys held down by two weights, both hands are free to play the melody and two accompaniment figures. The stop which is used for the organ point is a flute 8-foot. This is only partially open, in order to produce the desired sound. This is a subtle procedure: at 0:14, for instance, opening the stop only two or three millimeters already changes the sound.