Freedom and Improvisation

Learning Objective
This course explores topics that are vital to the lives of improvisers, including freedom of musical form and freedom of musical expression. Students will be exposed to academic language and will develop strategies for how to approach the complex content of primary and secondary sources. All participants will be encouraged to challenge their pre-conceived ideas, ask questions, participate in group discussions, and evolve their own understanding of freedom and improvisation. 

Course Content
Freedom is key to improvisation. Jazz music, in particular, lends itself to freedom of form, imagination, and of expression. But 19th-century free fantasias were also highly improvised, and Baroque musicians too were expected to play freely. This course will reflect on the interplay between freedom and improvisation. 

Both freedom and improvisation are porous concepts subject to divergent and conflicting interpretations. What is freedom? What is improvisation? Are you free when no one interferes with you, when you realize your ‘true’ self, or when you actively participate in political affairs? Like freedom, the term ‘improvisation’ is used very broadly; you can ‘improvise’ anything from a trumpet solo to a political demonstration.

Throughout this course, students will develop their understanding of the complex requirements that they, as musicians, are expected to meet. They will also learn how our current expectations for improvisation, such as newness, freedom, and inventiveness, are informed by Romantic ideas of aesthetic genius and autonomy that took hold in the late-18-century (Landgraf 2014, 11). Improvisation wasn’t always tied to modern expectations of creating something new and unexpected; therefore, we will consider earlier, pre-Romantic experiences and practices of improvisation.

Apart from the cultural history of improvisation, we will examine what performers, philosophers, and political thinkers have said about improvisation and freedom. Their views on freedom and improvisation will serve as a springboard for group discussions, and they can challenge our assumptions about freedom and improvisation.

Course Details

teacher Joris Roelofs
term September-December 2024 or January-April 2025
method of instruction 3 hours a week, consisting of:
  * A group presentation led by students (30 min.)
  * Discussion/questions (60 min.)
  The group will be divided into smaller work groups. On a rotating basis, each work group will prepare a presentation about the assigned reading material.
course requirements Readings, final assignment and 80% class attendance are mandatory. A good command of the English language is needed.
final assessment Based on the material covered during this semester, students will write an essay of approx. 2,000 words exploring their personal perspectives on freedom in relation to improvisation. The arguments used must refer to at least one of the course topics discussed.
credits 5
related electivesDeveloping Creativity
  Reading Black Music – Key Texts on African-American Music