Chinese Proverb

"Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I'll understand." - Chinese Proverb.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Improvisation and inspiration

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to attend directors symposium on creating a group for seniors (65 years and older) in conjunction with a camp workshop that was being held at the same time. This workshop / symposium was mostly geared towards creating a band, instead of an orchestra or small ensemble, but our cello group has a range of cellists from 21 years old to 89 years young and a lot of the ideas applied. Anyway, a few things struck me that I found very interesting.

First, these seniors were truly amazing, and were thoroughly enjoying their time at this camp. I also heard a lot of the same comments that I hear from other "younger" adult learners and beginners; that it's great meeting like-minded individuals, and that learning an instrument as an adult is much more fulfilling and more appreciated by the "older folks."

One of the volunteer seniors who was helping me find my way around, was telling me that she never got to attend band camp, and when she told her family that she was attending this camp, her granddaughter and other family members got really excited for her and told her about the iconic movie America Pie, and said she could now start using the line from the movie: "...this one time, at band camp..."
We had a good laugh about it, and it reminded me of my own experiences as well!! It was so cool, that I could relate despite the age difference! In fact, I think I blogged that line during my last workshop that I attended in California! :)

Secondly, I think perhaps brass and woodwind instruments are taught differently than strings instruments as far as music theory goes? I have an extremely limited knowledge in this area since I obviously don't have any experience in band or orchestra, or music classes at a primary or secondary level. However, from observing some classes here at this camp, this seemed to be the case. Or maybe it has to do with the instrument types and the genre they're typically used/associated with?

Anyway, I think string instruments, which are used more in classical music miss out on what brass instruments typically play (e.g. jazz and band music), which means doing more improvisation! In a one hour class that I watched, the director of this event had led this group of beginner seniors into improvising using the Blues scale. It was REALLY IMPRESSIVE because they sounded great and I could tell that all of them had an "aha moment" and understood how to do it and could improvise going forward!

This got me thinking, why don't we use this teaching method with string instruments? Maybe it is used, but I personally have not experienced it yet. Although most cellists I know don't know how to improvise, or are unfamiliar with different modes (in scales), or are familiar with the modes, but can't utilize it in improvisation...

Third, I hear the comment a lot that "kids don't seem to care as much about making mistakes." Apparently as we age we get much more critical about ourselves (myself included!), but it was surprising to hear this from seniors because I assumed it was more or less my generation that thought that way!

I was also brought up in a culture to respect our "elders," and pretty much the idea that "children should be seen and not heard;" that is, "don't speak to elders until spoken to" was the norm, and until a few years ago I had that mentality. Or maybe I feel that I'm "old enough" that it doesn't apply any more! Yikes! (...hmmm...maybe that's why little kids freak me out...anyway that's a different story...), so it was really surprising to speak with seniors to find that they aren't infallible and have the same "issues" as I do.

Long story longer, it was really inspirational to speak with the attendees at this camp and to see how much they enjoyed playing with each other and learning together. Also, starting an instrument as seniors happens more frequently than I would have ever guessed, and that people starting "late" can play exceptionally well (in brass and woodwinds from what I could tell!), which means I should be happy with the fact that I started before my 30th birthday, and should stop complaining about the fact that I started so late! ;).

This inspired me to re-start my cello improvisation learning, and decided to list some improvising cellists on the blog for those who are interested in this like I am. :)

Alyson Hannigan is hilarious in American Pie!! that transcend generations...

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