Improvising Life

On the plane from San Francisco to Toronto last Friday, I thought about folk music. I thought about Acoustic Spotlight concerts at the home of Christine and John in London. Last night I showed up.

It’s cozy in the living room – long and narrow, full of couches and chairs. I was back home again.

A gentleman came to the front with his fiddle, ready to play a mini-set with Jake Levesque on the keyboard. Martin Horak is a jolly soul with a bend to the unrehearsed. He wanted to see what two musicians could do within the mystery of improvisation. No borders here. No set schedules. Instead a whole bunch of flow, weaving together a tapestry of notes.

Martin suggested that Jake play eight chords and that the violin would meander through the sequence with a mind of its own. I marvelled at the unknown tune which emerged … a fairyland of leaning into the next moment, again and again.

Next, Martin wanted Jake to create a melody from the wisdom of his fingers, and the fiddle would respond into the spaces with harmonies and counterpoint. As they put fingers to key and string, I didn’t know what was happening in the blending: “Who is leading and who is following?” It didn’t matter. The swaying of two human beings into the composition being composed was all right by me. Clouds parted and the shining illuminated us all.

One more time, with Jake playing increasingly minor and weird chords and Martin leaning into the disharmony with tender bowstrokes. What was going on in his mind as he was taken to fields afar? I’ll never know. What was clear was the union of the two players as they ventured forth into the land of audience cringing, and then took us out the other side.

Should a musical piece resolve at the end with a major chord?
Should poetry rhyme the second and fourth lines?
Should I contain myself within convention?

Or … not?