AIMToronto Musicians Present Educational Tour
by Ken Aldcroft

In January 2007, the Ken Aldcroft Convergence Ensemble conducted four workshops while on a Canadian tour supported by the Canada Council: three in Nova Scotia (Delbrae Academy in Mabou, Cape Breton, Guysborough Academy, and St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish) and one in Edmonton at Grant MacEwan College.

The Ensemble is primarily an improvising quintet featuring myself on guitar, Evan Shaw on alto saxophone, Scott Thomson on trombone, Wes Neal on bass and Joe Sorbara on drums. We have been together for just over two years although the members of the band have been performing together in a variety of configurations for five years. Convergence also incorporates composition into our performances with few predetermined arrangements. The composed material is spontaneously arranged and orchestrated by the ensemble in real time during the performance. For the workshops during the tour, I decided to focus primarily on improvisation though, in a few cases, the flow of the workshop led us to discuss and perform the composed material as well.

Since January 2006, I have been organizing bi-weekly open workshops at the NOW Lounge in Toronto as a part of the NOW Series, one of AIMTorontoís weekly improvised music series. The recent focus of the workshops has been exercises from Search and Reflect by British improviser John Stevens. Stevensís exercises and philosophy were a perfect choice for the upcoming tour workshops since they were designed for musicians of any skill level and encourage participation by all involved.

Here are some excerpts from the Foreword in Search and Reflect:

[These exercises are] inclusive, anyone can play, regardless of formal technical accomplishment, provided he or she approaches them with simplicity and seriousness and a mind drained of assumptions of what music is supposed to be about Ė a task that is easier for the untrained than for the trained performer. They call for exactly those skills which each player can bring to them, no more and certainly no less.(iv)

The pieces depend more on collaboration, on listening to one another, than on individual performing skills; they invite each participant to trust, in a communal and convivial spirit, in the musicality which is born in us all.(v)

The students approached the exercises willingly and energetically and, though the material was unlike anything they had previously encountered, they were very inspired by the workshops, as were the Ensemble members.

Stevensís ingenious exercises not only strengthen studentsí understanding of the basic elements of music making, such as rhythm and dynamics, but also put each participant in greater control of his or her creative voice. Although each exercise sets up certain rules in order to operate, they create no technical barriers that may impede studentsí success. They enable participants to be in control of when they play or sing while encouraging them to take into account how each gesture may effect the group dynamic. During the workshops, the students quickly began to understand the focus needed when making music; how to work within a group; the value of subtle dynamics, phrasing, form; and much more.

Furthermore, since Stevensís exercises deal with very complex issues in simple ways, they helped us to describe and explain to the students what the Ensemble does during performance in an immediate way. The students may not have completely understood what it was that we were showing them in the two hours we were there, but they were all open-minded and respectful of the process, and the resulting music and discussion at every single workshop was truly amazing.

Ken Aldcroft, IAJE Spring 2007

Stevens, John. Search and Reflect. London: Community Music, 1985,
(out of print)