Skip to Content

Improvisation in University Music

The Contemporary Music Ensemble at the University of Guelph

The CME is a collective of musicians devoted to creative improvisation, with participants drawn from University of Guelph students and community members. Our emphasis is on collaboration, creativity, and sonic experimentation. Our instrumentation is open and has included electric guitar, percussion, saxophone, flute, voice, strings, electronics, toys and everyday objects – even a bicycle!

Founded by Ellen Waterman in 2002, the CME is currently directed by percussionist and composer Joe Sorbara. Creative improvisation reaches across style and genre boundaries to stretch the imagination and sonic repertoire of musicians. The classical violinist, the punk drummer and the jazz guitarist all learn to work together – a collaborative mode that promotes listening, musical understanding, and flexibility.

Unusually for a university music ensemble, we don't hold auditions because we believe that every musician has something creative to offer; university students can take the CME for course credit. The fall term is often devoted to creating new student works and we find that breaking the ensemble up into small groups that work closely together for a term builds confidence and encourages creative expression. In the winter term we often take on a large-scale project or work with guest artists. Some of the outstanding improvisers we’ve worked with include: New York bassist William Parker; Lori Freedman, Canada’s premiere bass clarinetist, Montreal saxophonist Jean Derome; and Nicole Mitchell, Chicago-based flutist and chair of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.

At this site, you can see a video of the CME, as led by Joe Sorbara, performing at the MacDonald Stewart Art Centre in 2010. You can also read a short essay by Ellen Waterman reflecting on the value of teaching improvisation in university music. And you can see the CME in collaboration with video artist Kenneth Doren by following the link below.


Teaching Improvisation in a University Music Ensemble

Listening itself, an improvisative act engaged in by everyone, announces a practice of active engagement with the world, where we sift, interpret, store and forget, in parallel with action and fundamentally articulated with it ("Mobilitas Animi" 113).

– George E. Lewis