Improvising at the Heart of Creativity

Improvising at the heart of creativity: a global concern?

Estonian Graduate School of Culture Studies and Arts (GSCSA)

Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, A-103, Tallinn


Seminar aims to expand the creative reflection using improvisation as an universal method of thinking. The lecturers of the seminar Helena Gaunt, Bart van Rosmalen and Raymond MacDonald intend through different activities (conversations, music etc) explore new possibilities to do research.

Seminar is aimed for Ph.D. students of GSCSA in various fields of art research. Participants will be active and will need to bring instruments where possible. However, no musical experience is required, both virtuosi and non-instrumentalists may attend the course.

Upon full partcipation in the study programme students will be awarded 2 ECTS points. Students are expected to do prepratory reading in order to participate in the seminar.

The language of the seminar is English.

A course fee is not required. There will be no reimbursement for accomodation or travel costs except for the students enrolled in the GSCSA programme.


Registration is closed

For additional information please contact Aleksandra Dolgopolova do


Wed, August 31th (A-103)

09.15 – 09.30 Opening of seminar

09.30 – 11.00 Helena Gaunt & Bart van Rosmalen

11.00 – 11.15 Coffee break

11.15 – 12.30 Helena Gaunt & Bart van Rosmalen

12.30 – 13.30 Lunch

15.15 – 16.45 Raymond MacDonald

Thu, September 1st (A-103)

09.30 – 11.00 Helena Gaunt & Bart van Rosmalen

11.00 – 11.15 Coffee break

11.15 – 12.30 Helena Gaunt & Bart van Rosmalen

12.30 – 13.30 Lunch

15.15 – 16.45 Raymond MacDonald

Fr, September 2nd (A-103)

09.30 – 11.00 Helena Gaunt & Bart van Rosmalen

11.00 – 11.15 Coffee break

11.15 – 12.30 Helena Gaunt & Bart van Rosmalen

12.30 – 13.30 Lunch

15.15 – 16.45 Raymond MacDonald

21.00 – 23.00 Closing concert and party

Helena Gaunt and Bart van Rosmalen

Increasingly improvisation is being understood as central to the process of creativity, and the skills of improvisers are sought after across many professions as well as in the performing arts (Sawyer, 2007). Our particular interest is in exploring improvisation that moves between music and the arts on the one hand, and conversation on the other hand. This allows for a strong reflective element around the creative process, so increasing the ability to make sense of improvisation practices. It also enables transformation of conversational processes, often bringing a stronger creative dimension to them. By moving between artistic and conversational improvisation, our work opens up potential to explore improvisation as a shared part of professional expertise, for example with nurses, teachers, business people, and to use improvisation as a tool to catalyse innovation at an interdisciplinary level (Gaunt and van Rosmalen 2007; Gaunt 2009).

This workshop will open up the process of improvisation/conversation, exploring practical approaches and exercises, discussing specific projects undertaken, and considering the possible use of the model in different contexts. Participants will be active and will need to bring instruments where possible.
Helena Gaunt, oboe player and Assistant Principal (Research and Academic Development) at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London. She is a National Teaching Fellow (2009). Helena’s research focus is one-to-one instrumental/vocal tuition and on improvisation as a component of expertise across disciplines. Publications include articles for Psychology of Music and the British Journal of Music Education, and a forthcoming chapter “Individuality in the learning of musical skills” for Oxford University Press. She has been active in promoting professional development opportunities for teachers in conservatoires, and she directed the Reflective Conservatoire Conference: Apprentices and Sorcerers? at the Guildhall School in February 2006, and a second Reflective Conservatoire Conference: Building Connections in February/March 2009. She was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship by the Higher Education Academy in 2009.

Bart van Rosmalen is lector at the Royal Conservatoire in the Hague and director of Walter Maas Huis, house for cultural and professional development. “I am a free improvising cellist and director of small scale music-theatre performances. I work also as a consultant and trainer in the wider field of society with all kinds of organisations in arts, science and business. As lector (associate professor) on the subject ‘teacher of the 21th century’ I was leading a research programme for 4 years at the Royal Conservatoire in the Hague. As part of the lectorate I initiated together with Helena Gaunt (Guildhall) the international programme for professional development of teachers at higher music education that is called The Innovative Conservatoire. Starting from actual play and improvisation we work in lots of different working forms on developing practice based research in the field of teaching and learning. Now 28 institutions in Europe are partners. These days I am about to finish my PhD with the title’ play it first and talk about it later’. The title is a paraphrase of a famous qoutation by Miles Davis. It expresses the heart of my method in teaching, coaching and consulting. My research in this books looks for new ways to integrate ‘creativity, play, physical awareness and knowledge, form, artistic identity’ in the whole of our professionality. A part of the book is related
to the case of The Innovative Conservatoire. Improvisation is the constant
undertow in most of this. I love to contribute to the seminar ‘improvisation
at the heart of creativity: a global concern’ in Tallinn in 2011.”

Raymond MacDonald

These workshops aim to develop new ways of collaborating and thinking creatively in music by exploring a number of improvisational techniques. They shall demonstrate how improvisation is a unique, creative social process that that be used to stimulate collaboration with musicians from very different backgrounds and cultures. The sessions will explore contemporary notions of improvisation focusing on important aspects that help enhance understandings of musical creativity and improvisational practise. (and they will be great fun too!)

Raymond MacDonald is Professor of Music Psychology and Improvisation at Glasgow Caledonian University. After completing his PhD at the University of Glasgow, investigating therapeutic applications of music, he worked as artistic director for a music company, Sounds of Progress, specialising in working with people who have special needs. His ongoing research focuses on issues relating to improvisation, musical communication, music health and wellbeing, music education and musical identities. He studies the processes and outcomes of music participation and music listening. This work contributes to debates highlighting the ubiquitous importance of music. He runs music workshops and lectures internationally and has published over 60 peer reviewed papers and book chapters. He has also co-edited four texts, Musical Identities (2002) Musical Communication (2005), Musical Imaginations (in press) and Music Health & Wellbeing (in press) and is currently editor of the journal Psychology of Music and associate editor for Musicae Scientiae, The International Journal of Music Education, Jazz Research Journal and Research Studies in Music Education. As a saxophonist and composer he has toured and broadcast worldwide and his recorded output can be heard on over 40 CDs and he performs internationally with some of the world’s leading improvising musicians including Evan Parker, Keith Tippett, Marilyn Crispell, George Lewis and Barry Guy. He is a founder member of The Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra (‘the premier league of the international improvisation scene’, Süddeutsche Zeitung).

Preparatory reading:

MacDonald R.A.R, Miell D & Hargreaves D.J. EDS (2002). Musical Identities Oxford: Oxford University Press.

MacDonald, R.A.R. and Wilson, G.B. (2005) Musical identities of professional jazz musicians: a focus group investigation. Psychology of Music 33(4): 395-417.

MacDonald, R.A.R. and Wilson, G.B. (2006). Constructions of jazz: how jazz musicians present their collaborative musical practice. Musicae Scientiae 10(1): 59-83.

Huizinga, J. (1955) Homo ludens: A study of play-element in culture. Boston: Beacon Press. Chapter 1.

Système pédagogique d’Anto Pett : présentation et entretien sur l’improvisation avec Etienne Rolin = Anto Pett’s teaching system : a presentation followed by an interview on improvisation with Etienne Rolin. (2007) Courlay: Fuzeau. Available in EAMT.Advisable:

Stevens, J. (2007) Search and reflect – A music workshop handbook. London: Rock School Limited.

Bohm, D. (1998) On creativity. London: Routledge.

The intensive seminar will be held during the third session of the LLP Erasmus intensive project “Innovative Approaches in Integrating Music Education and Cultural Management” that takes place August 23rd – September 2nd 2011 in Tallinn

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GSCSA is financed by the EU Social Fund.