Corey Mwamba


From an old conversation with Han-Earl Park

I actually chimed in, and I posted the conversation where no one would actually find it. So I've moved it so now it CAN be found. It'd be great to hear your views too!

Is 'success' (however that's defined) a meaningful idea in approaching (as listener or performer) improvisation?

{...} for me [I can't speak for anyone else]:

  • I make music for those who will listen.
  • If anyone appreciates/likes it—we win
  • If NO ONE appreciates/likes it—we lose

I'm always listening though and I try not hate myself. So I almost always win. Which might be cheating.

If someone decides that they don't like what I do, then that's fine. I'm only human and am trying to communicate beyond words—maybe the next time will be different.

And they may not be listening in the first place. If a critic sets him- or herself up to hear a certain sort of dialogue, or requires music to be framed in a specific way, then every musician that doesn't fit the criteria will fail. But is the critic REALLY fulfilling the role of Listening? Or point checking? We play for those who Listen, not those who Analyse.

The fact that I am TRYING to communicate beyond words is the important thing for me. I need to think about what I'm saying, and how it fits in with what's being said to me, through music. That's what I feel part of the job of a musician is—no matter what style of music. The winning and losing are nice bonuses, but irrelevant in comparison to the effort, which musician and audience alike can notice. And just because you "fail" today, doesn't mean that the audience will never listen to you again; just as it shouldn't stop one from making the genuine effort.

So an actual answer {...}: only to a certain extent, and not as much as people might like to think.

If no[...], how does the next day's performance build upon the previous day's?

As a musician, I have to listen actively. And with reflection. This stuff is personal. I need to take into account my own "musical bloodline"—what I do is language-based, so my thing is the acquisition of "meaningful sound" to express the things I want to say. What I tried to communicate yesterday may not have worked then because it wasn't appropriate—but it may work in the newer situation. And so I have to think about whether to try it; and if I decide to try it, I have to then think about whether I said the right thing. So I guess I'm saying constantly reflective practice, and mindfulness.

Do prepared means (plans, schemes, compositions) define the criteria by which an improvisation is successful?


If an orchestra screws up a score but it sounds good, does it matter if it sounds good to the listener? Personal experience time:

Some percussionists will do a gliss up the xylophone [echoing the rest of the orchestra] to the A towards the end of the second movement of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5, even though there isn't one in the score [listen to the Leonard Bernstein version—with gliss—and compare to the Andre Previn]. I got told off for not putting one in—and bearing in mind I can't actually read music—I bluffed my way in with the intention of improving my reading—I felt great pointing this out to the section leader! And his response was "oh, but it's on lots of recordings"

The dude was measuring my success in my part based on something that was nowhere in the plan, but on stuff he'd heard and liked. And that's the "rigidities" of Western orchestral music.

comments (1)

Corey Mwamba

9th Dec 2011 | 7:05am

Here's a link to the original post by Han–Earl

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