Choral Improvisation: Toward a Curriculum for University Choral Settings
Seigart, Steven Ross
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The regular practice of musical improvisation in an ensemble context has been shown to have many benefits, including the improvement of individual musical skills, ensemble cohesiveness, and the potential to help teach music theory and history. In addition, group improvisation has been proven to have positive non-musical effects, such as the reduction of social anxiety and stress, the improvement of communication and attention, and the acquisition of higher-order thinking skills. Many of these studies focus on these effects only among children, but the growing number of adult choral ensembles that regularly improvise suggests that these benefits may be gained in any level ensemble and in any age singer, including the university choral ensemble and the typical university student. Historically, improvisation and composition were considered as one creative process, with the latter often following the former. Even when the distinction between the two was acknowledged, the most prominent composers were also the finest improvisers. Toward the twentieth century and beyond, notation became gradually more specific, and the need for in-the-moment decision-making became obsolete. Modern classical ensembles largely do not improvise, precisely for this reason: the music they perform does not require it. Outside of classical music (with a few notable exceptions), improvisation is a part of almost every musical genre worldwide. In this document I have suggested a series of modules toward a improvisation-based curriculum, which can be freely combined and adapted to serve a number of functions and attempted in any order and in any sequence. These modules address fifteen compositional techniques, from simple canons to harmonic progressions, with more than fifty total distinct points of entry. The hope is that collegiate choral ensembles at every level will find these modules at once practical and accessible, so that students can begin reaping the benefits of regular improvisation practice.