Sunday, January 10, 2010
I have always loved this word. To me, I think it has become a guiding principle of my day-to-day living. Although it is often associated with music, I think it is a life-skill that we all need to utilize, and it is certainly a skill I hope my students learn.
So… a short essay on music improvisation, and then how it applies to our creative worlds.
I was trained to play classical piano, taking lessons from the ages of six until eighteen. I achieved what is known as Grade 10 at the Conservatory of Toronto. The Conservatory was a system setup throughout Canada that allowed for a very systematic approach to studying and progressing through levels of music study on the piano. To help finance my college education, I even taught piano to children, and for a short stint, played during the Happy Hour in the Faculty Lounge of the University I attended (now as a student, THAT was interesting).
I would not say that I am amazingly talented, but I happen to love classical music and have gained a pretty rounded knowledge of the various composers over time. After many years of setting the piano aside (in the years my children were growing up), I finally came back to it, and now have renewed my love of playing. But… I play for me and few others. I simply don’t have the time to practice as would be necessary to perform for others. Still, I spend many wee hours of the night playing for my cat. She is my greatest fan.
I have always wanted to be able to sit down and just ‘play’, but sometimes when you are trained to read music, it is hard to have the ‘ear’ for it. A few years ago, I took some lessons from one of my son’s friends… he ‘simply played’. That was a new starting point for me, and now, I think finally, I am starting to get it. I am learning to improvise. I have been learning new things… chord modulations, the IVth and the Vth, the minor fall, the major lift. (it reminds me of a Leonard Cohen song… Hallelujah, also sung by K.D. Lang). It is exciting, to say the least.
As I sit at the piano, making music, and not knowing what will come next, (yet somehone most of it sounds decent), I marvel at the word Improvise. I think it is one of my favorite words.
When do we as creative people improvise?
• we accidentally cut a hole in the garment we are in the middle of making.
• we run out of yarn for a project and must figure out what to do about that.
• we are cooking something and realize we don’t have one of the ingredients.
• we lose a pattern piece and have to figure out what to do about that.
• the project didn’t turn out as planned, and yet we want to wear it.
• we forget what we started to say… and have to finish the sentence.
• we don’t have all the right tools for a task, we must figure out what to use instead (like the time I used a bowl to cut out the opening for my head in a hat.. I tried on various bowls in my kitchen until I found the right one).
• you don’t have a pattern for something, but you want to make it.. (maybe you simply lay down your hand and trace it to create the glove pattern).
• the iron is too hot and you either scorch or melt the fabric.
• you accidentally shrink something in the laundry... and it becomes the latest fashion.
and I am sure, you readers can come up with more.
No matter what the technique, or the art, one of your greatest assets will be the ability to utilize the art of improvisation.