Arts & Culture

Pair of music professors to collaborate on improvisation project

2 min read

Headed by University of Guelph English professor Ajay Heble, the international “Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice” project recently secured a $2.5 million grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Harvard affiliates Ingrid Monson, Quincy Jones Professor of African-American Music, and Jason Stanyek, visiting associate professor of music, are among the project’s research collaborators. All told, researchers representing 18 universities from across North America, Europe, and Australia will work as co-investigators on the seven-year initiative.

The project explores musical improvisation as a model for political, cultural, and ethical dialogue. The impetus for Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice stems from post-1960s forms of experimental jazz and creative improvised music that work outside traditional musical paradigms. Such forms of improvisation demand shared responsibility for participation, an ability to negotiate differences, and a willingness to accept the challenges of risk and contingency.

The project has three overall research objectives: revealing the complex structures of improvisational practices and developing an enriched understanding of the multiple social, political, and cultural functions of these practices; demonstrating the policy implications of this new and enriched understanding of improvisation for education, arts funding, intellectual property rights, and multiculturalism; and assessing claims made for the social and cultural impact of improvisation and exploring improvisation-based models for social responsibility and action.

Research will focus on issues raised by seven areas related to improvisation: law and justice; pedagogy; social policy; trans-cultural understanding; gender and the body; text and media; and social aesthetics. In addition, working closely with community partners, researchers will create outreach projects to bring world-class improvising musicians together with young people and disadvantaged groups.

The project outcomes will include 21 colloquia, a summer institute, a research-intensive Web site, five books based on the findings, policy papers, and a peer-reviewed electronic journal. A large portion of the grant will support training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.