About My Music Diary

Who are you?

My name is Benjamin Williams. I'm a composer and organist from Chicago, Illinois, USA. I presently live in southern Germany. By profession I am a software developer.

What is the Music Diary?

My Music Diary is documenting my personal journey studying the art of organ improvisation and music composition. Every day or three, I record spontaneous improvisations and compositions and post them to the diary. I thought it would be interesting to document this process so I can measure progress over time. Right now, the organ is the instrument exclusively used for diary entries, but I hope that it will expand to other types of music instruments and ensembles someday. In addition to organ improvisations, the diary serves as a sort of 'dumping grounds' for composition ideas that one day I hope to put to paper. I try to keep diary entries brief so that they can be listened to and analyzed without annoyance.

As it's my personal diary, you can expect a lot of playing mistakes, bad rhythm keeping, poor registrations, stuff that sounds like other composers, and in general a lot of nonsense and rubbish.

Why are you doing this publicly?

For most of my musical journey, I've played music instruments largely in seclusion, in part because I'm embarrassed at times about my lack of playing skill and technique. Going public is an effort to counteract my tendency to keep my material to myself. Furthermore, posting these tracks publicly also provides me with a perceived invisible accountability partner, which forces me to constantly improve, post reasonably good material, and not repeat myself. Finally, recording and listening to these recordings is a way of identifying and correcting playing, technique, stylistic and compositional errors.

What do the scores and stars mean?

I self-rate each track that I post, and give each track two ratings. The first is the score, with one (1) being the worst possible, and ten (10) being the best possible at my current skill level. Secondly (and almost redundantly), I give each track a star rating, with one star being the worst, and five stars being the best. The numeric score and the star ratings sometimes diverge from one another. For instance, if I feel a track is good, but don't personally enjoy listening to it, I'll give it a higher numeric score, but chop off a star. In short, the stars denote the personal gratification that I get from listening to my own music. Tracks with one or two stars generally make me angry or humiliated when I re-listen to them. Tracks with three stars are acceptable to listen to. I find four and five-star tracks fun to listen to.

Some of your music sounds familiar. Why is that?

The art of improvisation is as old as music. For much of the history of organ learning, the art of playing was learned by an apprentice from his master. The learner first had to pay the master to copy his music manuscripts by hand so that he could then study them himself. The learner would listen to the master improvise on the organ, and then try to imitate what he heard. I'm attempting to follow this process by listening to the old masters and imitating their styles.

Why do you compose tonal music?

While there is plenty of good modern classical music, the avant-garde composers of the last decades have failed to generate a body of music has been able to find broad appeal, even amongst many highly trained classical musicians. That's a problem. Perhaps Lenny explains it best in this video. This four-minute video is well worth our time.

Any thoughts on organ improvisation?

The organ is among the instruments most closely associated with the art of improvisation, if not the instrument most tightly bound to this art. The act of improvising is an act of spontaneity that brings joy to both the player and the listener, and glory to God. In churches where the organ is used, improvisation can profoundly affect the mood of the service. Furthermore, a skilled improviser can react quickly and sensitively to what happens in a church service.

It is an art that requires the strictest of discipline, because the plethora of music styles must be internalized to an extent that they can be reproduced on demand. It is, to a certain degree, an entirely different take on organ performance than playing literature, where precision and consistency are king. Organ improvisation allows mistakes, and sometimes mistakes are rewarded by introducing unexpected twists and turns into the final product.

To master organ improvisation, my goal is to internalize all the historical styles and forms used in organ performance. In addition to forms and styles, I must give attention to texture, melody, and counterpoint. All three are important. It is easy to fall into the trap of giving one of these categories too much priority at the expense of the other two. For instance, many of today's improvisations focus on texture at the expense of memorable melodies.

What do you use to record your music?

For all organ pieces in the diary, I use a piece of software called Hauptwerk, which allows me to easily record sampled organs without having to set up microphones around an acoustic instrument.

May I download and listen to the music?

Yes. For personal use, permission is granted for downloading the tracks and listening them without fee. For commercial use, you must first contact me and ask for permission.