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Improvising Spaces Workshop and Speaker Series

Improvising Spaces is a monthly workshop & speakers series in St John's, NL that will explore how improvisation can provide us with new ways of thinking. The Improvising Spaces series in curated by IICSI Postdoctal Fellow Chris Tonelli. For questions, please email Chris at and be sure to check out Improvising Spaces on Facebook.

Upcoming Sessions

Session V: Conflict, Communication, and Improvisation
Monday, February 23rd, 6:00-7:30 pm
The Rocket Room, 272 Water street
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Session V of Improvising spaces features an interdisciplinary dialogue between Dr. Beverley Diamond, Research Chair in Ethnomusicology at Memorial University, Political Anthropologist Dr. Robin Whitaker, and the Improvising duo Spanner (Paul Bendzsa & Rob Power). The session will address the question of whether the improvisatory arts have anything to contribute to our understanding of how to successfully facilitate conflict resolution and intercultural understanding. Our session will begin with a musical improvisation by Spanner. We will examine and discuss the skills and qualities (listening, response, trust, flexibility, awareness, openness, spontaneous decision making) fostered by improvisation and displayed by Power & Bendsza and let this lead into a discussion of the presence and absence of improvisatory possibility in political processes and other domains of sociality and interaction.

Session VI: Improvisation & Good Living
Monday, March 16, 6:00-7:30 pm
The Rocket Room, 272 Water street
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Session VI of Improvising spaces features an interdisciplinary dialogue between researcher and sound artist Lori Clarke, Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Studies Dr. Mario Blaser, and dance scholar Dr. Kristin Harris Walsh. This session will contemplate the connections between improvisation, health, and the art of living well. The session will begin with a solo improvisation by Lori Clarke on cello and environmental sound recordings. Following the performance, we will discuss its qualities and explore various perspectives on the ways improvisation can help us live well. A focus on improvisation in step dance traditions and contemporary dance will also be feature of the discussion.

Session VII: Improvising in the Kitchen, the Street, & Online
Thursday, April 16, 6:00-7:30 pm
The Rocket Room, 272 Water street
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The final session of the 2014-2015 Improvising Spaces season features Dr. Jason Caslor, a conductor and saxophonist whose research has dealt with ensemble improvisation and telematic performance, activist and poet Jon Parsons, and Jeremy Bonia & Jeremy Charles, the sommelier & chef behind Raymond's Restaurant, recognized by critics to be among the best restaurants both in Canada and internationally. This diverse evening will explore the role improvisation plays in a variety of practices and will allow us to reflect on what parts of our lives might benefit from becoming more open to the improvisatory.

Past Sessions

Session I: The Muted Note: Scott Thomson and Susanna Hood
Tuesday, October 7, 5:00-8:00 pm
St. John's Arts & Culture Centre
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The Muted Note is a suite of songs composed by Scott Thomson, settings of poems by P.K. Page, for Susanna Hood's singing voice. As a duo, Susanna, in addition to singing the lyrics, improvises on the songs both vocally and in dance, a synthesis for which she is singularly acclaimed in Canada. Scott, on trombone, both underpins Susanna and solos on the songs in a wide-ranging style that reflects his broad experience as an improviser. Throughout, P.K. Page's stellar poems are at the core of the work and, in both dance and music, Scott and Susanna seek to animate and activate the verse as they play. Their extensive Canadian tour this autumn will help to promote their new duo disc on &records.

Session II: The Creative Orchestra: A Workshop in Exploration, Improvisation, and Structure (w/Cellist Norman Adams)
Sunday, November 8th
11:00-11:45 AM with the beginner group--- Choral room (MU 1032)
1:15-2:00PM with the intermediate group--- Suncor Hall (MU 1050)
3:30-4:15PM with the senior group--- Instrumental room (MU 1034)
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The Creative Orchestra is a workshop led by Norman Adams that harnesses the creative energies of a student orchestra to collaboratively create a piece of music for performance. Over the course of StringFest 2014, students in three levels of orchestras are introduced to basic improvisation, and extended techniques on their instruments; they are challenged to question definitions of music and what sounds “good”; and they get to create a piece they can call their own. The workshop opens with a demonstration of an improvised piece that utilizes extended techniques and a broad sound palette. The students are then asked: “is this music?” Through discussion, the students are introduced to a broader definition of music than they may be familiar with: one that embraces new definitions of tonality, rhythm and interaction; one that suggests that abstract sounds and forms are indeed music. Ideas for the piece are solicited from the students: thematic ideas, sections that utilize the exercises, solos and smaller groups from within the orchestra, and even melodic ideas are discussed. From this process they discover that orchestral music, and music in general doesn’t need a mysterious composer to come to life. They can make it themselves, while learning an appreciation for the complexities of great pieces by skilled composers. The creation of music gives the students ownership; it opens creative doors, and inspires students to try using their instruments for more than just traditional playing in an orchestra. It teaches listening and cooperation, and inspires creativity and fun.

Session III: Touch, Memory, and Solitude in Improvised Dance/Music Collaborations
Friday, December 5th, 6:00-7:00pm
St. John's Arts & Culture Centre
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Session III of Improvising spaces features a performance and discussion with Dora Award nominated performer and Memorial University dancer-in-residence Karen Kaeja and her team of local musical and dance collaborators which will include pianist Florian Hoefner, guitarist Marijn Companjen, vocalist Chris Tonelli, and dancers Colleen Quigley, Andrea Tucker, Calla Lachance, Ryan Davis, Sarah Joy Stoker, Corie Harnett, and Louise Moyes. Both the performance and discussion will deal with the role of touch, memory, and solitude in the creation of improvised dance and will reflect back on the process of collaboration the musicians and dancers will have engaged in in the weeks prior to the event.

January 12th, 6:00-7:30pm
MUN School of Music, SUNCOR Hall
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Session IV of Improvising Spaces will feature Rimouski, Quebec based duo NOT THE MUSIC (Éric Normand, bass & snare drum + Philippe Lauzier, bass clarinet, soprano sax). They will be performing together and with guest Ellen Waterman (flute) and discussing their work. The session is free and open to all.

February 19: St. John's Improvising Choir will play The Ship!
9:30 pm
The Ship Pub, 265 Duckworth St., St. John's

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The upcoming Chris Tonelli & friends Night Music at The Shop concert will feature the St John's Improvising Choir as well as musicians Mack Furlong, Andrew Staniland, and Paul Bendsza.

...the innovative working models of improvisation developed by creative practitioners have helped to promote a dynamic exchange of cultural forms, and to encourage new, socially responsive forms of community building across national, cultural, and artistic boundaries.

– Ajay Heble