You never know when improvisation skills are going to come in handy.
Here’s a funny story from a recent gig. I was playing some background music through a Bose L1 linear array PA, which is just totally awesome to play through. But I digress.
While I was playing, I started to hear some other music across the room. I didn’t listen hard at first, but it was so loud that it was stepping on what I was doing so I decided I should pay attention. Turns out that I was hearing someone’s ringtone.
Luckily, it wasn’t all that annoying. It was some kind of music that included bird songs and a wood block of some kind, so it had a good beat (but you couldn’t dance to it, so I only gave it a 37). Not only was it loud, but it went on for a good 2 minutes, maybe more. So I’m sitting there with really strong competition and of course, no one is dealing with the offending phone. A few people searched for the source of the noise, and a few commented on whose phone it might be, but no one actually did anything. What to do? I came up with 3 options:
- Play really loud and try to win the battle
- Stop playing and wait for it to finish
- Improvise around the sound
As you can probably guess, I chose option #3 and it worked pretty darn well. I was getting into it and things were sounding pretty good when the phone finally gave up. Interestingly, while just about everyone in the room noticed and commented on the phone’s noise, no one noticed that I was working with the sound to create something new. I will take the high road and assume that means I was doing a perfect job of providing background music, rather than being disappointed that nobody was listening.
The moral? Improvisation isn’t something you set aside time to work on, either in life or in music. It’s something you have to be able to use whenever the need arises. And even if nobody else notices when you go with the flow and create a smooth groove, at least you know you did it and that you can do it again the next time.
NOTE: This doesn’t mean that I am encouraging people to leave their phones on during performances. Although it does give me an idea to add to my improv workshops…