Q. How did you come up with your book, Creative Music Making?
A. As decribed in the book, Creative Music Making is a practical process to develop musicianship through freeform improvisation. The process is simply based on my experience in creating improvised music with NEXUS. The group’s first few years of concerts consisted entirely of freeform improvisations, for which each player would create his own setup of non-Western percussion instruments – mostly Asian bells, gongs and cymbals, with homemade xylophones and ‘found’ instruments added in.
For the most part, there was no plan for the improvs; we would simply go out on stage and play whatever our sensibilities dictated. Each performance was unique in the particular instruments that were chosen for each setup. A concert would consist of a 1-hour (or so) improv piece, followed by an intermission and then another improv of about 40-minutes. Over the years our improvised pieces have become somewhat shorter in length, to enable them to fit into programs containing other formal compositions, but the basic form of the music has remained the same.
The music itself did not really fall into any existing category in the early 1970s, though there was certainly a lot of experimentation going on in almost every musical style. The sounds of the non-western percussion instruments were very novel to us and served as the catlyst for our musical explorations. The music was very open and free but sections of pulse or ‘groove’ would emerge and disappear. Generally, our classical background predisposed us to create loose A-B-A structures, with gradual ‘get-acquainted’ openings leading to energetic development of the musical ideas, and then a winding-down to a conclusion, which would occur when everyone finally decided not to play any more.
Many of the early NEXUS improvisations were recorded and it was in listening to the playback of the recordings that we reinforced our sense of what we liked. This listening back was, I think, a very important part of our musical growth and a valuable aid in giving us confidence in our musical intuition when improvising.
Over the years NEXUS presented many workshops on our particular type of improvised music, but there was not really a pedagogy or formal process presented. Normally, NEXUS would play a short improvisaton, and then invite workshop participants to do the same on our instruments. Ultimately, it became clear to me that a more clearly developed process would be helpful, so the four steps of Creative Music Making – playing, recording, listening, questioning – came into focus after thinking about the process that NEXUS experienced. Of course, each of these steps can involve deeper levels of thought, and it was in organizing these thoughts that the book was written.
Q. How has Creative Music Making worked in different scenarios and what interesting things have happened at those sessions and/or come out of them.
A. I have presented Creative Music Making sessions for:
* college career-track music students in Canada, the U.S.A., Japan, Germany, The Netherlands and Mexico
* professional symphony orchestra musicians
* public school music teachers
* middle-school instrumental students
* middle and high school students with learning disabilities
* international forums on music education
* professional development residencies for musicians
* adult non-musicians
In all of these scenarios, participants have consistently been able to create meaningful improvised music capable of engaging the attention of both performers and listeners, regardless of their levels of prior experience. It is always interesting to watch the amazed faces of music students as they listen to the playback of their improvisations. Similarly, music teachers seem to reconnect with those energies that made them excited about music in the first place. Many professional musicians simply have never had the occasion to improvise music, and it is wonderful to see their confidence in their own musical ideas grow as they gain experience over a week of Creative Music Making sessions.