Classical Improv Circle

Schedule for 2009

Sundays, 3:30-5 PM

March 8, March 29, April 26, 2009
First Parish Unitarian, Harrington Road, Lexington, MA, downstairs in Parker Hall

Every level of musician, instrumentalists and vocalists or even spoken-word performers, can participate, as long as you're open to listening and interacting with the other players. This is not an "audience" event, but family members who want to listen are welcome. Parker Hall is big enough. Maybe they'll join in!


Classical Improv Circle sessions

Develop your musical and performing skills in a friendly, supportive atmosphere as we experiment with making music, literally making it up as we go along -- no written parts. We'll play with different style ideas and work on develop interesting and varied textures by interacting with each other and becoming aware of when it's better to be silent. Beginning to advanced instrumentalists and vocalists are invited. There is a piano available and people may also bring hand percussion and interesting noisemakers. Listeners are welcome, but they should not expect a show. We'll be experimenting and we'll discuss what works well and how to improve with each piece we create.

We'll do short improvs in small groups with feedback from the rest of the group, and we'll do some large-group improvs using the techniques we've practiced.

About Classical Improv

Classical improvisation is about expressing yourself musically, plus listening and interacting with the other performers around you. It's more free-form than jazz improv. There is no set song structure or chord changes. Sometimes there is an outline of a piece, or a plan, sometimes vague, arrived at by group consensus, or some prewritten material that provides a theme or a refrain that everyone returns to periodically. The results depend on the players -- maybe tonal, maybe a popular-sounding melody and accompaniment, maybe atonal, minimalist, or even wild-sounding with strange sounds. All the musical materials you know -- melodic fragments, rhythms of all kinds, sound effects, etc -- are fodder for improvising.

The basic principles we practice are listening to each other, imitating what you hear, accompanying another voice, when to be silent and listen, how we might shape a beginning, middle, and end, and communicating and responding musically. We may also practice a technique called soundpainting, which is a kind of sign language developed by Walter Thompson for leading and shaping an improvisation.

The learning techniques include a lot of games -- short exercises that develop a specific skill. I've found a lot of good suggestions in horn player and improviser Jeffrey Agrell's compendium:

"Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians: 500+ Non-Jazz Games for Performers, Educators, and Everyone Else" by Jeffrey Agrell (GIA Publications 2008)