I was fortunate enough to recently attend the Creative Ability Development Workshop in Ventura, California, in large part due to Andrea Landin '13 (pictured below), Alice Kanack, and the New England Conservatory. So what is Creative Ability Development (CAD) and how is it useful in the El Sistema context?
CAD has been developed by Alice Kanack for the last thirty years, and her explanation of it is this: "A method which uses musical improvisation as a tool to develop the creative side of the brain. Its pedagogical purpose is to teach unique self expression or musicality. Its philosophical purpose is to develop the ethical character of artistry in every student, which is the search for, and expression of, truth and beauty. It is learning to create together and to share ideas. It creates in each student a non-competitive internal drive for excellence."
My experience at the workshop immediately reflected that definition, in meaningful and inspiring ways. I don’t know that I can fully capture all of the deep learning that happened on a personal and professional level for myself and my new colleagues. But for the purposes of tangible tools to share, here is an example of a CAD game that could be utilized in a classroom, without much background knowledge needed.The version below is very simple, but can be expanded upon based on the age or musical experience of the students.
Soccer: The purpose, as explained in Kanack’s Improvising String Quartets book, is to provide a way for players to both communicate their musical ideas to each other, and to change roles during an improvised piece, using their eyes and ears to communicate.
Players sit in a circle with or without instruments. Someone creates the “ball” with a musical gesture - in the book she mentions pizzicato glissandi with random pitches. Students must use eye contact to pass the ball randomly to each other. Further variations can include having a “rhythm machine” (2-3 students playing the same rhythm with different pitches or articulations) while everyone else plays melodic phrases (the ball) that are improvised and passed around within a predetermined key or set of pitches.
I found that I had utilized aspects of CAD in small ways in my classroom before. But as a classically trained musician, it was helpful to have the skills of improvisation or creative collaboration scaffolded and presented from a classical teacher’s perspective, for students of all levels who are initially learning in a classical context. Students are given the opportunity to immediately express their own voice while strengthening the technical and creative goals of the teacher and students. This has implications for classroom engagement and dynamics, community building, expression of self, and what kind of success we are helping each other find. If you have any questions or would like more resources related to CAD, please feel free to contact me!
Megan Moran, Sistema Fellow '14 (firstname.lastname@example.org)