My Story- How I came to Teach Improvisational Experimental Music

May 16th, 2012 by admin Categories: Blog, Press, Projects, Teaching Music Improv, VocalEase No Responses

The Remarkable Human Voice

Improvising is a way of life for me. I improvise when I cook, I don’t use recipes. Each day is  different, I am not a person of habit and routine. When I take to the hills on unfamiliar trails I don’t bring a map. I use my instincts and sometimes I get lost. But I always find my way home. As much as I love a melody I’m inclined to stray away from the written notes and find harmony and syncopation that gives me the musical edge  I need to feel creatively charged. When I first met Rhiannon at Hollyhock on Cortes Island in 2005 and opened my voice to freedom, I knew I had found my tribe. Thanks to Rhiannon’s masterful teaching, and her and Bobby McFerron’s vocal improv games, my practice of vocal exploration took form and now, seven years later, I continue to develop and discover new ways to teach others how to enjoy the remarkable human voice.

Further studies with experimental musicians, Francois HouleEugene ChadbourneHan Bennink and Paul Plimley at the Vancouver Creative Music Institute in 2007 deepened my respect for improvising; I realized that everything I had learned about music in the structured forms of classical and jazz voice, as well as my ongoing fascination for ‘noises’  could be applied to the art of improvisation. I fully engaged in my remarkable ability to imitate sounds, especially electronics, stringed instruments and woodwinds, and found that my voice is an unlimited instrument with a five octave range with tones and textures  that I have a lifetime to discover. My tribe grew. There is a whole world of serious , classical and jazz musicians making unusual and exciting improvised music, and I am one of them. All over the world there are traditional cultures using voice in inspiring and astonishing ways and children playing, discovering interesting sounds and rhythms in everyday objects.

I was sleeping in a tent on Cortes Island on the last night of Rhiannon’s workshop at Hollyhock  and awoke in the middle of the night from a dream in which I was teaching kids, noisy kids who are usually told to “stop making that noise!”I devised a name for my classes: Kids Improvisational Dance Sing and Play In Nature- KIDSPIN- and began to make up exercises and games. I wanted to encourage kids to love the inate ability they have to improvise and imitate sounds, the natural instinct they have to move when they sing, and to encourage the sound effects that accompany play. I envisioned an a cappella chorus of children singing, dancing and improvising while using kitchen utensils for added percussion and tonal effect.

In Antigua, when I was there for seven months during  the winter of 2007/08, I found an eager group of young girls who were skilled singers and improvisors. We went to the Antigua National Radio station, Observer Radio where we sang on the air for radio personality, Kim Derrick. I was so inspired by my time in Antigua, I met with the Antiguan School board with a proposal to teach experimental music in the schools. The officials were enthusiastic and supportive, but since I was without teaching credentials they couldn’t hire me. I returned to Canada with a plan to integrate improvisational singing with my work as an Education Assistant.

Duet in animal movements and sounds

I practice every day. I use breath sounds, grunts and sighs, tongue and lip percussion, sonorous chest tones that sound like bears or Siberian throat singers , and siren sounds that resemble insects, Vocal Cornets, (10 Take Myself Out Dancing) or theremins. Exploring sounds does not preclude my interest in traditional musical forms. I love the fact that my instrument is always with me. I imitate ravens and wind when I’m walking in the woods; I sing opera when I  feel the need to breathe deeply and make a big sound; I improvise free jazz and let poetry move through me mingled with melody and rhythm. I  mirror the sounds around me as I go about my day and allow my emotional state to process my journey through sounds and songs. The exploration of an instrument that is always with us  is a gift. All we have to do to feel connected is to sing. From singer/songwriter to vocal improvisor, my voice is my home, my OM…

Kidspin and VocalEase demo, live on-the-air

VocalEase Antigua interview with Kim Derrick

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