OK, it’s not exactly improv. But close enough with an idea this brilliant. It’s improv for the audience!
Read about the fresh improvisatory approach of Brazilian pianist André Mehmari here (article in the Miami New Times), and listen/watch his sparkling rendition of the Beatles’ Penny Lane in the video below:
Someone – maybe someone who studied at Hogwarts – should make a magic map that shows where the most creative chunks of geography are, as far as musical creativity is concerned. We all know where the big schools and big cities are, but they are not always the most creative places. I’m listening to an audiobook at the moment about business, and the chapter I’m on is about innovation. The author points out how much innovation comes out of small, upstart companies (the author calls them ‘tyros’ – another word for ‘beginners’) that are full of energy, short on hierarchy and rules, and are free to simply ‘go for it’. Try, risk, fail, try again, go way outside the box, work tirelessly with imagination. What often happens, however, is that these companies, after they achieve success, then start adding layers of hierarchy and rules and management and start playing it safe and lose their innovative edge to – you guessed it – a new generation of upstarts. Microsoft -one example out of many – took off like a skyrocket early on, but after it got big – very big – and hired phalanxes of R&D people, experienced years of being unable to create anything that could be called innovative or cutting edge. They’re not alone, they’re just one example.
I don’t know if educational institutions follow the same trajectories as businesses seem to, but to get back to my original point about mapping the creative hotspots, the biggest schools aren’t always the greatest hot spots of creativity. Some times there are amazing things going on in smaller and/or lesser known places.
I got to visit one last month.
Today is the next-to-last class in my Creativity in Music class. CiM is for non(music)majors and it’s about where music comes from, that is, improvisation and composition. There are two lectures a week on some aspect of composition and one workshop session in smaller groups (about 14 or so) where we improvise. Improvisation takes place with what we have – the only instrument available is the upright piano – which is 1) body percussion 2) mouth noises 3) vocal sounds 4) room percussion (table, desktops, wastebasket [as a drum]) 5) found percussion (stuff brought from home that makes noise: pots & pans, ibuprofen bottle half filled with dry rice, any number of things). It’s plenty to come up with something. The last half of the semester they are assigned to quartets (“bands”), which they name themselves. Typically, I have a band come up to the front and give them from 8 to 15 seconds to plan the next piece, which has certain restrictions (“Clapping only.” “Feet only.” “Mouth noises and vocal sounds.” “Everyone on piano, but only 2 notes each.”). They put something together quickly and then perform it – a mixture of improv and composition (i.e. planning). Pieces are generally about a minute long or so. Then we discuss what just happened. This is harder that it sounds, apparently, but they are getting better at it. Instant aural analysis. Today is something on a larger scale, and outside the classroom.
After the tragic events of 9-11, I was moved to make an expression of grief in music. The result was “September Elegy” for natural horn (= no valves) in Eb and piano. There are 4 sections: Prologue, Chorale, Reflection, and Epilogue. Only the Chorale is written out; the rest are improvised, the limitation being the atmosphere or mood of the piece. I recorded the piece with Evan Mazunik in our CD “Repercussions.” It is published by Jomar Press and has enjoyed some modest popularity here and there among horn players brave enough to try some creative music (and who have a natural horn). Jeff Snedeker wrote about it in his article “The Natural Horn Today.” I think what might be most interesting thing about it is making the performer the partner of the composer. The performers here are given credit for being able to make a lot of their own choices; thus, every performance is and should be different. I would love to see more composers dare to trust players enough to be partners. Or have players write their own pieces like this whether composers come through or not.
Below is a recording done by me and Evan Mazunik, piano ca. 2005. See what you think.