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  • Norm Adams

Improv Boot Camp!

The Conservatoire, ours is at the top, the one with the windows wide open!

The first day is finished, and boy is my brain tired!

The group a the workshop number 15 - 4 bassists, 4 cellists, a trombone, clarinet, various wind instruments, a 15 year old drummer, and 3 vocalists. There are some really, really great players here! There are a couple of weaker ones, but the level is generally very high. Each of us is referred to by instrument name only.

I would like to preface all of this by sharing that I have never “studied” improvisation in any structured way. So instruction on what works and what is required in an improvisation is a real novelty (and in a language other than English? Totally new!).

The structure of today was very much like our suddenlyLISTEN workshops: Joelle chooses ensembles of 2 – 5 play, to play shortish pieces and she comments.  Usually we play again after her talk.

But there the similarities end! I believe that Ms Leandre holds a passion that is comparable only to a great white shark with a tasty seal in her mouth (but perhaps with more intensity!). Her comments are peppered with musical examples that she sings (always in the correct pitch as what was played) she tends to give an example, and then give 17 more right after (which is quite challenging to translate) she speaks very quickly, and she can YELL! Sometimes for quite a while! She is analyzing and criticizing us stagiares with the same vigor an (old school) classical instrumental teacher would. You had better not play too loud, play too soft, not play at all, miss an ending, miss a crescendo, or stand wrong! All aspects of the music are open to her analysis and we heard a wide variety of comments on: responsibility to a group, individuality, density, variation, development, lack of development, endings, adding a voice to the ensemble, and much more. It’s a bit of a blur.

She talks about intent, responsibility and the work of improvisation. Work is playing the music well, but also playing the music at all! (being an improviser isn’t a walk in the park, there’s a lot of resistance and poverty to face!)

She calls improvisers a trilogy: improviser, composer and musician (when she says musician I think she means “listening, engaged, musical person)

It’s very inspiring and exciting to get to listen to players for the first time, knowing they’re playing together for the first time, not knowing what is expected of them! It’s the first time my bow has ever shaken while improvising!

It’s right down my alley. It’s the leap off into the unknown that I love, with an added layer of risk of humiliation. All in a language, and at a speed that makes me wonder whether I’m getting the order to jump straight or not!

Three of us, hard at work


Aug 22, 2011 at 17:23

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