I had the privilege of leading hands-on improvisation workshops for music majors at Seattle Pacific University and Central Washington University earlier this month. This article is based my presentation.
Courtesy of Flickr/lemonjenny
Viola Spolin, the creator of improvised theater games, describes a spontaneous scene as “a timeless moment when all are mutually engaged in experience. You don’t know what’s going to happen and that’s where they joy is, the everlasting spiral.”
Courtesy of Flickr/Andrew Currie
Improvisation, the most widely practiced of all musical activities, is probably the least recognized or understood. Vague descriptions like, “making it up as you go along” or “playing off the top of your head” give no idea to the pervasiveness and power of improvisation in music. Perhaps the air of mystery that surrounds it is inevitable.
Derek Bailey, On the Edge: Improvisation in Music
Photo by Steve Korn
Common myths about improvisation contribute to the “air of mystery.” I’d like to address four of them.
Something spontaneous sounds different from something that is not, and that the audience benefits from that in a performance. . .Whenever I’ve played improvised cadenzas, the audience gets very quiet. For the first time in most of their lives, they’re at a classical concert where, and despite their familiarity with the piece, they don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Robert Levin, Inside Early Music: Conversations with Performers
For centuries, classical musicians were improvisers. Not just geniuses like Bach and Beethoven—improvisation was part of basic musical training until the late 19th century. Professional and amateur musicians improvised embellishments, cadenzas, accompaniments, and spontaneous compositions.
Courtesy of Flickr/CelloPics