June 1, 2011

Courage to move

Improvisation is the courage to move
from one note to the next
Bobby McFerrin

I don’t know about you, but most of my musical life, I have been terrorized by one word – “improvise”.

I have always balked at improvisation – because I know that I can’t do it.  Everyone knows that only the jazz greats are good improvisers.  Somehow, they receive some sort of divine intervention and brilliant music fills their heads and then it comes tumbling out of their fingers.

So, whenever someone says, “oh, just improvise” I begin to panic.  I’m not a jazz great! (of course, I’ve also never aspired to be a jazz great, so not sure where that line of thought is supposed to be going…).  Mostly though, I focus on all the things I can’t do.  I don’t breathe, I’m too busy thinking up excuses about what doesn't come out because I can't improvise...

When the moment has passed and I’m by myself, I'll  do one of two things to calm my nerves.  Either, I’ll either sit down at my piano and crank out a Bach Invention - exactly as written - verbatim.  Or more likely, I'll seek solace at my harp and bring out some wonderful traditional tune that pops into my heart and mess around some with the harmony…just sticking stuff in the left hand..doing just anything that feels like it will work,  stuff that will add that soupcon of feeling that will fill in the space with spice….

But that’s not improvising.  I’m just playing it for myself…it doesn’t matter what happens when I play…there is no wrong because I’m just playing around….

But I’m not improvising….really.  Because I can’t....I'm afraid to move...


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