I'm still basking in the energetic glow of listening, sound, freedom, and joy that I experienced in this weekend's Music Improvisation for Everyone workshop. I was totally inspired and humbled by the group of participants who assembled and brought such generosity, openness, and energetic participation to the space and our time together.
The central theme we explored was music as sound organized in time. So, what is sound? What are the ways we organize things? And what happens when we play with the timing of things? Can a human make the same sound as a piece of vibrating metal? Can two humans make the exact same sound? To answer these questions, it helps to move your body, close your eyes, and let your mind get out of your way.
I took video of the class, but I think the best story is told in sound, so I've included some audio clips.
We had a whole range of levels, from a self-proclaimed "tone deaf" man to a woman who has been doing both theatrical and musical improv for "gazillions of years".
It started out with James sitting down at the piano when he walked in the door, before the class had started. (Yes, that's me, occasionally "ooh-ing" along with him.)
We eased into a place of deep listening by doing a Pauline Oliveros exercise called "Extreme Slow Song", composed by having all participants sing a familiar song as slowly as possible (using one whole exhale per syllable), while walking slowly around the room in any pattern.
"Extreme Slow Song" excerpt (2 minutes):
[audio:http://www.themusicwithinus.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Extreme-Slow-Song-2.6.10.mp3|titles=Extreme Slow Song 2.6.10]
After a couple of hours of exploring the varied terrain of sound organized in time, the 8 of us (plus 16-month-old Lillian) created this piece spontaneously.
"Free Improv Circle" (3 excerpts, each under 2 minutes):
[audio:http://www.themusicwithinus.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Free-Improv-Circle-2.6.10.mp3|titles=Free Improv Circle 2.6.10]
[audio:http://www.themusicwithinus.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Free-Improv-Circle-2-2.6.10.mp3|titles=Free Improv Circle 2 2.6.10]
[audio:http://www.themusicwithinus.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Free-Improv-Circle-3-2.6.10.mp3|titles=Free Improv Circle 3 2.6.10]
And sometimes, great moments emerge without any facilitation at all, like this clip from my recorder being left on long after the class was over...obviously, the music-making wasn't over quite yet:
"After Class" (3 minutes):
[audio:http://www.themusicwithinus.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/After-class-piano-and-voice-2.6.10.mp3|titles=After class piano and voice 2.6.10]
My greatest learning from this weekend's class was that music means something different to each of us. And,it does mean something to everyone. Each of us has certain lifelong memories associated with music. Maybe we've loved it for as long as we can remember. Maybe it was never allowed in our house. Maybe it was an important escape. Maybe it was our only way of expressing ourselves. Or maybe it was something that only "other people" could do. Maybe we were once told by a teacher or other adult that we were "tone deaf". Perhaps that prevented us from ever trying to sing or participate in anything vaguely "musical". Maybe we allowed that label to cause us to question our own sense of hearing. (By the way, the man who started the class calling himself "tone deaf" turned out to be able to match a pitch without any trouble at all! I was all set to go through an "intervention" to show him how he could do this, but I did nothing! Which means he has been walking around for most of his life believing something about himself that isn't actually true. Interesting, isn't it?)
I discovered that as adults, we still have the opportunity, if we choose, to peel back the labels, and examine the thoughts we still hold as a result of them. We can choose to ask, "Does this label still serve and support me today?" Maybe it does, but maybe it's outdated, or untested, given your current reality. What I observed on Saturday gives me the suspicion that if more of us could peel back more of those labels, we might unleash more of what we already have within us to offer the world. And I'm talking about the kind of stuff that we can't buy and can never have too much of - love, light, listening, joy.
Take it from the great (and deaf) percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who gave a moving TED talk (see the video below) on how she listens with her whole body, and how she overcame the perceived limitations of being deaf, learning to play music, and eventually studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Whenever I hear people ask me, with expectant looks on their faces, to confirm the things they believe they cannot do in music (or in life), I think of Evelyn Glennie, and I remember, "We truly have no excuses...and no limits!"
Enjoy the sound of your own music!
Copyright Lisa Chu, The Music Within Us, 2009-2019.