I'll send this reply to the harpsichord list, with all of your text
included, so that everyone can have a look.
On Mon, Nov 10, 2003 at 04:02:37AM -0500, Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra spake thusly:
> Dear Jonathan, Margaret, Dale, and any other harpsichord colleagues,
> Thanks for bringing up the important topic of harpsichord
> improvisation. It behooves those of us who are interested in improv to
> collaborate to bring this nearly forgotten practice back into the
> mainstream of harpsichord teaching and performances.
> I'm currently writing a book entitled Bach and Improvisation: Learning
> the Language. The book is geared toward all keyboardists, particularly
> harpsichordists, clavichordists, and organists. I teach courses in
> improvisation at Eastern Michigan University, and have established an
> annual Improvisation Symposium, which has run for the past seven years
> with different themes each year. A few of us in this region have also
> started an Improvisation Society, perhaps the only society committed
> solely to improvisation--no paperwork, dues, etc. We meet in various
> locations that have multiple keyboard instruments, and we improvise for
> and with each other, discuss the improvs, and try out ideas together. I
> also teach improvisation in Italy and Sweden in the summer, and do
> improvise on nearly every harpsichord and organ recital I perform. The
> harpsichord improvs include preludes, fantasias, dance suites, two-part
> inventions, sonatas, fugues, partitas,...most genres that exist in the
> repertoire. I'll attach the table of contents from the book because it
> outlines the topics covered, complete with quotes about improvisation
> in the Bach circle, musical examples, and step-by-step exercises to
> learn how to improvise in that language.
> I welcome dialogue with any colleagues on improvisation, as well as
> possibilities to collaborate in future events on the subject. Jonathan,
> I'd like to learn more about your thoughts about harpsichord
> improvisation and what takes place at McGill. Feel free to forward this
> message to the harpsichord list serve, if you wish. Who knows, we might
> find more support in bringing improv to the forefront.
> My e-mail and phone number have changed from the info Margaret passed
> [log in to unmask]
> Kind regards,
> Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra
> Professor of Organ, Harpsichord, and Improvisation
> Eastern Michigan University
> N-101 Alexander
> Ypsilanti, MI 48197 USA
Here in Montreal, it seems there's a lot of keyboard improv going on,
but it's all centred around the organists. There's a competition between
the various music schools, occasional classes, and just a lot more
people doing it, it seems.
At McGill, there isn't a lot of real training done in improvisation. A
mostly-annual class in 'keyboard improvisation' is taught, half by Jan
Jarczyk, and half by Tom Plaunt (focusing on Jazz and Classical styles,
evidently), which I have taken. It was a very good class, but as it was
taught by pianists, on pianos, I had a rather hard time. The sort of
improv that I've been doing (mostly unmeasured prelude types) just don't
work on piano, so I was starting pretty much from scratch, and the
exercizes used a lot of 19th and 20th century piano composers as their
starting points, stylistically anyway, which didn't help, since I've
never played much of that repertoire!
There was also a graduate class taught by Julian Wachner on the subject
of liturgical improv, but it was just on organ, of course, and I didn't
have time to take it. Perhaps Loren can comment more about it.
Other than that, we (harpsichordists) do a LOT of continuo, and get
quite a bit of coaching on that, but nothing really about any other sort
It seems that the people that DO improvise are almost entirely
self-taught, except with continuo and, of course, the jazz folk get the
usual barrage of lessons and coaching, but that's a rather different
world, and not one I've been a part of, unfortunately.
Your book looks intriguing! I could see a whole series of books
developing, exploring improvisation in different styles. I'm not
personally all that interested in Bach - Blasphemy, I know, but I'm more
into some earlier, and less 'lofty' music right now. But I'm still eager
to see the book!