In days of yore, the ability to realize figured bass was a common skill among keyboard players. Today, it is only a specialist that can do this spontaneously. I will often draw the comparisons between a harpsichordist realizing a continuo part to what a piano player in a quartet is doing behind a soloist. This always seems to make things clearer for students who aren't versed in the performance practices of modern jazz but to me it begs the question "why does improvisation have to either belong to jazz today or baroque then?" Of course this is a big generalization and exceptions abound, but how many everyday students of music have improvisation as a part of their daily experience? I am so encouraged in speaking to many music educators today who are:
a. Not afraid of improvisation, themselves.
b. Making improvisation something that all of their students can experience.
My son is a cello player and his experience in his school orchestra is typical of of most music education programs. A VERY GOOD experience, but very traditionally based. He is lucky that his private instructor (and his dad, too...) encourages improvisation and composition based on some of the things he is studying (scales, arpeggios etc...). I have noticed that the material he improvises on becomes much more internalized than material that he just reads. Of course, for many of us, this is no news at all but when I see how much more fun he has while improvising I can't imagine why it is not a part of all music curriculums.
I know I am being very naive and I further know and utterly respect the tireless work of elementary and secondary music educators. I give thanks every day that people like Dan Pritchett (my old high school band director) continue to do what they do everyday. I very humbly pose these questions to any music educator who may be reading:
1. How can we integrate improvisation into the mainstream of music education for all musicians in all styles?
2. How can those of us not directly involved in middle/high school music education help?
3. Not a question, but: Thank you for everything you do to bring music to the future...