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Teaching the Ethics of Free Improvisation

Barbara Rose Lange

Published: 2011-12-07

The factors that motivate some improvising musicians to teach include the music’s profound ethical dimensions, the ideal that egalitarianism should be a core principle in music-making, and the belief that this music enables the musician’s full self to flower. Using an ethnographic approach, this essay argues that pedagogies, as cultural systems, encompass ambiguity, so that improvisers’ ideals work irregularly in an educational setting. The MECA improvisation ensemble, a group for middle and high school students in Houston, Texas, was a voluntary organization that attracted members from a variety of backgrounds. Its leader, an improviser, utilized traditional teaching dynamics, but the alternative arts setting and the premises of free improvisation enabled the students to cross barriers within the city and between each other.

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Musical improvisation is a crucial model for political, cultural, and ethical dialogue and action.

– Ajay Heble