I was extensively quoted in an article about cellist Truls Mork in the Indianapolis Star. And this weekend I am in Iowa City, as a guest performer clinician at the University of Iowa School of Music 2007 Contemporary Improvisation Weekend. The other main presenter/performer is saxophonist George Wolfe.
For some reason, I was under the impression George was based in Arizona, and he thought I was based in New York. So we were surprised and delighted to realize we both live and teach in Indiana, he at Ball State and I at DePauw. Just a couple of hours from each other, we look forward to some regular musical collaboration.
Last night (Saturday) we each gave a presentation and than had a panel discussion, with more questions from each of us to the other, it turned out, than from the audience.
I started by telling my improvisation story. While I’d been trained by two of my teachers (Denis Brott and Stephen Kates) to take a very expressive, creative, and imaginative approach to performing classical music, especially Romantic cello music, I’d never felt I had what it would take to improvise or compose. I had a roommate, Philp Manwell, for a couple of years, who could improvise a fugue on the organ. While that had shown me that classical musicians could improvise, not being at the fugue level, I gave up before starting.
Some years later, in a time of personal crisis, I started improvising atonal, aleatoric-style, highly dissonant, angry pieces as a form of therapy. It was an extraordinry release of emotion, and my passion for improvisation was born. I moved on to improvising calming, modal, chant-inspired pieces, and eventually to using electronics, including a looping pedal.
I focused much of my presentation on ways in which we can use improvisation to become mor comfortable with not just ourselves, but our instruments, the vocabulary of (in my case, classical) music, and also as a way to explore and practice actual composed pieces.
So often we tend to think of improvisation as an alternative to classical, composed music. To me, it is a wonderful compliment to it, and has done much to heal my relationship with classical music.
George has developed a motivic-based approach to improvisation, including a book, “Motivic Improvisation: A New Approach to Improvising in the Classical Style” with a play-along CD, which can be ordered here. While the style of his music is not Hindustani, his philosophy and approach are very much influenced by his study of Hindustani music. He’s an extraordinary player, and it was extremely stimulating to hear his presentation and demonstrations.
Tonight we share a concert, and will (we expect) be joined by our host, Jeff Agrell, the horn teacher hear at the University of Iowa. I can’t wait!