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Report from Zo Labs

The experiment: Greg Schaffner posted an interesting comment in which he suggested using improvisations as segues between pieces. I thought that sounded fun, so at two concerts yesterday, I put improvs — completely spontaneous, no planning — between all the pieces within each set. And, to make it all as spontaneous as possible, I had the audience draw the names of pieces to determine the order.

The results: We had a good time. None of the improvs were really outstanding, but they worked well enough, and the audience got into the spirit of the thing. I don’t think I’ll repeat this experiment (I have fun planning the program order, and don’t want to give that up!), but I will work some improvs into future Zos.


Greg Schaffner


Another gratifying concert. Your abilities as an improviser are really strong. At the risk of offending even more people than already have, it always surprises me when I find out that someone who has had the discipline and desire to play Bach, Chopin, etc. as well as you do can also get free enough from the “inner critic” to actually improvise.

Before I began writing this comment, I listened to the Bach invention #6, which stirred up any number of thoughts. I’m afraid the first one of those thoughts is that I loved having ***silence*** before and after listening to it. Just as the resonance of a piano dies very slowly away (if allowed to), so does the contemplation and understanding of a musical piece like the Bach. Could it have gone longer (the original Bach, I mean). Sure. Our friend Johannes could have gone hours longer if he’d wanted to. Did he choose to? No. Could he have modulated and transitioned his way from the Invention to a Chopin Etude – had he somehow entered a time machine and heard it or even learned to play it himself? Well, no doubt he could. You did. But would he have wanted to do it? I somehow doubt it.
The point of improvised transitions by an organist in a church service is (generally) to fill in the spaces when something else is happening…. the altar is being prepared, the offerings of the people are being brought forward, the congregation is thumbing through the hymnal to find the next hym, etc. In a concert, however, there is very little to do except clear one’s throat or perhaps rearrange the stage.
So, many thanks for the improvs. But I’ll still vote for silence in most cases.

Greg Schaffner