Improvisation For All!
Rob Schiffmann

I am currently hosting a meeting for a company called Medecision. They are a health care company that is meeting this year in Dallas, TX to talk about the healthcare industry and how they have to find a way to embrace change and grow as a company and as an industry as a whole. It is a great group of people coming together to ‘work it out’. They have hired me to write and perform music (in the style of Hamilton) about their mission and some of their obstacles and to music direct a group of other musicians and even a spoken-word poet, speaking poetry written by me and a woman named Ally Bakaitis Gilman, who I have had the fortune to write with in the past. 

And so last night, I sat in a room with a bunch of musicians working out the music for this meeting. I got to work with Brigid Bibbens, an amazing electric violin player who has an incredible ear and picks music up super fast and Chuck Beckman, a beautiful guitar player who runs an incredible organization called Strings of Mercy, which provides music for folks who are sick or dying. Lastly, we were working with a talented young spoken-word artist named Melania-Luisa Marte.

We started with several poems to accompany and through the use of structured improvisation, we found some really lovely music to accompany Melania. The process became about finding common sounds and chord structures among the three of us and then simply following those patterns and throwing in some accents after particularly poignant lines. The essence of this work truly is improvisation. It was about listening and acceptance of the inspiration that came from that listening and then the acceptance of the consequences of every move that we made. We would play a chord, which would then lead to the next chord, and the next, and the next… It would have been easy to second guess but instead, because of the caliber of musician in the room and the willingness to improvise, we found some lovely music and applied it to the poetry and voila…we have art!

As I think about that process and about the mission at this meeting, it occurs to me that the struggle and the work are the same. We and they must find a way to communicate through the red tape and the white noise. The answer will lie in people’s ability to listen and to respond truthfully, in the moment, to the implications of what they hear.  

From electric violins to health care, we must ALL be improvisers!