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Outreach Activities

In order to shape assertions about improvisation's social benefits into a concrete framework of action, the project has established outreach activities in communities across Canada. These outreach projects form the basis for case studies and research that will enable ICASP to make specific recommendations for (and to assist in the implementation of) integrating improvisational arts-based activity into social and educational programs for aggrieved, marginalized, and at-risk communities across the country.

Our efforts so far include several iterations of improvised music workshops with various marginalized or at-risk communities including school groups and community organizations. Details of the Jazz in the Schools program, Play Who You Are workshops, Give Yourself Credit workshops, Onward Willow workshops, and Carnegie Jazz Band are provided below: further information and analysis on many of these initiatives is available in our Research Collection.

Jazz in the Schools

In 2008, the Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice project began a research study with the Jazz in the Schools workshops that have been run by our community partner, the Guelph Jazz Festival, for the past eight years.

The Jazz in the Schools study aims to explore the role of improvisation in secondary music education. Music programs in high schools are typically centred on band instruments and choral music. Music educators carry heavy work loads and classes are often necessarily limited in scope to Western musical practices. Programs such as Jazz in the Schools aim to broaden and enrich students’ experience. In an increasingly multi-cultural classroom, we need music pedagogies that speak to and validate diversity.

Our hypothesis is that improvisation is a creative form of music making that may reach across students’ diverse cultural backgrounds to foster greater communication, creativity, and understanding.

Through Jazz in the Schools, high school and university students explore improvisational music with leading improvisers. As part of this initiative, we have developed a tool kit for teaching improvisation that is available free of charge through this website. We are continuing the Jazz in the Schools research study throughout the seven years of the ICASP project.

Play Who You Are

The 'Play Who You Are' Workshop series provides improvisation workshops for clients of Guelph's KidsAbility Centre for Child Development and Montreal's Head & Hands. In September 2010, the 'Play Who You Are' series will be running its 3rd year of workshops with KidsAbility, and adding two new health care centres: St. Joseph's Health Care Centre and the Homewood Health Centre.

KidsAbility 'Play Who You Are' workshops

In 2008 and 2009 (planned for September 2010), ICASP ran a series of improvisation workshops with clients of KidsAbility Centre for Child Development, an organization that serves children with a wide variety of special needs. The aim of the workshops was to provide a fun, inclusive, and energizing experience that would provide the clients of Kidsability the opportunity to participate in creative modes of self expression. Through improvisation games, guided improvisations, and graphic score activities, the participants were able to engage in a process of music making that was focused on their abilities rather than their disabilities. In order to give the participants of the Play Who You Are Workshops a chance to display their creative experiences, the workshops were generally structured as rehearsal workshops working towards the end of a final culminating performance at the Guelph Jazz Festival’s Free Jazz Tent. After the workshops and final performance, exit interviews regarding the benefits and lessons of the workshop were conducted with the staff of Kidsability, the artist‐teachers, and some of the participants. Each interviewee commented on how the workshops and performance helped to break down barriers within the participants themselves as well as within the communities they belong to. For the participants of the “Play Who You Are” workshops, improvisation was a mode of expression that allowed for a creative exploration of music making processes that had been previously absent from these young individuals lives.

2008: Artist Matana Roberts was joined by Rich Marsella and drummer Rob Wallace to facilitate the workshops. See a video of the workshop here.

2009: Artists Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer facilitated the workshops. See a video of the workshops here.

2010: The Ratchet Orchestra joined with KidsAbility participants to facilitate the workshops and performance at the Guelph Jazz Festival tent on Saturday, September 11th, 2010.

Give Yourself Credit Workshops

This project offered a musical/improvisational experience for at‐risk youth who were participating in the Give Yourself Credit program. Participants were youth aged 16‐21 who were either homeless or are at risk of homelessness, have personal circumstances that restrict them from attending high school (e.g. pregnancy, bullying, etc.), have experienced halted success in school, or for whom the regular school system has not been successful in providing a program to meet their needs. The project offered four, one‐hour sessions teaching improvisational techniques in music. The workshop was themed around percussion and improvisation, entitled: “Give the Drummer some Credit!”.

Onward Willow Improvisation Workshops

During the Winter 2010 Academic Term, Prof. Ellen Waterman and Dr. Rebecca Caines (ICASP post-doctoral fellow) ran a pilot project in conjunction with the Friday Night Teen Drop-In program at Onward Willow. Six University of Guelph students assisted with improvisation games drawn from both music and theatre. The students kept journals of these activities, which were subsequently added to the Improvisation Tool Kit. In this pilot project the aim was to provide a fun, accessible, and safe space for expressing creativity through improvisation games and to further develop the Tool Kit for teaching improvisation.

Carnegie Jazz Band

The Carnegie Centre Jazz Band band meets every Friday, running under the facilitation of Brad Muirhead. During this meeting, the band focuses on basic music theory and on playing jazz pieces. In the coming years, ICASP will develop a research-driven component to this project, focused on Community Music with adult learners in an at-risk and aggrieved community, specifically in Vancouver's Downtown East Side. Part of this research will be to document the Carnegie Centre community jazz workshops, including the development of tools for implementing improvisational arts-based activity into social and educational programs for aggrieved, marginalized and at-risk communities that could also contribute to the formation of arts policy and in the hopes of securing funding for the Carnegie Centre Jazz Band.

So one of the things that improvisation has come to mean in the context of highly technological performance is that improvisation is the last claim to the legitimate presence of a human in the performance of music.

– Bob Ostertag