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interdeterminate – improv catharsis

Music can express all sorts of feelings. Improvised music can have a particular niche when it comes to these sorts of expressions. It has the vantage point of coming directly from the moment that the emotions occur or as an embodied response to that moment. Improv by it’s very nature is about the present moment and whatever lives in that instant.

There I go, dealing with my own experience in abstractions again. It’s a handy way to distance myself from my experience and feelings. And it’s not the point of what I want to say here. I want to describe something that’s indescribable. No wonder that I’m trying to avoid it.

Over a recent weekend, I was in a mood. I couldn’t describe it in words. I knew some of the background of what might have led to me “having feelings”, but I did not know all of it. I had a sense of being stuck; as if the feelings wouldn’t just go away or move along like the energy in motion that they are.

Old piano keysIn a wonderful twist, it was one of those weekends when I had plenty of musical playing/performing to do: I accompanied a church congregation and choir through hymns, anthems, responses and added my brief, improvised bits of pipe organ music in the morning. Then, in the afternoon, I played guitar with Pennsylvania String Ensemble at a bridal show. Penn Strings — as we’re usually known — performed everything from Vivaldi to Kahn/Erdman/Russo (“Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye”) to Beatles to ColdPlay that day. Each of these was wonderful in it’s own way. But my mood did not really shift.

So, once I got home to my newly re-created digital recording studio, I decided to record some improvisations. The first two were in some of my “usual” styles. They did nothing to alter my emotional state and did so little for me musically that I did not save them.

Before the third improv, I took some long, deep breaths and closed my eyes. I opened myself to that inner/outer awareness that I can only describe as spirit.

The resulting spontaneous composition was simultaneously haunting and cathartic. Whatever the mood had been, it was finally shifted when the piece was complete. I still had no words to describe it. And the feeling had clearly been expressed in a way that would allow it to release.


I’m grateful to have this means of expression. Each time I remember to allow it to work its wonders. I am a new man.

Playful blessings,

* Warning: this is not “just another one of Stan’s nice little piano improvs.” Listen at your own risk. 🙂

6 thoughts on “interdeterminate – improv catharsis”

  1. Hello Stan,

    As I am in my “digital” Sunday of fun, I was just re-checking my Twitter account and noticed the following tweet by @jebuongiorno :

    “@muz4now: Can playing music “get something off your chest”?″ ” Surprising-play heavy Rachmaninoff & lift the soul.”

    So the tweet took me here, so why not leave a comment?

    I think your above post rightly describes what is probably the “procedure”, or rather, the “process” a creative person follows in order to create something. You call it improvisation, but all art is probably based on some kind of (controlled or not) “improvisation”.

    There probably has to be mostly a good dose of emotions and feelings to create music, a painting, a story, etc.

    Of course, one has to know well enough the medium one uses in order to more or less be able to convey our emotions/feelings via that medium. That is definitely your case, a gifted musician able to play a good number of instruments, including your voice.

    About this piano piece in particular, I personally perceive a mood where there are mixed emotions, both catharsis, as you said, but also an almost annoying somber feeling. It is a bit of a dark mood (at least that is what I sense).

    And definitely there are classical music influences, probably of the latter part of the 19th century.

    Always a pleasure to hear your compositions, Stan.

    Take care,


    1. Ivette,

      This is a lovely way to describe the musical creative process. Thank you.

      I still prefer to call mine spontaneous compositions. Or improv. 🙂

      Playful blessings,

  2. Hello Stan
    Enjoyed your “why and how you play keyboard. I only play acoustic and when I played and studied piano, my best writing was done at night, in a dark room and hearing rain made it even better. I wrote for myself and for my piano students. My best work was done as an expectant mom.
    Not writing right now. But could and would if I could carve out quite time.
    I too accompanied Church music and school orchestra in their performance.
    Music is forever!
    Each ones own music tells a story or paints a lovely picture or expresses a particular emotion.
    We agree.
    One last comment.
    I played two piano recitals. Was my forte’

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