The modern performer of early repertory is challenged to make it meaningful to audiences who are in many ways removed from the language and culture of the original. Who would notice the bravura of a dancer who substitutes, unannounced, the doppio portogallese for a regular double step? What face would raise itself out of its program should a singer spontaneously change the words of a song in a foreign language? Would an improvised rendition of a basse dance be more successful than an existing setting by a Renaissance master? Such sprezzatura on the part of a dancer or musician would have to be recognized by the onlookers to be appreciated.
But improvisation employed as a means to enhance the expressive qualities of the music, the dance, the art, will surely have a noticeable affect; what better way is there of making a piece one’s own? Improvising performers don’t extemporize because they are bored, but because they can. It is what they do. It is part of their personal expression as performers, just as it must have been in the Renaissance.
2 players. Two players sit in chairs facing each other. The game: construct a piece using hand and arm gestures only. Although this game is without sound, the principles of improvisation are the same: come up with a strong idea, repeat that idea, embellish or ornament it, develop that idea in all the ways that you might develop a melodic idea.
Suggestions: Respond to what your partner is doing – steal (imitate) their ideas, integrate them with your own, be inspired by your partners ideas. Remember to be silent (i.e. motionless) sometimes. Create ostinatos (repeated gestures) as accompaniments to solos. Take a solo – be imaginative!
The Future of Classical Music by Greg Sandow has long been one of my favorite blogs. His latest post was an account from Sally Whitwell about her “experience as a performer and composition workshop presenter for teenagers at the Perth International Arts Festival”; if you’re interested in creativity in music and music education, this is a must-read.
Whitwell was shocked, shocked that the festival had a hard time finding classical musicians to do creative workshops.
I won’t rehash the whole post – you should read the original to get the details of how she worked with the kids to use text and workshopped melodies to create a song (see below). The staff turned the ideas into a notated composition that was later performed:
“In my perfect world, all kids would have this opportunity to be creative with music.”
Thanks Sally, and thanks Greg!
Nate Trier has a blog on topics in improvisation and composition that you should definitely visit. I was just there and found that he has two recordings of improv games from my book Improv Games for One Musician (GIA, 2009, 50 p.). The first game is a duet (2:39) for sax (David Elkin-Ginnetti) and some kind of keyboard sound (Nate); titled Atonal Interval Warm-Up, where the performers are limited to certain intervals. Here they chose M7/m7, #4, M/m2nds.
A very close friend of mine is an accomplished improviser. After hearing a particularly stunning rendition, I’ll never forget his response to a question one of my colleagues asked him as to how he learned to improvise so well. He said that his first piano teacher insisted that he improvise a piece of music in response to every new piano composition he studied. He was brought up with the idea that music begets music. Consequently there was no division between presenting and re-presenting, between thinking up, in, and about.
We tried something new in improv class last week (well, it’s really always new, all the time): improvising without music.
“How do you do that?” you ask, and rightfully so. “And why?”
We started off like this. Two players sat in chairs and faced each other. The instructions were to create a piece using only their hands.
Why: because many of the things that we are try to achieve improvising with our instruments can be done using hand gestures. Let’s see how many we can come up with (let me know what I missed):