Last night I sat down with a few composer participants at the Atlantic Music Festival and engaged in some vocal improv for an hour or two. The session, led by composers Diana Sussman and Grace Ma, began with some light yoga warmup, then a "feeling out" of the space we were in- the sound of the air conditioning system, the humming of the fluorescent lights- followed by a period of adding our own sounds to the environment: humming, whistling, clapping, groans and murmurs. This warmup provided a period of relaxation where we could ease into the improvisation process, which was primarily vocal based. This type of improv was quite new to me- most of my experience with improv has been with piano or organ, or with semi-improvised score based material. Improvising with no exterior guidance or instrumental extension is both strange and surprisingly natural. Strange for someone immersed in the Western classical tradition of notation-based music, and natural from an almost broadly human standpoint- a community of music-making that requires no training or experience, just a lack of ego and self-consciousness.
Hear a recording of our last improv HERE
Tyler Versluis is a composer and pianist.