04/17/14

On the Road Again; KYMA

Music Auditorium in ASU Tempe campus

Music Auditorium in ASU Tempe campus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week was very busy; I gave lectures, presentations, and led improv games at the Arizona State University (John Ericson was the perfect host), then came back home (after a lot of airline delays) to segue into a tour with the Iowa Brass Quintet in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois (no improv there, unless you count the little jazz cadenza I got to do in our Porgy and Bess medley). Then came a three-day residency at the University of North Dakota (which still has huge piles of snow…) where I did in equal measure brass and improv workshops and presentations. Great people there, great attitudes – lots of new BFFs. Many thanks to my wonderful UND host, Kayla Nelson.

I got to do two improv concerts. The first one was partly based around something new to me. Dr. Mike Witgraaf had me play into a microphone; then he processed the sound with a software program (KYMA) and effected further changes using two hand-held Wii (the game) controllers via Bluetooth. The result was played through speakers, which mixed with my live sound. You can listen to the results here

 

1 http://youtu.be/k4F-ELZD4Yo  4:05

2 http://youtu.be/NwRogbxIbyM   4:07

3 http://youtu.be/lFBQV7wQXsI   5:59

4 http://youtu.be/sRMazAfJVeM   4:53

Seal of the University of North Dakota

The second concert was also a lot of fun. I started off with a Daily Arkady (just start playing and see what happens). Then came an improv trio – me, Jim Popejoy on vibes, and a student djembe player (her name escapes me now to my great embarrassment, but she played wonderfully). We just did the classical improv thing – start playing, listen to each other, adjust/adapt to have a balance of unity and variety (the predictable and the unpredictable). Man, that was fun. We finished up with a Soundpainting. The ensemble had just learned about 30 or so SP gestures earlier in the day, but they did terrific on such short notice.

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02/24/14

Improv Quote: Improv => Core of Music Curriculum

"Piano Improvisation III"

(Photo credit: wwwuppertal)

Improvisation should be at the core of the music curriculum.
 It should come first 
and should remain at the core of music education
 throughout the later years of increasing expertise. 
Musicians educated with improvisation at the center 
will have a better-developed ability to think musically
—to deeply understand music 
as well as be better prepared to interpret written scores.

–R. Keith Sawyer

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01/24/14

Improv Course Begins, Spring 2014

Percussion mallets held with Matched Grip

Percussion mallets held with Matched Grip (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been giving a semester course in non jazz/classical improv for past dozen years. My first improv book, Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians was published by GIA in 2008 (354 p.); it was based on my experiences in the first five years of the course. Since then, GIA has published 4 more. I have amassed more games in an unpublished Vol. 2 of the big book; I hope to convince the publisher some day to publish all those as well.

In the meantime, the course goes on. This week was the start of school. The course is Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 to 11:45. I prefer this set-up – two longer sessions – than 50 min. 3X a week. 50 minutes is just not long enough – you just get going and it’s time to stop.

I do the course a bit different every year. I want to try new things, so a third to a fourth of the course is different every year. The first day of the course (last Tuesday) is just me talking – telling them all about this kind of improvisation and what we will be doing during the semester. After that, most of every hour is spent improvising.

I’m trying something new: sticks. I always start with about two weeks of Rhythm Only, to work up some percussion/rhythm chops and combat the pitch-centricity that tradiationally-trained players bring with them. We start by building up some basic rhythm skills through body percussion – tap, rap, slap your lap. This time I had everyone bring drumsticks. I thought that we should develop some basic sticking skills (along with hand drum skills) to add an extra dimension to our percussion work.

Following is a brief description of what we did in class today:

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11/28/13

Paths Become Lines (Sirius Quartet – video)

New discovery (for me): the Sirius [string] Quartet. From their web site:

“Born and bred in the downtown scene of New York City, the Sirius Quartet blends the precision of classical music with the energy of a rock band.  The four conservatory-trained musicians are also highly skilled improvisers. Whether playing acoustically or with electronic effects they push beyond the conventional sonic vocabulary associated with string instruments.  From Lincoln Center and the Köln Triennale to the Knitting Factory and CBGB’s the Sirius makes itself at home in a wide range of venues and musical styles.

For over a decade the SIRIUS QUARTET has championed innovative music.  Expanding beyond the classical repertoire, these four strong improvisers and composers have enjoyed performing works influenced by rock, jazz, and other popular styles.  Through this interest in popular music the Sirius has developed a repertoire of electronic music for strings.  These pieces are more than simply a louder, amplified quartet; these pieces hope to widen the sonic palate of the string quartet through processing.”

Here’s a video of a performance:

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07/18/13

Music Environments – book quotes

MACBA (XVII) - Minimalism in white

(Photo credit: MarcelGermain)

I actually got the book some months ago, but didn’t get the chance to do much more than start it:

Musical Environments: A Manual for Listening, Improvising, and Composing by Richard Vella.

There is no book quite like it – it’s very dense with information and ideas on the creative process. The part that I am now reading and taking notes on (I don’t like to read nonfiction without a pencil in hand) is the “Teaching Strategies for Improvisation.” If you are a kindred soul who reads this column regularly (at least whenever I post something), you should probably run, not walk, to order a copy of this book. Let me share/tease a bit and give you some quotes from this chapter (p. 99):

Improvisation is:

•a valuable tool for understanding creative and musical thinking.

•can involve working with existing or known structures from which one explores new possibilities, or outcomes.

•is a real-time interaction and involves spontaneous decision-making either consciously or unconsciously.

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