Children and Improvisation

Near the end of a lively seminar on Fluxus with Jeanette Hicks a participant asked “How often do you really get to do the things we just did?” His question was meant to point out the vacuum of play in everyday life. This is not the first time this quality of “play” has been raised at discussions regarding improv. Doug Ewart repeatedly references his experiences building toys as a youngster in Jamaica as his early experience with improvisation. Certainly the practice of taking risks, making mistakes and retrying is exercised regularly in game playing. Whether sports or game play these experiences build a certain amount of humility and resilience toward public failure. Such a quality is crucial in order to take risks at all. There are many private artists and in so many cases a degree of success counts upon the willingness of an artist to be a public one -to ask others to see their work.

In answer to this man’s question I was happy to raise my hand. Sure, I am a professional hokey pokey dancer and games is “what I do” as a music teacher. One other hand flew up, and the owner qualified herself as a mother. So once again, we have evidence that those who work and live with children constantly practicing improvisational skills. Anne Bourne also recently commented that motherhood was something she made up as she went along -a great informative resource for her as an improvisational musician. I’m sure I’ve written somewhere here before that my infant daughter opened up a willingness in me to invest in developing vocal improv techniques.

There are other areas where artists strive to reclaim the playful heart of a child’s approach to work, and still we acknowledge that “successful” improvisations are a skill which must be honed. This tension is interesting to me as a teacher, for even with all the scaffolding available not every 8 beat pentatonic improvisation is successful. Still, it is evident that children’s natural tendency play with abandon and be ridiculous -their love of the inane is something we should want to pepper our daily routines with. Likewise children need opportunities¬†to experiment and hone in pursuit of a desired outcome¬†in order to move away from frustration towards independence.

We work at play and they play at work.

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