Thursday, May 20, 2010

In Praise of Improv

– verb (used with object)
1. to compose and perform or deliver without previous preparation; extemporize; to improvise an acceptance speech.
2. to compose, play, recite, or sing (verse, music, etc.) on the spur of the moment.
3. to make, provide, or arrange from whatever materials are readily available; We improvised a dinner from yesterday's leftovers.*

I'm not sure how he got there, but lately Roy Williams from the original Mickey Mouse Club has been in my mind.  I remember especially how he would have someone draw lines or squiggles on his drawing board, and he would transform them into a picture.  Whip, whip, whip with his marker and he'd turn it into Donald Duck with alligator teeth or some other delightful design.  He was a master improvisor.

Ken Medema is another.  He is a singer/songwriter/storyteller whose music I have enjoyed for years.  Sometimes he'll ask his audience to call out words that he can incorporate into his music.  It could be bee hive, menu, and bunk bed and he'll begin to weave a remarkable musical tale of faith and life.  Improvisation -- it's a thing of beauty!

Another amazing improvisationalist (I just improvised there) is Joanne Stremmler, the former organist at our church in Seattle.  From her bench at the organ, she could make the sanctuary swell with her powerful playing and her interpretation of the hymns.  Like Ken Medema, she elicited audience participation.  She'd ask for three or four hymns that people would like to hear played, then she'd seamlessly create a glorious arrangement, with one song flowing into another, intertwining them all together, on the spur of the moment.  Such a gift she has.

We do it all the time, though, don't we?  We don't have buttermilk, so we add a little lemon juice to our regular milk; we find a piece of driftwood on the beach and turn it into a sculpture; a child makes a tent in the dining room with the table and chairs and a few blankets.  It's a natural thing to do.  It's a money-saving thing to do.  It's a fun thing to do.

If you feel like singing, even when nobody else is, sing.  If you find something, turn it into something else.  If you feel like making up a story, go ahead.  If you don't have what you need, find something else for the job.  Let loose -- improvise!


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