What is improvisation?
From amongst many definitions, it is diffcult to indicate one— but surely, improvisation is a creative process in which creation and performance happen at the same time. The resulting form is created and simultaneously creates itself.
Here and now.
In the process of improvising, an equally important role is played by the spontaneous expression of thoughts and controlling them, Improvisation is always an act of courage: we create something new and unknown. We do not always succeed in expressing what we initially wanted to express; we can never have full control over the totality of the improvised utterance and all its components: it unfolds, meeting the element of chance. Chance can mean error but also discovery of something we would have known if not improvising.
What is improvisation for?
Exactly: what for? The modern world, extremely specialised as it is, marginalises the importance of improvisation in the education and culture of young people, future artists, or simply music lovers. ere is no time for improvisation: education is focused on achieving fast, tangible effects. Before reaching schooling age, most children improvise, often unknowingly, for example during play. Children are very free in their expression, interested rather in the process of creation than the creative act itself. It is worth realising that playful music improvisation equals to learning its fundamental rules, assigning meaning to seemingly random notes. Improvisation can be a game of transforming reality and creating a new, personalone. Participation in such a process is a value in itself, an act that brings satisfaction, a feeling of agency, self-realisation: elements whose educational value cannot be overestimated. Szábolcs Esztényi call improvisation musical speech, as opposed to interpretation, which he compares to recitation. This vivid analogy forces us to admit that we begin musical education with reciting, not speaking...
In our concert, we want to reverse the proportions and give improvisation priorty— find the courage to speak.
Every child is a small artist. Almost every child has a natural need to experiment, act artistically, creatively seek. Of course, initially these needs are purely intuitive. Recall yourself when you were a child. Look and listen closely to a child playing. It creates all the time: drawings on the sand with its finger, colourful “secrets”—mosaics of owers or bits of glass found on the way, performances with dolls made of owers or poppies, rhythmic phrases staggered with a straw on the window, mantras hummed with two or three sounds, complicated songs sung in an inexistent, freshly discovered language, full of incomprehensible, mysterious words (such as our eponymous m e l o h a r m o i d i o c h o r d o p h o n e): all these are everyday little improvisations of childhood.
We are born with a natural, intuitive creativity. In the process of associating the world’s tiniest elements into a (possibly) logical whole (all those twigs, grasses, cones, bird feathers, glitches, hums, threads, phrases, characters, shadows, gestures, and events), we build fantastical scenes, images, and compositions: personal visions and imaginations of the world, often crazy and perhaps senseless for the logical mind. Yet, they are not far removed from the visions and effects of artistic action.
Through learning, knowledge, and experience, gaining a sense of logic, we often lose the natural ability to improvise. Yet if we remember the greatest musical improvisers in history: Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, we see the names of eminent composers and we know that it was thanks to improvisation— or rather in the process of it—that many of their most ravishing works saw the day. Musical art from its inception was born out of improvisation, including collective improvisation.
So why is there so little of it in our schools? When “school” is created (also in the meaning of a mode of work, set of ideas and methods, creative or didactic patterns), improvisation pales and give way to schematic, imposed actions, styles, operating modes. Yet the wisest teachers and educators know that a well-prepared scheme can bene t improvisation greatly. It is impossible to show and tell children everything; convey all the world’s knowledge about ways of doing things, even within one selected domain. Sometimes, it is simply enough to intelligently trigger improvisation for children to achieve wonderful effects—it will be their own, close to their own personality and consciously reached. Improvisation required intuitive action but professional creation need self-awareness, which cannot appear without freedom. Here we come back to Confucius’s famous saying: Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.
Let us give children back the right to free play, random action, experimentation: the right to improvisation. Let us immerse them in it, also—perhaps especially—at school.