Back on the Blog!

After a year long hiatus, during which I produced the daily web series ImprovLive 365, I am happy to be back to writing a weekly blog. I'm still processing this past year of intensive immersion in human creativity, but I'm already starting to see the effects.  For instance, in the introductory class for my Improvisation Ensemble a few days ago,  I said things that I have never said before in the 15+ years I've been teaching improv.  I found new words and new ways to frame ideas that delighted me as I said them, and I can't wait to see what comes up next!  I know there are some really fun ideas about creativity and improvisation and humans that are brewing themselves up in the back of my brain - I can almost taste them, I can feel them reaching for the tip of my tongue, I can just barely see the mist parting around them in my mind's eye...

I will share them with you, here, as they come into being, and I welcome you all to talk and comment and share this path of discovery with me!
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1 Month Completed!

Wow! The first month of ImprovLive 365 has already passed (well, 34 days to be exact), and it has already been a wild and wonderful ride.  I am learning a lot and enjoying myself immensely, and I hope you are too!  Rather than repost the 21 episodes that have transpired since I last set foot here, I will simply direct you to www.improvlive365.com  -  it's all there, ready and awaiting your viewing pleasure.


I am not surprised, but I am humbled by the graciousness and willingness of all kinds of wonderful people to spend time talking and sharing, and by the  amazing range of insight and creative living that I am surrounded by, every day.  I'm finding that the more I look and ask,  the more I see.  People are constantly astounding and wonderfully creative, and I am blessed to be able to spend my time experiencing, documenting and sharing this spontaneous creativity with you.  My eternal thanks and gratitude go out to everyone who made this first tumultuous month so beautifully rewarding.
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ImprovLive 365: Week Two

After a grueling two days switching all our videos to a much more user friendly server, I'm here to give you the scoop on Week Two of ImprovLIve 365.

Episode 8: Playing who You Are
The first of a series of interviews with guitarist Kevin Barry, where he talks about his relationship to music and the importance of honesty.

Episode 9: It’s in There!
ImprovLive 365 visits Ron Ancone, who talks about his experience as Credit Manager, and his journey towards a greater understanding of personal creativity

Episode 10: Just say Yes
A review of Patricia Ryan Madson’s book "Improv Wisdom" and the importance of saying “Yes”.

Episode 11: A New Riff Was Born
ImprovLive 365 presents an impromptu performance by Allan Chase (Alto Saxophone), Bruno Raberg (Bass), and Tom Hall (Baritone Saxophone).

Episode 12: Remembering Prince Shell
Renowned saxophonist and educator Allan Chase reminisces about one of his earliest musical mentors, Prince Shell. The music in the background is an arrangement Allan wrote for Your Neighborhood Saxophone Quartet, based on his transcription of Prince Shell's piano trio version of "I've Got It Bad".

Episode 13: Welcome to ImprovLive 365
Seemed like bad mojo to feature anyone on Friday the 13th, so I made this little welcome video.

Episode 14: Noticing, Experiencing, Responding
The first in a series of interviews with actor, choreographer, director and movement specialist Sarah Hickler, currently on the faculty of Emerson College.

More fun comin' every day! Let me know if there's anything you'd like to see.
Your ImprovLive 365 Host and Director,
Tom Hall
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ImprovLive 365: First 10 episodes

We've had a great launch of ImprovLive 365!  Here's a synopsis of the first 10 episodes of ImprovLive 365 (including a preview of tomorrow's episode "Just Say Yes!") .  You can see them all at www.improvlive365.com

Episode 1: Welcome
In this episode,  creator and host of Improvlive 365  Tom Hall welcomes you to the daily webseries and tells you a little about what you can expect to see over the coming year.

Episode 2: Happy Accidents
The first in a series of interviews with painter, printmaker and public artist Jane Goldman.

Episode 3: Cubicles
Because people aren't content to merely inhabit places. We need to make them ours.

Episode 4: Mexican Christmas
A beautiful improvised duet from Kevin Barry on guitar, and Marty Ballou on bass.

Episode 5: Wildwood Flower
In the first of a series of interviews with bassist Marty Ballou, he talks his earliest musical memories and plays a solo version of Wildwood Flower.

Episode 6: The Secret of Improvisation
Shhhhhh.  It’s a secret!

Episode 7: Spontaneous Communication
An inside look at the magic behind the music of Mike Rivard and Club d'Elf.

Episode 8:  Playing who You Are
Guitarist Kevin Barry’s first ImprovLive 365 interview talks about his relationship to music, and the importance of honesty.

Episode 9:  It’s in There!
ImprovLive 365 visits Ron Ancone, who talks about his experience as Credit Manager, and his journey towards a greater understanding of personal creativity

Episode 10: Just say Yes
A review of Patricia Ryan Madson’s book Improv Wisdom and the importance of saying “Yes”.

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Improvlive 365 is live!

Starting January 1, 2012 I have embarked on a year of exploring, documenting, and sharing the improvisational, spontaneous creativity of life, on my new daily webseries, ImprovLive 365.


For the next few months I expect all of my creative energy will be flowing towards that project, so if you want updates on what I'm thinking about, go to www.improvLive365.com.  I do love to write, so I expect I will be back here eventually, but for now my writing will be focused on the webseries.  


It is a lot of fun already, and even aside from the new skills I am learning (camera and lighting, hosting, interviewing, video construction and editing, etc.) I am thrilled to have an reason to experience the incredible range of  creativity of my fellow humans.  I hope you'll visit us there, and I'll check back in here every so often to let you know what we're up to!


BTW the first three episodes are a Welcome from me, an excerpt from an interview with painter and printmaker Jane Goldman called Happy Accidents  and a look at creativity and cube decorating in Cubicles.  


See you soon, and happy improvising!
Tom
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Halloween: A Group Improvisation


When I got invited to play with Club d’Elf, one of my favorite bands, for a Halloween gig this Friday, I noticed I was extra excited about it, and it got me to wondering...

Even though Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and nothing is more fun than playing a Halloween show, it didn’t really seem to completely explain my excitement.  And why do I love Halloween so much, anyways?

Then it hit me.  Halloween is the biggest and most creative group improvisation that our culture allows!  Halloween creates an improvisatory structure that allows everyone to play together, improvising being anything they want.  Group improv on a grand scale!  It seems so obvious I’m surprised I never thought of it that way before (must be the influence of ImprovLive 365).  


But I guess that’s true of every holiday.  Holidays give people an improvisatory structure that enables them to create large scale group improvisations around certain culturally important ideas.  Whether you resonate to Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Years, (etc) or not, you gotta admit that’s a very cool idea.
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ImprovLive 365: Finding Connection Through Creativity

Besides my belief in the usefulness of improvisation in all the arts and in our daily lives (which I’ve talked about a lot in this blog), I’ve become more and more convinced that one of the most important ways that we connect as fellow humans, no matter where we live or what we are doing, is through improvisation and spontaneous creativity.
I know a lot of times musicians and artists, (especially those who work on the fringes of popular culture) feel like we are isolated on our own little islands of creativity.  I know a lot of times people who don’t self identify as artists feel disconnected from the idea of themselves as spontaneous creators.  I know there are lots and lots of people out there who love creating and making stuff up, and do it all the time, in all kinds of different ways.
But the truth is, despite all of our differences, despite what we do or how we think of ourselves, we are all connected by our need to spontaneously create our human culture and our lives together on this planet, every day, in every thing we do.  This is an individual creation, but it is also a group improvisation.  Becoming better at improvising, at spontaneously creating solutions to the challenges life gives us, enriches and enhances both our individual lives and our society as a whole.  
I believe this so strongly that I’ve decided to spend the next year of my life producing ImprovLive 365, a daily web series dedicated to exploring, documenting and sharing the spontaneous creativity of life.  It’s about all of us, and how we use improvisation and spontaneous creativity in our lives. It’s a way to connect the dots and see how we are all in this grand improvisation together.

I’ve created an IndieGoGo crowd funding campaign to raise some funds and help get ImprovLive 365 off the ground. So please, check out my IndieGoGo page, and help me spread the word about this exciting new project!  
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Coming Soon - ImprovLive 365

I loving making up and playing melodies, but I only write them down if I really have to.  I love figuring out stuff about creativity and improvisation, and sharing it, but I'm not that crazy about writing that down either.  I only do it, because that's a way to share it with all of you.

I guess that's part of why I'm an improviser.   What really gets me going is real-time interaction - sharing and creating and understanding things with other people.

So I'm really excited about my new project, ImprovLive 365, a daily web series dedicated to exploring, documenting and sharing the spontaneous creativity of life.  This is just a teaser, to let you know I'm working on it, and you're going to hear all about it soon!
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Improvisation is improvisation is improvisation..



Ok, I’ll stop repeating it, but it’s true.  I've been thinking about this since I read about a recent scientific study that was attempting to quantify how being a classical musician changed the brain and it’s functioning.  This article about it gives inks to the abstract and to the summary


I was particularly excited by one phrase in the abstract, that said “these findings are interpreted in light of a Unified Theory of Performance, which posits that effectiveness in any area is influenced by one’s level of mind-brain development... with higher mind-brain development supporting greater effectiveness in any domain.”   
A little research later, I figured out that there are many wildly different competing “universal theories” of brain functioning and consciousness.  And as much as everybody loves to hear about studies that show a measurable intrinsic value to music, there doesn’t appear to be all that much to sink your teeth into here.  And besides, I tend to get a bit itchy when somebody starts talking about “higher-brain" development, particularly when they are studying classical music, or are from the Maharishi Institute (as is one of the authors of this study).

But the idea of a Unified Theory of Performance stuck with me.   It just seemed to resonate somehow, and I realized that I have always operated from a Universal Theory of Improvisation: Improvisation is improvisation is improvisation...
That’s why I get annoyed at the divisions between people who play different styles of improvised music;  at the pretension that there’s all that much difference between playing a blues, or jamming on a killer groove, or playing Stella, or playing free.  Yes, I know, the boundaries that we are improvising within are different - that’s obvious.  But the process of improvisation is the same, and the sooner we all recognize this the sooner we can start really exploring and understanding improvisation itself, apart from whatever genre of music we play.  
The Universal Theory of Improvisation says: Improvisation is improvisation is improvisation, and whatever you learn about it supports greater effectiveness in any improvisation that you undertake. 
  
I've always felt this is true, and my experience teaching improvisation ensembles bears it out. Students in my improv classes often say that learning to improvise music together affects not just the quality of their music making, it’s a transformative experience that enhances all the improvisations in their life.  

Let's share that experience with as many people as possible!




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Why Not Dance?

A few weeks ago, I was playing a gig with Your Neighborhood Saxophone Quartet.  We were playing outside, at the SOWA art galleries in South Boston.  People would wander by, listen as much as they liked, then move on.  One woman had a four year old girl, and a baby. She said they heard us through their window and had come to find the music.  The girl was dressed in a pink tutu-ish outfit. She listened for a moment, then started dancing, and as long as we played, she danced.  No matter what kind of music we played, she danced.  In or out, grooving or textural, we played and she danced, until the baby started crying, and, very reluctantly, she had to leave.  

Awhile later, two little boys came, and they laughed, and danced.  And I started to wonder, what happens to us?  How is it that we all start out as children who freely dance and sing and cry and laugh, and then we stop.  Something happens, we internalize a voice that tells us to behave, to be still, to be quiet.  To listen, and afterwards, clap.
   
I wish we could all dance, as freely and joyously as the girl in the pink tutu.   That’s really why I do what I do.   
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