Lincoln Center Institute Two Week Course of Study at

The Beacon School, February 1999

 

Transforming Impulse into Form

Music Component

"Rhythm is Our Business"

performed by the Lewis Nash Percussion Ensemble

 

Rhythm, Improv and Ensemble

 

RHYTHM Lesson 1

QUESTIONS: What is rhythm?

Where is rhythm?

What has rhythm?

What are the rhythms of your life?

Can you have rhythm and chaos at the same time?

Does rhythm imply form/organization?

Are there characteristic rhythms in jazz music?

 

ACTIVITY 1:

LCI Teaching Artists

    • Journal entries: Complete the sentences,

"Rhythm is . . . ."

"Pulse is . . . ."

"Impulse is . . . ."

"Chaos is . . . ."

Brief sharing of some of these ideas

    • Movement based activity that explores rhythm using entire body in organized space. Concepts of primary pulse, syncopation, accents ("on" and "off" the beat) are introduced and manipulated.
    • Hand-out of assigned reading with others’ thoughts on rhythm, including Lewis Nash: "The essence of jazz music is . . .[the] feeling of playfulness with the beat, syncopating and intelligently playing around with [the] beat."

 

Beacon Faculty

    • Exploration of rhythms that make up students’ daily lives. Ideas include:
    • Study of conversational rhythms
    • Classroom rhythms (possibly orchestrate intrinsic class dynamics)
    • Cafeteria or other school rhythms (rhythms of different teachers/students)
    • Pedestrian Dance (street rhythms, walking rhythms)
    • Rhythms of nature (day-night, seasons, life-cycles, somatic rhythms – heartbeat, breathing)

 

RHYTHM Lesson 2

QUESTIONS: What is "the rhythm section" in jazz music?

What are percussion instruments? Pitched and non-pitched instruments?

What is the role of the drummer?

Is there something primal about drumming?

How can a primal impulse be given form or expression?

What is timbre?

What are the colors of the sounds around us?

ACTIVITY 2:

LCI Teaching Artists

    • Journal entry that investigates sound quality/color/timbre. Brief sharing.
    • Using rhythmic patterns from Activity 1, invest them with timbre (by choosing a rhythm instrument or object from room) and invest the pattern with an expressive intention
    • Explore some combinations of instruments – building "rhythm sections" – brief discussion about the instruments that traditionally comprise this section in jazz, and their responsibilities in the ensemble.

Beacon Faculty

    • Students design CD covers and/or liner notes for one or both of the performances – taking into account color/timbre and expression.
    • Students write their own lyrics to "Freedom Rider"
    • Students may then take those lyrics and create their own sound/music pieces – selecting their own colors and means of expression.
    • Students may also listen to Traffic version of "Freedom Riders"
    • Students may be asked to title the piece after they’ve listened and before they know. Discussion about the role of titles in art. Discussion about the politics of the civil rights movement – political impulses that are given artistic form. (TA can suggest reference materials - specifically about Art Blakey’s intentions - for teachers who desire to go this route.) Is it important to know an artists’ impulse (political or otherwise) and/or intention in order to appreciate the work?????

 

IMPROV Lesson 3

QUESTIONS: What is improvisation?

How do we improvise in every day life?

Is improv chaos? Order?

Does improv have form? Is it formless?

What is improv specifically in jazz music?

How does a player give form to an improvised solo?

What are the freedoms in improv? What are the limits?

Fears? Challenges? Thrills?

ACTIVITY 3:

LCI Teaching Artists

    • Journal entries that complete or answer the following:

"Improvisation is . . ."

"Structure/form is . . ."

"Can you name a time from this week when you’ve had to improvise?"

Brief sharing of responses.

    • Movement exercise through divided space ("home" zones and "free" zones of improvisation). Using a rhythmic fragment from one of the pieces played by the Lewis Nash Ensemble, students explore it as "written" and in improvised solos – in the appropriate zones.
    • Students then create a transition movement/rhythm as a bridge between home and free zones.
    • While half the class moves through space, the other half observes by graphically mapping the experience. The two halves switch.

Beacon Faculty

    • Students explore mapping with other music:
    • Students may bring in music that they listen to (possibly with some improvisatory element? "freestyling" in rap music?) Compare and contrast with the jazz music they’ve been listening to thus far. Find "evidence" of things that are similar and things that are different.
    • Students may map the music they bring in to class.
    • Teachers may want to bring in other jazz or other music for students to hear and map the form (listening especially for areas of improvisation).
    • Possible exploration about how students feel about "form" and "free" in other aspects of their lives. Is form safe? Is it limiting? Is free frightening? Is it thrilling? What might be possible parallels with these feelings and what jazz musicians do/feel?

 

IMPROV Lesson 4

QUESTIONS: How is jazz notated in a score?

How much is notated?

What do the improvisatory sections look like?

What is the history of how jazz musicians learn music?

How is this like or unlike written vs. oral history?

Is it important to be aware of history as a jazz musician?

What is style?

As a jazz improviser, in what senses are you a part of tradition?

In what senses are you breaking with tradition?

Is improvising American?

ACTIVITY 4:

LCI Teaching Artists:

    • Teach a rhythmic song – demonstrate oral tradition. Students do a quick map/sketch of the form of the song.
    • Listen to two versions of "Tico, Tico" (one by Lewis Nash Ensemble, one by another group). Students create detailed maps of the pieces, taking into account form, timbre, rhythmic patterns, areas of improvisation and expression.
    • Students choose a partner and discuss each others’ maps and methods. Then a whole class sharing of these maps. Brief discussion about the idea of "jazz standards" that get reinterpreted by many artists. What is tradition? What is a break from tradition?

Beacon Faculty:

    • Ideas include:
    • Create a jazz soundtrack to Macbeth or other literary work. Why did you make the choices/selections you did? (Students might create a cassette tape of others performing, or create their own music.)
    • Discuss literary allusions as a parallel to jazz musicians alluding to each others’ styles and/or actual solos. Have students write something with a historical or literary allusion.
    • Transform a poem or other language (something from Macbeth?) into a sound piece. Will there be areas of improvisation? What about artistic choices for timbre? Rhythm? Expression?
    • Lesson on oral vs. written history. Which cultures use these methods? Why?
    • Students look through all the music maps they have made thus far and do a written exercise of reflection about their drawings/mappings.

ENSEMBLE Lesson 5

QUESTIONS: What role does body language, facial expression, eye contact and attitude have in ensemble playing?

What is the role of listening in ensemble playing?

What kind of listening is required?

Are there any cues going on?

How do players know when to enter and when to lay out?

What is the difference between soloing and accompanying?

To what extent is ensemble playing conversational?

ACTIVITY 5:

LCI Teaching Artists

    • Journal entry: "What have you noticed thus far in the live performances about body language, facial expression, eye contact and attitude among the performers?" "Describe an ensemble or team experience you have had and describe some of the skills you needed to be a good team player."
    • Students are divided into small groups where they use all elements thus far explored (rhythmic patterns, timbral choices, intention/expression, improvisation, soloing and accompanying etc.) to begin to create an ensemble piece. Instruments and/or body may be used. TA gives students some choices of form to use (such as ABA, ABACA, AABB) – they make other artistic choices. TA circulates to help with ensemble issues such as cueing, starting, stopping, entering, exiting.
    • Group notates their piece on paper.

Beacon Faculty:

    • Group/ensemble dynamics are explored.
    • Possible problem solving task is given to several different groups. Different processes of the various groups are analyzed.
    • Are there leadership issues? What is the contribution of each member of a group?
    • How are any of these issues like or unlike anything musicians encounter?

Ensemble Lesson 6

QUESTIONS: What are some potential difficulties in group work?

What are the benefits/rewards?

Does a group always need a leader?

Why or why not?

What is like to feel rhythm as an ensemble?

How is that different from an individual experience?

ACTIVITY 6:

LCI Teaching Artists:

    • Students reassemble in their groups. Using their notation from last class, they rehearse their pieces. They title their pieces.
    • Sharing of all the ensembles. Discussion about the different group approaches to the task. Sharing of the notation.
    • Journal entry: "Write about your group’s process in giving form to your musical piece." "What was the role of rhythm in the making of your piece?" Complete the sentence, "Rhythm is . . ." Did you write something different from the first day?

Beacon Faculty:

    • Final reflection about the forms students saw emerging from these past two weeks (in the form of a thesis statement????) Paper? Open for ideas . . .

 

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