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Want to know what life is like as an ANAM musician?  In Between the Lines is a blog post written by one of ANAM’s first year students.

Extemporisation, Classical Improvisation and playing Harry Potter.. are you a Mozzie?

You may wonder how extemporisation, classical improvisation and playing Harry Potter are related. The answer to this is the not-so-tenuous link of David Dolan, a pianist and expert in these three things (although one may argue that Daniel Radcliffe is much more famous for the last activity). DD (as he will now be referred to) came to ANAM for a two-week residency and to workshop all sorts of things with us.

The first session raised lots of issues: what is improvisation, and why are classical musicians so scared of it? To start our exploration, DD started playing some games. With some brave and willing volunteers, he played games of classical improvisation, posing a musical question and letting somebody answer in a similar fashion. These extended to playing together in some sort of Question-Answer-together type of  thing. He emphasised that there are no wrong notes – and what we consider to be ‘wrong’ notes are often the most interesting notes, because they form the distension in music.

What a fortnight it was! I was fortunate to have about seven sessions in total with DD in various forms – trio, instrument class, duo. Many visiting artists who come in to give any sort of class approach,  some sort of finishing polish or a few ideas about how to approach things. This is not a bad thing in itself, but what DD was completely different. We were encouraged to approach pieces from a compositional point of view, particularly in terms of the harmony. We did structural and harmonic reductions of passages, looking at the bare bones of the music. We actually played these (he said to perform them like you would the actual written them) and things became clear. We also acted and spoke the  music, to hear the direction and the intensity. We reduced the melody as well (reminded me of the Schenkerian analysis stuff we did at University). This was actually far more enjoyable than I thought it was going to be – the fear of ‘what if I make stupid and bad noises?’ was shelved in exchange for fun and experimentation. Even more enjoyable was the Neo-Classical style I was able to employ – Classical structures without Classical tonality.

DD also gave us tips on how to approach certain passages, making certain things so much clearer and easier to follow. All these things: singing, acting, reducing, playing of games – all of which was demonstrated by David. What really struck me too was that he was so encouraging and positive and so open to sharing some of his genius. I was struck by his enthusiasm for helping us to uncover all these things in the music, and for his humility. At the end of each session, he would remind us that he didn’t teach us how to play certain things (indeed, he didn’t teach any specific technique of playing one’s instrument to, for example, the violinists) but stressed that his work was to encourage us to think in a different way, and that we were all capable of doing this ourselves, and that we had! Such affirmation.

The other interesting guest we had in these two weeks was Dr Phil Jauncey, a performance psychologist. He has worked with some of the most successful sporting teams in Australia. I expected that the seminars would tell me, ‘This is how you can control your nerves and this is the magic formula.’ This was definitely NOT the case! Let’s just say that I think his method of approaching psychology is quite different to what traditional Western medicine prescribes. One of the things we also did was a personality test (different to others, such as Myers-Briggs) where our results were then compiled and we were ‘measured’ on two different axes: External/Internal and Structured/Flexible. These formed four quadrants with the prevailing personality types of Mozzie, Enforcer, Thinker and Feeler. One can be a combination of these types too. It was certainly interesting to see my own results, and also discuss others’ with them! How fascinating it is to see a broad spectrum of people at ANAM and how we can adapt how we work with the different people.

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