Starting a musical conversation: EOU introduces improv ensemble

LA GRANDE, Ore. – A gap in ensemble options led the music department at Eastern Oregon University to create a new performing group. Starting fall term, students of all skill levels can share their musical strengths in “Music Improv Group,” listed as MUS 195.

Music professor and saxophonist Greg Johnson performs in a variety of musical improvisation groups, and will lead the ensemble as its instructor. In this student-led class, musicians can develop their technique with guidance from Johnson.

“It’s not just my masterplan, it is theirs as well,” he said. “I want to throw the rules out of the window and see what students can come up with.”

Students in the course can dig into their interests, whether that’s reading chord charts, writing music, composing solos or expanding their knowledge of different genres. Once a style has been selected, correlating guest artists will accompany students.

Based on student-driven interests, Johnson plans to provide an introduction of the music style and send students to discover their own sound.

“What you find out, is that even though we come from different places, we share the same respect and desire for the music,” Johnson said. “At its best, improvisation is really just a conversation — a human experience that can be very powerful.”

Johnson expressed how difficult it can be to continue making music after college.

“The skills involved in collective improvisation are the skills you need to continue music after college,” he said. “Improvisation is an instantaneous composition and once you understand how the pieces go together, you can develop tools to continue your own music.”

Vocalists and musicians of all specialties are welcome. Reading music is not required, but students must bring their own instruments. Bass, piano and drums will be available.

The class will take place in Groth Recital Hall (Loso Hall, Room 126) every Tuesday and Thursday from 11 to 11:50 a.m., and provides APC credit. For music students, the course (#35137 in the catalog) fulfills the requirement for MUS 320.

For more information, contact John McKinnon at jmckinno@eou.edu or 541-962-3592.

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