Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Improvisation (a tip on staying organized)

This concept has popped up twice in one week, so I thought I would record it as an idea to use. And maybe it will be useful to someone else as well.

The first time was at choir rehearsal. It was phrased something like, "The better you prepare, the easier it is to improvise." In the context of music, I can confirm this. You might not know how or when the plan is going to change. But if you know it might be coming at some point, you can be ready. You can listen to recordings and role-play and hone your skills. If you play accompaniment, knowing those chords helps you to make something up if necessary. You need to know the ingredients and basic rules. +/-


In the King's College choir's Nine Lessons and Carols, one boy each year is selected to sing the solo in "Once in Royal David's City." However, he is not told in advance. They are all ready to sing the part. He is following the plan, of course, but with a degree of uncertainty.

A piece on a blog also caught my eye. The author writes, "It’s like my mother told me once, you need a routine so that you’ll have something to be flexible from!" (Lanier Ivester, "Monday at the Farm-in-the-City" at YLCF.org)

This is true, of course. When you decide to "play it by ear," not solidifying plans immediately, you don't really mean that you are going to sit around doing nothing until the time comes. You will structure your plans and maybe get the materials ready, but prepare yourself for rearranging everything.

There are so many applications. For me, it's often about keeping a running inventory of which tasks need to be done and how long they will take. When I find myself with extra time, I can pull out that busywork or 5-minute phone call. Sometimes I just can't concentrate on one long task and need to alternate. Or I am stuck waiting for one important piece of information, and must do something else in the meantime.

I'm always disappointed by cookbooks which claim to have "3-ingredient" or "30-minute" recipes, only to find that they require some kind of special sauce or concoction that I'm not likely to have in the house. To me, improvisation requires either working with raw material or making something new out of something old . It's making a feast out of potatoes; a quilt out of old scraps; a concert out of whatever instruments and voices you have on hand.

And then there are the times when your plans are going wrong. Here, improvisation means that you must know your lecture well enough to deliver it when the powerpoint fails; know your city well enough to take a detour when your route is closed; know your body well enough to take care of yourself when something doesn't feel right.

But of course, it's important to remember you're human, too. :)

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