The month of May has been full of inspiring professional development opportunities for me, and last Friday’s session really took the cake! Forrest Kinney came to Edmonton to do a workshop on his Pattern Play and Chord Play book series and his 4 hour workshop turned into 5 hours of improvisation and inspiration!
My husband had recently been saying that he’d like to see our own children working not just on practicing their repertoire pieces and technique but also spending 5 minutes each days just making up their own music–not composing necessarily, just creating. Knowing only a little bit about Forrest’s work, I went hoping for some ideas to encourage my children and all my students to create their own music and I came away inspired and refreshed!
Forrest is an incredibly down to earth man and he took the time to really connect with the teachers he was working with, giving us all several opportunities to get up and create with him on the piano—it felt like child’s play!
And so this week, I used some of those techniques with each student. As we drag our poor, tired heels toward the end of the year and prepare for recital, our little improvisation sessions this week have been such a breath of fresh air–even my own husband (who does not play an instrument) sat down with me at the piano and we played an improvisational piano duet with a blues theme. Some of my parents even sat down with me and played and were thrilled to just sit and create! As the week progressed, with each student coming and creating, my excitement grew and I thought how perfect this is for every student. Then Thursday arrived and with it one of my sweet little students who had had a very rough day. She arrived late and her dad said she had really not wanted to come. So I sat down with her and told her about my chance to be a student at Mr. Kinney’s workshop and suggested we just create some music at the piano. She seemed to like that idea, so I began to play a blues on black pattern and told her to listen and then play whatever she liked on the black keys. I played and played and played and encourage her to start but she just sat there with her hands in her lap. Then I thought maybe she just wasn’t feeling connected to blues and started a slower more reflective pattern on white keys and suggested she just play on the white keys. Again I played….and played…and, honestly, disappointment started to build. I was so sure that this would work for everyone and after such a high of excitement this week, this felt like such a low. Just when I was going to stop and return to the regular lesson, she lifted her hands to the keys and started to play….and I broke out in goosebumps! What she played was so beautiful, so haunting and so honestly emotional. It was amazing. At first her little melody was timid but it began to build and she added her left hand and I was stunned by the beauty of it! By the time we finished she was grinning from ear to ear and I was holding back tears! Then I asked her if she’d like to try the blues on black and she grinned again and this time dove right in as soon as I started to play. Wow! What a great way to finish off the week!
I am really hoping we Edmonton teachers will have the opportunity for a follow up session and with Forrest and more inspiring ideas in the near future, but in the meantime, this has reminded me how important teaching improvisation to my students is and I am determined to make it a regular part of our lessons!
Want to know a little bit more about Forrest??
Check this out:
Here is an improvisational duet he did with his wife, Akiko: