Monday, March 15, 2010

Finding the Way In: Part I

Here are some excerpts from an e-mail conversation with an esteemed colleague of mine, Carl Bergstrom-Nielsen, about some of the ideas and exercises in my book. Carl is a composer, music coach, musicologist, and music therapist based in Denmark. His wonderful website, chock full of insights and information about improvisation, can be found at:

Carl: It's interesting how you describe your basic point of departure as being silent first and listen both outwards and inwards. Very close to what I do, but interesting to see this formulated as a general advice. Did any of your students etc. ever comment on this instruction?

Tom: As you say, it is a basic point of departure, and it is a good way to start for most people. Being silent and directing their awareness inwards allows them the opportunity to experience their initial creative impulse, and the improvisation exercises give them a safe framework in which to express it. I have found people experience this impulse in many different ways, some can "listen" and hear it, some "see" it, some experience it as a feeling, or as a impulse to movement.

For others, being silent is not the best initial method. These people may respond better to other instructions. Almost always, once they have experienced even one conscious moment of freely expressing a creative impulse, they are able and willing to duplicate and build on that experience. Establishing a safe group environment is essential. Having an experienced teacher (who understands when they are blocking their free expression, and who knows different methods they can use try to get around that blocking) is very useful.

In my theory, everyone already knows how to improvise. For some, it may feel like a huge step to connect that understanding to improvising sounds together, but creating sound is actually a very natural way to express oneself, and everyone already does it, to some degree, every day. For people that have difficulty making that step, I spend time with them one on one, trying different things to guide them to a recognition of what that experience feels like to them. Once they have that ""Aha" moment of recognition, it becomes much easier.

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