Tag Archives: improvisation

Each Moment New: Jane Buttars

tympanumMost musicians bring life to a page of musical notes and try to make it sound fresh and in the moment. Pianist Jane Buttars and cellist David Darling improvise their music — moment by moment. In their first album together, Tympanum, the listener gets to sit in on their exciting moments of creation. Each piece is a journey, imagined and created step by exciting step. Do not expect to listen to their improvisations while you are doing something else. Their focus is so intense that it snatches you and demands your full attention.

Each of the 14 selections takes a different mood journey. Sometimes persistent but unexpected rhythms bubble up to the surface and fairly bid the listener to get out of a chair and MOVE for heaven’s sake. Or gentle swaying lifts your spirits, like a high swing, and then subsides into still calm.

They are not limited to major, minor or modal; they can play for two minutes in the key of silence.

How to compare it? Maybe to say, think of combining the energy of jazz improv plus the adventuresomeness of Poulenc, plus the whimsy of e.e. cummings, But keep in mind that this is a duo of classical musicians.

Grammy Award-winner David Darling formerly played with the Paul Winter Consort and co-founded Music for People, which aims to encourage trained musicians to find joy in improvisation and ordinary people to find music in themselves. (This is my translation of MfPs mission statement.)

JB on CD better Buttars is a classically trained performer and teacher,  a Fulbright Scholar, and a dance and Dalcroze student, with a Doctor of Musical Arts in piano and harpsichord performance.  (Full disclosure: she is my workout partner at the Rabara Pilates studio.) Based in Princeton, she directs Music From the Inside, a program of group improvisation classes and workshops for all levels, beginners to professionals, and she leads Music for People sessions.

I can envision several important uses for Tympanum, beyond listening for delight. These improvisations fairly beg to be danced to — by those who do “contact improv” or those who choreograph. They could work wonderfully as part of a worship service, to introduce or follow a psalm or meditation that fits the particular mood. Creative dance teachers and nursery school teachers– here is a gold mine.  Listen at CDBaby.

Mostly, though, I just want to sit in my rocking chair, look out the window and be taken on one journey of imagination after another, each moment new.

Suzanne Farrell: Stay Out of Your Comfort Zone

When you work on a new dance you are called upon to make a new world, to make something from nothing, said Suzanne Farrell, speaking after her ballet company performed works by George Balanchine at McCarter earlier this month. In the photo she is flanked, on the left, by New Yorker dance critic Joan Acocella and, on the right, by Simon Morrison, professor of music at Princeton. On the program were Balanchine works set to Mozart, Stravinsky, and Morton Gould. The latter, “Clarinade,” had been set on Farrell when she was just 18.

I’ve tried to transcribe Farrell’s post performance conversation here, or if you can’t see that, try this google doc, but this is not the final version. I’m hoping others — including Acocella, Farrell, or Morrison — can correct or add to this document.

A Princeton connection: Erin Mahoney, who trained at the Princeton Ballet School and with ARB, danced with Farrell’s company in 2004 and was reviewed by John Rockwell in “Clarinade” in 2004.

“I call Mr. B’s ballets ‘worlds.’ At first they feel foreign. You have never been there before,” said Farrell. “It takes a certain amount of inner resources not to fall back on what you have done before, not to paint the choreographer into a corner where you are comfortable. “

Sounds like risk management to me. Entire libraries have been written about that, and here a dancer is saying don’t manage risk. To be creative yourself, to put yourself at the service of a creative person’s ideas, don’t manage risk, take the dangerous chance.

That’s as scary an idea for a writer as it is for a dancer. (You mean I can’t just dish out a new version of Article Template B? I have to start fresh each time? Sounds like lots of work.)

Farrell made her challenge even more difficult: “Dancers need to rehearse different options of how it looks, different options to have in their arsenal of memory. They need to live in the moment, and if something unexpected happens, be ready to take the challenge.”

Live in the moment? That’s another truism that is easier said than done.

Both concepts — taking risks, living in the moment — are crucial to learning how to be creative. Both can be learned by dancing.

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