HEN IT COMES TO ORGAN IMPROVISATION, where’s a beginner to begin? I wrote last summer about how to get better at improvising. To recap: we can’t play what’s not already in our audiation. And we can only build up our audiational “library” by listening to lots of music.
But as I noted in July, not all music is equally helpful for a beginning improviser. Some of it is far too complex for the beginner to understand, much less emulate. We organ students need accessible masters from whom to learn.
I then shared a valuable resource: OrganImprovisation.com. There, you’ll find links to improvisations by dozens of organists from around the world.
After writing that article, I realized with some alarm that one of my favorite improvisers doesn’t appear on the site.
His name is Wayne Warren. He’s the music director at St. Anne Catholic Church in Ruskin, Florida—a post he has held for nearly 30 years. He records and generously shares many of his improvisations on his YouTube channel. I’ve learned a great deal from Mr. Warren, and I think you can, too.
Six Reasons to Listen to Wayne Warren
What do I love about Mr. Warren’s playing?
1. He uses lots of traditional hymn tunes.
These are bread and butter for any church organist. They’re easy to find for free on the internet, and there’s no shortage of ways to dress up a hymn tune when one must repeat it several times during a long Communion.
2. He modulates effortlessly.
Although one might describe Mr. Warren’s style as conservative, there’s no such thing as a boring rendition on his YouTube channel. Listen to how he plays around with different keys, often head-faking a modulation before quickly returning home:
I often have fun tracking where Mr. Warren started and finished an improvisation and how the keys related to each other along the way.
3. He can move seamlessly from playing a composed piece to improvising.
Let’s face it: this is an essential skill for any church organist.
4. He plays on a Rodgers Masterpiece Opus 1909.
This custom-built instrument provides a vast array of stops and can emulate the sound of a symphony orchestra. Mr. Warren uses his Rodgers to his full advantage as he explores a wide range of colors during each improvisation.
5. He loves the oboe.
If my Hautbois stop sounded as good as Mr. Warren’s, I’d probably never cancel it. It seems to be his go-to solo stop.
6. He’s there to serve.
One need only listen to Mr. Warren for a few seconds to recognize that he plays to make the liturgy more beautiful, not to show off his organ chops.