I’m passionate about improvisation, which was an integral part of the performance of what we now call “classical music,” dying out over the latter part of the nineteenth century and pretty much disappearing in the twentieth, until the early-music and aleatory movements brought it back (in very different ways). Organists never stopped improvising, and when they do it well, you can’t tell it’s an improv and not a composition. My writings on improvisation are found at classicalimprov.blogspot.com.
Creative self-expression is an extraordinary, enlivening, and healing activity for anyone, and for classical musicians it can be transformative in a special way as we liberate ourselves from the perfectionism and self-criticism that is the dark side of the high standards of our art and craft. Free improvisation, in which we draw on any vocabulary of our musical languages, is not only a powerful vehicle to express ourselves but also to connect with others in a deep and meaningful way.
At DePauw University, I facilitate/coach one of the country’s few non-jazz, cross-idiomatic performing improvisation ensembles (quite possibly it’s the country’s only all-undergraduate one). The Wall Street Journal featured my DePauw improvisation students in the November 28, 2008 article Making Up the Classics.
“Few teachers take improvisation further than Eric Edberg, a professor of music at DePauw University, in Greencastle, Ind. . . . Prof. Edberg’s unorthodox coaching sessions begin with freestyle humming, sighing, babbling and finger-wiggling. Sometimes he turns off the lights and instructs students to play in the dark to hone their instincts. His students say it helps them develop their own musical voice.”
I have several videos on how to get started with free, self-expressive improvisation.
My own improvising is mostly freely atonal (often chaotic and angry) or laid-back and modal (or some mix of the two). Here are five free improvisations (as in freely improvised; they are also free downloads!).