I took my first tentative steps in free musical improvisation at the superb iCON seminar, in Kallio-Kuninkala, Finland in Oct 2013. This was a unique event in my life, where I had the opportunity to reflect, listen to, exchange ideas and share with illustrious colleagues from other European conservatoires. I felt so privileged and honoured to be invited to this event.
One of the regular features of the iCON seminars is that the participants improvise with each other. My own classical training simply did not include improvisation and so this was a first precious experience. Not being sure what to expect, I approached the activity with some trepidation, but soon found it to be a liberating experience, leading to many insights and self-discoveries. In particular, I realised that improvisation can be a way into a state of connectedness and ‘flow’, a state of mind and indeed research area which I am particularly interested in. I had originally thought that it would be so difficult to decide what to sing next, that I would continually be coming out of this state of mind. However, by giving myself permission to listen, respond, imitate, contrast and also be silent, I was able to take some ‘baby steps’ into the land of improvisation and a possible higher plane of creativity, something I have been aspiring towards for some time.
Last Friday, I had this opportunity again, with an additional, inspiring element. I was invited to take part in a free improvisation with a group of superb conservatoire teacher-performers (many of them highly gifted improvisers) at the Reflective Conservatoire Conference at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. The additional element was the presence of a team from Creative Connection- a communication and graphic facilitation agency that is made up of artists and visual facilitators. They were the artists in residence, for the duration of this year’s conference, visualising ideas, discussions, questions and dreams coming out of the sessions. See www.creativeconnection.co.uk, if you would like to know more.
We were asked whether we could have a session where we responded to some of their material through music and theatre, so we had an evening, experimental session in Milton Court theatre, with 2 pianos. Our back-drop was made up of the boards with all the drawings that the team had made, up to that point, of the conference- we used this as a point of inspiration. Anto Pett, one of the pianists, then gave us some rules of play- solo, imitate, contrast and silence.
Then we began to make music (and even theatre) and all the time the artists/ visual facilitators made new images on fresh boards. It was quite a thing to be involved in! The quality of musicians around me was superb- we moved around one another and I strove to find a connection with each person I saw, using one of the guiding principles. I felt a connection, a generosity of spirit and an exquisite quality of listening and support from my colleagues. I almost felt like a child entering an unknown, wondrous land…I was able to explore, interact, react or simply listen to my heart’s content. The session went on for an hour and there was a non-judgemental, creative and wonderfully open atmosphere that I will never forget and which I feel has actually changed something in me. I am extremely thankful to have had such an experience.