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University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 29, 2004

UI Improvisation Students Present Concerts Dec. 6-7

Students in the "Introduction to Improvisation" class at the University of Iowa School of Music will present two concerts of music that is improvised, but is not jazz, at 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 6 and 7, in Harper Hall of the UI Voxman Music Building.

The concerts, which will have distinct programs featuring different performers each night, will both be free and open to the public.

The program will include a "Soundpainting" piece, some student compositions that include opportunities for improvisation and some completely spontaneous pieces that the performers will create on the spot.

"Soundpainting" is a system of conducting/composing improvised music, using a vocabulary of gestures made by the conductor/composer to indicate the type of improvisation to be made by the performers. It was developed by Walter Thompson  for musicians, dancers, poets, actors and visual artists working in the medium of structured improvisation. Because Soundpainting is a form of live composition with an ensemble, every performance is unique.

Thompson visited the UI earlier in the fall as an Ida Cordelia Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor. During his visit he conducted his Soundpainting opera "Columbus" and taught workshops on Soundpainting.

At the Dec. 6 and 7 concerts audience members will have the opportunity to contribute to the performance by giving various suggestions that will be used to create pieces during the concert.

The "Introduction to Improvisation" class is taught by Jeffrey Agrell, horn  professor at the UI School of Music. A composer and writer as well as a performer, Agrell is known for incorporating improvisation into both his compositions and his performances. Since coming to the UI School of Music four years ago, he has given many improvisation workshops and concerts around the country with pianist collaborator Evan Mazunik. This is the second year of this particular course and class concerts.

"Traditional training is very efficient at teaching instrumental technique and the re-creation of written music," said Agrell, "But except for jazz players, music students have had no real chance to create their own music since elementary school, and many are uncomfortable with the idea of playing their instruments without the printed page in front of them.

"This class offers players a chance to get off the page, to 'think in music' and combine theory, emotion, intellect, and technique in creating original compositions on the spot. Improvisation is just very quick composition! It's an exhilarating and liberating feeling for the performer and a good complement to traditional studies.

"Except for the Soundpainting piece, where the whole class participates, each night will feature half the class. They will be given certain limitations that they will use to create a coherent and interesting piece on the spot -- no rehearsals, live in front of the audience. The students have learned the art of bricolage - creating something with whatever you have on hand.

"Traditional performance can be very stressful; this class provides the opportunity to learn to think on one's feet and enjoy the performance -- paradoxically, perhaps -- even if the next note is only known from moment to moment.

"Learning improvisation along with traditional training brings a welcome measure of flexibility and ability to solve problems and cope with anything that might come along. This course finally makes this kind of aural training available to players who might never have the chance if jazz is the only option for improvisation."

A native of Vinton, Iowa, Beam willed her farm to the UI in 1977. Her only university connection was a relative who graduated from the College of Medicine. Proceeds from the sale of the farm were used to establish the visiting professorships program in her name.

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

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