Artist Series Event to Feature Organ Improv

WILMORE, Ky. — Asbury University welcomes organist David Briggs in the first Artist Series performance of the academic year on Sept. 21 at 7:30 p.m. in Hughes Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

An internationally known performer and composer, Briggs will improvise musical accompaniment to the 110-minute silent film “King of Kings,” which was originally directed by Cecil B. DeMille in 1927. The film depicts the last weeks of Jesus’ life and is considered to be one of DeMille’s greatest artistic successes. Combined with Brigg’s extensive repertoire of sacred, classical and modern music, the presentation promises to offer a fresh perspective of the Gospels’ people and events.

The Magee-Penniston Organ in Hughes Auditorium
The Magee-Penniston Organ in Hughes Auditorium

“An average improviser depends on frequently using a set of patterns that are pre-rehearsed,” said Dr. Don Zent, chair of the Artist Series committee and professor of piano at Asbury University. “However, having an immensely fertile imagination, innate musicianship and exacting technique, David Briggs is an exceptional improviser, often leaving his audiences stunned with his on-the-spot creations. While he is improvising, he is hyper-alert, flexible, resourceful and bold, effectively producing results that are way beyond the ordinary.”

Briggs was appointed the Artist-in-Residence at St. James Cathedral in Toronto, Canada, on Sept. 1 — the latest in a long series of accomplishments and accolades. His love for the organ was ignited early in life as he sat on the bench as his grandfather played beside him. When he was 9, he became a chorister at St. Philip’s Cathedral in Birmingham (England) and was inspired anew by the organist and assistant organist at the cathedral. Briggs attained his FRCO (Fellow of the Royal College of Organists) diploma at the age of 17 and has gone on to hold positions at Hereford, Truro and Gloucester Cathedrals, winning awards along the way.

Improvising to silent film has become something of a specialty for Briggs, who has also performed music for “Phantom of the Opera,” “Hunchback of Notre-Dame” and “Jeanne d’Arc.”

“The main purpose of improvising to a silent movie is to expand on the emotional message of the film,” Briggs said. “I would say that you’re always trying to give the illusion of a written piece, but the sheer spontaneity and ephemeral nature of the art can give a good improvisation an edge over the performance of a previously composed piece. I have always found it easier to improvise than to play written pieces, for some reason. It has something to do with being totally at home with the musical language which surrounds you and then being able to re-fashion it, subconsciously and at will.”

Briggs also will offer a master class on organ techniques and repertoire that is open to the public at 3 p.m. on Sept. 21 in Hughes Auditorium.

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