Saturday, March 24, 2007

Just Musicking, No Score

Ah, spring break. After eight weeks of classes in this spring semester, my DePauw students--and I--are exhausted.

In the midst of exhausting outselves, though, we've done some interesting things. The members of my "Improvised Chamber Music" class put on a performance Tuesday evening. They chose 9:30 PM as a starting time, as a way to attract more students. 7:30 PM is the standard School of Music evening concert time. Great for adults, but, as my students explained, a bit before younger people start waking up and hitting their evening energy. (This helps explain why students the students in my 9:00 AM class often look as if their brains are still in bed.)

We called the concert "Just Musicking, No Score." It was all free improvisation. The 10 students determined in advance which subgroups would be playing, and in what order. They had decided that two of the pieces would be done to poems; that two would be based on prompts from the audience; and that the opening piece would start with one person on the stage, who would be joined be the others, one-by-one, who would then exit one-by-one; and that the final piece would be an open jam.

Why "Just Musicking"? The word musicking was coined by Christoper Small, and the concept is the focus of his book of the same name. Small emphasizes the act of making and responding to music. Like Richard Tarusikin (Text and Act), and Lydia Goehr (The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works), Small helps us understand that many classical musicians have become obsessed with the text (score) of "works," to the point that we forget that it is the human music making, the interraction between musicians, and between musicians and audience. Small proposes making "music" into a verb. "To music is to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by providing material for performance (what is called composition), or by dancing."

The idea of musical "works," totally composed, finalized, fixed-for-all-time, and unchanging, is, Goehr explains, not only unique to Western art music but also a fairly recent development, having come into full force only in the nineteenth century.

In my Improvised Chamber Music class, I coach the students in making music with each other. With just an hour a week together (plus time they spend on their own outside of class), we don't focus on improvisation based on chord progressions. Instead, the following principles are encouraged:
  • There are no "wrong" notes. (Sometimes there are surprises.)
  • Say "yes" to your own instincts and intuitions, and to the ideas introduced by others.
  • Listen and respond to what others are doing.
  • Express yourself.
  • Be emotionally honest.
  • Be aware of the following roles: soloing, accompanying, being in dialogue.
  • Listen for the end.
  • Less can be more.
  • Focus on developing a musical idea (repetition and development) as well as introducing new ideas (contrast).
I'll describe Tuesday's concert in my next post.

1 comment:

Gottagopractice said...

Hi Eric,
I'm quite enjoying the descriptions, but would be lovely to hear some sound clips of your classes and the performances.
ggp