We All Improvise
By Pam Blevins Hinkle, Spirit & Place Festival Director
My husband has a knack for improvising at dinner time. He throws open the fridge door, scans the available goods, and makes his choices. Sometimes he knows exactly what he’s going to do. Other times, he starts chopping the onions, waiting for inspiration to manifest the rest. He’s been practicing this form of improvisation for so many years that his dinners are unfailingly delicious.
We all improvise. During conversations and daily activities we listen for cues, respond to circumstances, and make spur of the moment contributions. Improvisation is a valuable skill worthy of practice by performers and professionals of all types.
I was never much good at improvising. I always wanted more order … give me a recipe or a plan. This began to change, however, at a Music for People workshop when I had the opportunity to improvise with two other musicians, Emily and Andrew. I began to sing without a clue as to what might happen next. Emily’s warm cello sound soon joined in and then Andrew began to sing: “You can’t fly until you walk to the edge.” We walked to that edge again and again, playing with sounds and words. Toward the end, Emily began to sing … “leap of faith, leap of faith.” Leap of faith, indeed! Three strangers sat together and created a lovely song in real time. I had never had so much fun or experienced such a profound sense of “flow.”
Today, I play in an improv ensemble called THIN AIR and teach music improvisation at the Indiana Women’s Prison. As I continue to practice improvisation—no, that’s not an oxymoron—I have strengthened skills that impact not only my musicianship, but also my professional life. I am better able to sense nuance, anticipate change, integrate my environment, quickly adapt, and take that “leap of faith” necessary for improvisation in any discipline. I still make a plan, of course, but now I can fearlessly throw it out when it isn’t working and create a new one on the spot.
Improvisation will be among the many subjects explored during this year’s Spirit & Place Festival, which celebrates the theme PLAY. Music For People founder and Grammy-winning cellist David Darling will be one of many featured presenters. Come play with us!