My first classical improv book was Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians, published by GIA (Chicago) in early 2008. It was big and comprehensive – some 550 improv games all told, plus explanatory and resource material, for a total of 354 pages or so. I have been collecting and inventing new improv games since then, and Volume II is thus on the horizon. GIA recently accepted Vol. II of the Big Book; as I write this I am doing one last proofread before publication. Book II is very similar, but there are some differences: 1) it’s bigger: there are 642 games and 372 pages; many of the games have variations, so there are really thousands of games if you count the variations 2) there are fewer categories, but more in each category and a couple new ones (notably: Movement Games) 3) there is less explanatory material – I don’t repeat all the explanatory material of Big Book I, just make a summary of the main points. You really should start with Book I if you are new to this. If you know Vol. I, you will definitely want to pick up a copy of Vol. II. There is slightly less in the Resources section at the end; there is some overlap with Vol. I, but there is mostly a lot of new stuff. I will try to post the Table of Contents under The Books in the main menu (above). On the day that it is released for publication I will post another note here. Stay tuned!
The pitches found in a medieval manuscript were never intended as indications which would lead to a piece’s definitive performance, such as we normally use notation as a basis for performance today. In the Middle Ages, performers did not generally use notation, and therefore did not conceive of music in such terms. Thus, one could speak of our manuscript sources – admittedly the main evidence we have to go by – as mere skeletons, very much in need of conceptual fleshing out and understanding, and not as a reality.
It’s been a busy summer – 5 weeks away from home. Two weeks at horn camp in New Hampshire and almost three weeks in Nova Scotia. It’s nice to be home, but I enjoyed my time greatly both places. I’ve talked about it here before, but I want to briefly talk about my time teaching at Acadia University in Wolfville, NS.
The wondrous and amazing Ardith Haley, with music ed rock star Dale Lonis were the instigators of this unique course at Acadia. It’s a 2-year masters of music education program that is done mostly through distance learning, with 2 – two week residency sessions (each July) over the two year period of the course. The participants are are all seasoned music teachers, ranging in age (guessing) from late 20’s to late 50’s; they teach all kinds of music – classroom music, band, orchestra, elementary to high school. They are almost all Canadian, mostly from the eastern end of the country, but a few from the middle and west.
My course for this cohort of 15 consisted of 3 hours a day doing nonjazz improvisation. Teaching this group was not like teaching the students back home at the University of Iowa. These folks are professionals – they do music and teach music for a living. They have great attitudes and they learn fast. Thus, it was a supreme treat for me to work with people like this. The only tricky part is the part that they share with anyone doing improv for the first time – they are very apprehensive about it (I was, too) at first.
By Doug Hanvey
As a music teacher, and former instructor of an undergraduate class on mindfulness meditation (at Indiana University Bloomington from 2007 to 2014), I am fascinated by the many possible applications of meditation to music. One of these applications is creativity.
The Source of Creativity
Albert Einstein said “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.” Like most geniuses, Einstein understood that the source of creativity is beyond the mind. And, of course, what is beyond the mind is mysterious – at least to the mind!
Musicians can upgrade their creativity by becoming more familiar and comfortable with the mysterious place from which all thought and creativity arise. Meditation is a proven way of doing this.
Now, I realize that by using terms such as “beyond the mind” and “space of awareness,” I can be accused of New Age philosophizing that has no practical relevance to everyday life. Yet, as evidenced by Einstein’s appreciation thereof (not to mention that of many other artists and scientists), getting comfortable with the space beyond thoughts is as practical and useful as tying one’s own shoes, particularly for creative activities like improvising.
Meditation is a superb practice for any creative musician. Let me tell you about two types of meditation, both of which I’ve practiced extensively, and both of which I’ve found to be extremely powerful for boosting creativity.
Wonderful radio interview with Western Michigan University Horn professor Lin Foulk and a WMU horn quartet doing some improv! Don’t miss it!
Bill Arnold interviewed me last month and just published the edited results on his web site, The Music Instigator (there are also a couple of embedded videos of me improvising with Lin Foulk and Werner Elmker). The audio interview is entitled: “Jeffrey Agrell – Improvisation for Everyone”
I’ve only listened to the beginning of it, but I think he did a good job in putting it together. And the title really sums it all up! Thanks, Bill!
Jeffrey Agrell, horn & Werner Elmker, piano improvise on the whole tone scale.
One of the great things about improvisation is that you can have a musical conversation with anyone who ‘speaks the language.’ I met Werner Elmker indirectly. Werner is an amazingly versatile and talented pillar of the artistic community of Fairfield, IA; my wife (Shari Rhoads) had used his video and photography services for her arts organization Concertia, and she recommended him to me to do some photos for my new CD Soundings. So I connected with him, and it was a very successful photo shoot. As we got to talking, I found out that he was and is both a classical pianist as well as an improviser and fairly quickly we resolved to get together and make (up) music. So I went to Fairfield recently for some spontaneous duets with him. The video here is one of them, filmed on the stage of the Sondheim Center (Werner used remote control; when he clapped, the cameras started rolling. What an age we live in…). We did minimal planning in the improvisations. Here we just picked a scale and started playing. A one-time shot. It was a wonderful session, all the things that improv does so well – a musical conversation where you just play and listen and react and go and create until it seems time to end. I look forward to the next time we get together.