One of my favorite things to do in life is create. And I do that in a variety of ways. I love to sketch and doodle, I paint wooden boxes and frames, I compose and arrange music for myself and my students… but my favorite thing to do is improvise.
I get some unique opportunities to improvise and tonight is an example of one of those opportunities. I have a gig with the Pangean Orchestra for World Refugee Day (6/20/2010) tonight. One of the things that I love about playing in the orchestra is that I get a chance to play music with great musicians from all over the world. I get a chance to sit on stage with instruments that I have never seen or heard before and meet musicians from cultures very different from my own. We all have a different history and different reason for playing music, yet we are united. It’s amazing to sit and converse in the universal language of music.
My favorite thing about the group personally, though, is a chance to improvise over non-traditional colors and changes. I play flute and saxophone (currently tenor and bari) in the orchestra and I enjoy the different sounds – especially the saxophone. It’s still a novelty in any orchestra – so it’s fun to play.
Many of the songs we play are simple structure-wise and are in keys (major and minor) with only 1 or 2 sharps. This is due to the fact that many of the instruments in the orchestra only play in those keys. As a improviser it gives you a lot of possibilities – do I go the modal route and channel Kind of Blue or Maiden Voyage? Or do I create some tension using chromatics? How far away do I stray from the melody or the scale? How you approach an Irish jig with a reggae feel is really different from a Okinawan traditional song to a dance number from India. It’s really cool.
I started listening to the solos by different members of the orchestra and we all take a different approach. It’s really interesting to listen to. As for me, I’m still experimenting and trying to find what speaks to me at the moment. It’s a lot of fun, though, and I feel like it’s helped me grow as a musician – I have a whole new appreciation for world music!