Improv Quote of the Day: Why isn’t Creativity at the Center of Curricula?

Creativity Graph

(Photo credit: lightsoutfilms)

Creativity, which is nothing more or less than imagining something and then executing it, has been virtually removed from all but the most innovative [music school] curricula. This raises two questions: If the continuing presence of music is the cause of continuing to learn music; if the cause of music is human creativity, why is creativity not at the center of the music curriculum? Why is the act of thinking up music left just to a select few specialists, while re-presenting it, or over-verbalizing about it, is the province of so many?

–Harold Best, Music Curricula in the Future


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Sages from the Ages on Music

Plato. Luni marble, copy of the portrait made ...


[repost from horninsights.com]

Music has been around a long time. Most folks just play it and/or listen to it and enjoy it.  But some folks think about it, talk about it. This has been going on for a long time. Sometimes it’s interesting to look back and see what the sages from the ages thought about music and the role of music in human society way back then (of course, their music sounded much different from our music. You wonder what they would have thought of, say, Beethoven 9, or 4’33” or Patsy Cline or Sgt Pepper or Orange Blossom Special or the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra….

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Summer fun: Musical Esperanto

A French Omnitonic horn.

I spend two weeks every summer on the faculty of the Kendall Betts Horn Camp in the wilds (sort of) of New Hampshire. It is wall to wall, dawn to beyond dusk horn: masterclasses, lessons, ensembles, presentations, concerts, and – at the end – ice cream and fireworks. The best of all this is

Horn with three Perinet valves

simply being around 50 or so passionate horn players of every stripe, novice to pro, young and old, from all corners of the country and sometimes the globe. It’s so much fun to talk horn and do horn ’round the clock for two intense weeks. This summer was perhaps the best ever (of course, it seems like that every summer). Although I wrote the book on it (Improv Games for Classical Musicians), my usual daily teaching life back home consists of solos, etudes, and orchestral excerpts. At KBHC I get to stretch out (3 hours every morning! Beats the heck out of the Procrustean 50 minute segments that school days are chopped up into) into topics of technique and musicianship, as well as to have some fun with improv. For faculty performance night, I usually try to come up with something unusual (i.e. improv-esque). This time I did three short improvisations with a little help from my friends.

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Levitin on Your Brain on Music

Brain scanning technology is quickly approachi...

Summertime for teachers: there is actually not a lot of hammock or beach chair time in it. Summertime livin’ is mostly different for the foods (salads, fresh fruits, grilled everything) and the infrequent visits to school, but it is a time filled with getting a whole lot of ducks in a row for the coming year. Generating a lot of content, revising the old, adding new, reading a lot of books, taking notes, coming up with new stuff. Lots of scheduling of events. Pretty much everything has to be organized and ready to go by the time school cranks up again August 20, and that takes a lot of time and thought. It’s a good thing that I really enjoy this part of the job.

I started a new course last fall for non majors (in music): Creativity in Music, i.e. where does music come from, i.e. improvisation and composition. There is no textbook on the subject that I could simply pick and and teach from (unlike, say, that well-worn path of a Music Appreciation class). That makes for a lot of work. It also gives me a lot of choice/leeway on what to talk about.

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Improv Game of the Day: Illustrated History

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, one o...

2+ players. The Music Teachers’ Association of California has made an outstanding effort to bring improvisation into school curricula. We haven’t purchased them yet ($32 each), but we are very curious about their Improvisation Syllabus and Guide and Improvisation Games and Activities.

One of their ideas is to illustrate local or state history musically. The procedure is to pick a historically or geographically important topic and then decide on possible musical resources needed to invent a piece about it.

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Big Apple Interview: Take 2 with Gil Selinger

A cello

I am sitting at the dining room table of ace cellist and improviser Gil Selinger. Gil is one third of our classical improv trio, Duende, along with me on horn and Evan Mazunik on piano. We gave a concert in the city last Wednesday. You had something of an introduction to his background in the last interview; I wanted to take this chance to continue to interview Gil about all things improv.

JA: Let’s start your thoughts about the concert.

Gil: It was an interesting mix. The Duende CD [“Mosaic“] had a lot of structured arrangements. In concert we worked in a freer manner. We left it a lot more wide open. We only had one day [before the concert] to “rehearse,” so it worked well. One of the underlying premises of this Interzone series of concerts was to present not just the whole group, but also solos, duos, etc. This is what we did here: trio, horn and cello, cello and piano, solo piano, piano and horn. We also used ideas from each of us. We did different kinds of improv ‘games’. We used some audience participation. It was very successful – I was a little nervous about it – Evan and you have more experience in it. But it worked well. NY is a tricky place – there are so many different kinds of events competing for your attend. We came up with something that no one else has done – territory that no one else has done (to my knowledge) – we’re exploring new ground.

JA: How would you characterize this kind of music or improvisation? For people who don’t know what improvised classical music can sound like.

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Improv Quote of the Day: Good ––> Outstanding


Improvisation (Photo credit: Dave Kleinschmidt)

[Improvisation] training will develop the skills that separate a player who is outstanding from one who is merely good. Some musicians argue that there is no real need for improvisation training in the world of today’s classical musician, since most players are not called upon to improvise in a performance setting… Then again, most musicians don’t have to sight-sing every day, but is still required in most colleges and conservatories because we know that the learning process involved in this study makes out students better musicians.

–Nicole M. Brockmann, From Sight to Sound: Improvisational Games for Classical Musicians


Improv Game of the Day: Yankee Doodle Boodle Noodle Nodel Yodel Rodell Loden Laden Leiden Laugh-In Tap-In Rapping Snapping Snapper

"Yankee Doodle Boy" (sheet music) pa...

1 player. Choose a simple familiar tune. Yankee Doodle, for instance. Figure out the notes by ear. Play it through again and again. Each time through, change something about it. Make it a small change. What you are doing is not so much making variations of the tune (which you are, for a while), but rather you are very gradually transforming the tune into something else, into a new tune. Make the tune very simple and familiar and the changes small so that you can remember what you did the last time through and change it only slightly each time. But keep it up; after a while the tune should be utterly transformed.

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