Community and Identity in improvised music

18-03-2020 at 3pm to 5pm

Location: CA B403, ATriuM, University of South Wales, Cardiff

Audience: Public

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Improvisation: what is it good for?

Improvisation is a process whose time has come and, in recent years, there has been an exponential growth of interest in improvisation around the world. Improvisation is now recognised not just as a defining feature of jazz, but as an accessible, unique, spontaneous, social and creative process that can facilitate collaboration between many musical genres and across disciplines. This presentation will highlight how improvisation can be utilized as a contemporary approach to creative engagement within educational, therapeutic and artistic contexts that can facilitate the development of musicality and creativity. This paper sets out a framework, based on psychological findings, for understanding improvisation as a universal capability and an essentially social behaviour, with implications for education, contemporary artistic practice, therapy and the psychology of social behaviour. In attempting to offer some defining features a number of paradoxes and problems will be also be considered. The presentation will highlight some problems with the term improvisation – can it be defined? What is it? Is improvisation and composition a false dichotomy?

A number of research projects that investigate the fundamental features of improvisation will be outlined. Musicians’ critiques of their own improvisations are discussed and key links with music education therapy are made.

A model is presented for the process of choice that individuals undertakes when improvising, with examples provided to illustrate how the model functions. The presentation also outlines a comprehensive set of options children, or any improviser, may take over the course of a musical collaboration to allow a group to generate music. This way of conceptualising improvisation has utility across all forms of music and across different art forms. It also offers a less daunting challenge to the novice improviser, and a potential way round a ‘block’ for creative practitioners. The implications are discussed in relation to broader social issues and cultural change.

Raymond MacDonald

University of Edinburgh, Scotland raymond.macdonald@ed.ac.uk

Raymond MacDonald is Professor of Music Psychology and Improvisation at Edinburgh University. His ongoing research focuses on issues relating to improvisation, musical communication, music health and wellbeing, music education and musical identities. He studies the processes and outcomes of music participation and music listening and has a particular interest in collaborative creativity. His work is informed by a view of improvisation as a social, collaborative and uniquely creative process that provides opportunities to develop new ways of working musically. He published over 70 peer reviewed papers and has co-edited five texts, Musical Identities (2002) and Musical Communication (2005), Musical Imaginations (2012) and Music Health & Wellbeing (2012), The Handbook of Musical Identities (2017) He was editor of the journal Psychology of Music between 2006 and 2012 and was Head of The School of Music at Edinburgh University between 2013 and 2016. He is also a saxophonist and composer has released over 60 CDs and toured and broadcast worldwide.


Community and Improvisation.

When a group of people come together to improvise music for the first time together what is actually happening? What are the rules and etiquette of such performances. Have they ever heard each other play together? If so what difference does it make to the outcomes in terms of sonic output (the music) and communication amongst musicians and audience.

On the other hand, how about communities of musicians who improvise together often, even regularly. How do they keep the music fresh and improvised? How do they negotiate their changing relationships? What effect does improvising together regularly have on interpersonal relationships; how does it affect trust, friendship, self-esteem and any sense of belonging in a musical community.

In answering some of these questions I will be drawing upon data from my PhD research with Wonderbrass, but looking at the experiences of musicians in the New Berlin Silence (echtzeitmusik) scene and of listeners in John Corbett’s book A Listeners Guide to Free Improvisation. I am primarily looking at ways in which people express personal identity and a sense of community – to some these seem like opposites but they may not be so - through improvised music.

Rob Smith is a Senior Lecturer and course leader in Performing Arts at the Faculty of Creative Industries at the University of South Wales. Apart from being musical director of Wonderbrass he also composes, improvises and performs music throughout UK, Europe and, occasionally, USA. He has also creatively collaborated with musicians from Gambia, South Africa and South India. He is a founder member of Community Music Wales.

The Seminar will be followed by a performance of improvised music upstairs in the Flute and Tankard pub on Windsor Place, Cardiff CF10 3BX as part of a monthly improvised music night called Banshee Therapy Session organized and run by Joe Northwood and Aeddan Williams. (8.45 pm – 11.00)