by Daniel Hathaway
Over his keys the musing organist, | Beginning doubtfully and far away, | First lets his fingers wander as they list, | And builds a bridge from Dreamland for his lay: | Then, as the touch of his loved instrument | Gives hopes and fervor, nearer draws his theme, | First guessed by faint auroral flushes sent | Along the wavering vista of his dream.
Thus begins James Russell Lowell’s The Vision of Sir Launfal (1867), a poetic description of an organist improvising at the keyboard — an act of instantaneous musical creation that had all but disappeared except from organ lofts, usually French, by the dawning of the 20th century.
Improvisation is now on the rise again, not only through the fingers of organists. “It’s now infecting other musicians as well,” Todd Wilson said in a recent telephone conversation. “Chamber music groups, orchestras, everybody’s doing it.”
Wilson, who is music director at Cleveland’s Trinity Cathedral, professor of organ at the Cleveland Institute of Music, curator of Severance Hall’s E.M. Skinner organ, and a well-known concert organist, is an enthusiastic improviser whose talents are expressed not only during church services. [Read more…]