Ed Sarath -

Educational Initiatives

1. Program in Creativity and Consciousness Studies
2. BFA in Jazz and Contemplative Studies
3. Creativity and Consciousness Course
4. Contemplative Practice Seminar
5. Integral Basic Musicianship (improvisation-based music theory and aural skills)
6. Creative Arts Orchestra
7. MM in Improvisation
8. Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation Department Mission Statement

1. Program in Creativity and Consciousness Studies

Ed Sarath, founder and coordinator
Professor of Music and Chair, Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation Studies
The University of Michigan School of Music

As the field of higher education strives to keep pace with today’s rapidly expanding knowledge base, an unprecedented need for new learning and research models arises. Students and faculty need to assimilate and synthesize important principles from diverse fields, they need to be able to adapt to change, and they need to be aware of the social and environmental ramifications of their work. In the arts, an increasingly multi-ethnic and stylistically-eclectic creative landscape requires conceptions which cut across previously sharp boundaries between processes and genres. In the sciences, the capacity to probe and manipulate the basic building blocks of life forms not only yields intriguing prospects for enhancing the quality of life, but also raises fundamental environmental and philosophical questions whose resolution may be essential to the future of society.

Two domains of inquiry which are central to addressing these issues are creativity and consciousness. Creativity pertains to the ability to adapt, assimilate, integrate and invent; in essence, to function effectively and contribute productively in our rapidly-changing world. Consciousness has to do with the nature of the mind, and particularly its capacity to experience various states of awareness. The fact that peak creative experiences often involve glimpses of transcendent states of consciousness points to a close linkage between the two domains, and suggests a complementarity between their respective types of inquiry. That meditative practices, which are a primary modality for investigating consciousness, might enliven an inner calm and heightened clarity which enhances the inventive, problem-solving activities characteristic of creative activity poses significant ramifications for education and research. Recent educational initiatives such as the Contemplative Practice Fellowship program of the American Council of Learned Societies, whose purpose is to encourage the use of meditation in higher education, are predicated on this very creativity-consciousness link. The BFA in Jazz and Contemplative Studies at UM, an offshoot of the ACLS initiative, is one of the very first full-scale curriculums based in these ideas.

The Program in Creativity and Consciousness Studies at the University of Michigan serves as a forum which unites colleagues from all fields to explore and interact around these principles. The Networkís membership currently consists of faculty from areas as diverse as biology, art, aerospace, business, medicine education, music and psychology. Monthly meetings feature dialogues and presentations which enable members to learn of each others work, which in turn open up possibilities for a wide array of collaborations across fields. These collaborations can range from faculty serving as guest speakers at each others classes, to design of new courses and curricula, to research initiatives bringing together artists, scientists and philosophers. Perhaps the most significant contribution the Network might make is the recognition that the distinctly divided fields which characterize much of academic thought can ultimately serve as entryways, rather than destinations, into an underlying realm of inquiry and experience which unifies all fields with each other and the larger spectrum of human development.

2. BFA in Jazz and Contemplative Studies Curriculum

In 1997, the American Council of Learned Societies launched the Contemplative Practice Fellowship program whose purpose is to promote the use of meditation and related disciplines in higher education. These disciplines have been central to spiritual and philosophical traditions around the world and are considered tools for cultivating insight, clarity, creativity, inner well being, compassion and a variety of other personal and transpersonal qualities. Since its inception, the ACLS program has enabled the integration of contemplative practices at over 50 colleges and universities, impacting fields as diverse as medicine, business, literature and the arts. The recently established Contemplative Law retreat program at Yale Law School is a direct outgrowth of the ACLS initiative.

These developments not only reflect the increasing interest in the contemplative realm in society; they are also supported by a growing body of related research being pursued in the scientific community. Neuroscientists have mapped physiological correlates to meditative states (Austin, Wallace, Orme-Johnson), and psychologists have systematically categorized the subjective features of these states (Maslow, Csiksentmihalyi, Wilber) and viewed them as extensions of conventional stages of cognitive and emotional development (Wilber, Alexander). The embrace of meditative practices in medical circles is well known (e.g. the National Institute of Health Office of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, of which a local counterpart exists in the University of Michigan Medical School). The world-wide Science and Medical Network, whose membership includes several Nobel laureates, and the Institute for the Noetic Sciences, founded by former astronaut Edgar Mitchell, are deeply committed to bridging mainstream science with the experiential terrain accessed through contemplative practices.

While all disciplines may be complemented by contemplative studies, jazz may be particularly well suited to this type of experience due to its improvisational core. In fact, the spontaneous and interactive nature of improvisation has often been described as a kind of meditation in action. Stephen Nachmanovitch describes peak moments in improvised music where ìartists, listeners and audience merge into a self-organizing whole, much like the ecstatic states invoked by Sufisî. The involvement of John Coltrane, John McGlaughlin, Paul Horn and many other jazz artists in contemplative disciplines is well known. In recent years, pianist Kenny Werner has emerged as a leading proponent in this regard.

A central feature of the curriculum is the wide-ranging continuum, which connects the contemplative domain with conventional areas of jazz study. The BFA in Jazz and Contemplative Studies curriculum has the support of a crossdisciplinary contingent of faculty members within the University community whose conventional expertise is complemented by experience with contemplative disciplines and philosophies. At one end of the spectrum meditation practice will be facilitated by the Contemplative Practice Seminar course. A corresponding body of classes will deal with the wide-ranging historical, cultural, philosophical, and cognitive issues related to contemplative experience. A rigorous grounding in jazz studies rounds out the program, which, in bridging disciplines, cultures, and university-community relations, exemplifies the unifying values of the art form itself. For more information click here for the University of Michigan web page

3. Creativity and Consciousness course


WED 5:30-730

Course description

What might the engineer, biologist and athlete have in common with the sculptor, the poet and the jazz improviser? This course explores the idea that creative processes in seemingly disparate disciplines may share a common basis in the transformations in consciousness–also termed “peak experience”, or “transcendence”–which are reported by individuals engaged in a wide range of activities. The connecting principle is the self-referential, integrative nature of consciousness, as captured in Lord Krishna’s statement in the Bhagavad Gita: “Curving back on my self, I create again and again.”  In meditation, this curving back manifests in the merging of the personal self with an unbounded, oceanic experience of wholeness. In action, this curving back enables, in peak moments, an extraordinary flow, and both optimal access to one’s internal reservoir of skills and concepts, as well as freedom from conditioned use of those resources.

The course will combine meditative exercises, creative exercises, readings and discussions which explore the inner mechanics of how consciousness is transformed from an ordinary to a heightened state. A variety of philosophies of consciousness will be considered, ranging from materialist/reductionist perspectives which view consciousness as a byproduct of matter, to the idealist vantage point in which consciousness is the primary ësubstanceí of the universe out of which all creation emerges. A special consideration is made of compelling (yet generally marginalized in academia) empirical research done at Princeton and elsewhere on anomalous phenomena (e.g. ESP, remote viewing, precognition) which suggests the existence of a nonlocal, field aspect of consciousness. We will also consider Dr. Ian Stevenson’s empirical studies on reincarnation, and studies suggesting that collective meditation may result in possible harmonizing effects on the environment.

Among the other themes taken up are the relationship of creativity and consciousness on human relationship, environment and ecology, education, the art-science-religion relationship, and change.

One of the features of the class many students have found most appealing in the past has been the wide diversity of students who participate, and the insights one gains about oneís own discipline from having the opportunity to reflect on the ideal conditions and obstacles to creativity from diverse perspectives.

4. Contemplative Practice Seminar course


WED 5:30-730

Meditation and related disciplines have been central to a wide array of philosophical and spiritual traditions throughout history. These disciplines have been regarded as essential tools for developing levels of insight, intuition, awareness–and a host of other intellectual and creative faculties–which often elude the largely analytical approaches of conventional educational systems. This class will take a step rarely taken in higher education and combine direct contemplative experience with an analytical consideration of the mechanics of contemplative experience and its role in overall human creative, spiritual and intellectual growth.

While each class session will involve a collective meditation practice, instruction in such practices will not be a part of the course. Rather, students already involved in a regular practice will continue their practice, and those who have not yet found a practice will be directed to the considerable resources in the Ann Arbor area which provide this type of instruction. Class size will be limited, and priority will be given to students already involved in, or interesting in pursuing, a regular practice. In that the course is rooted in a highly ecumenical view of contemplative traditions, a spirit of openess and respect will be essential for all participants.

Students interested should contact Ed Sarath (sarahara@umich.edu) via email (much preferable) or phone 734.763-1321 and provide the following information:

1.Name, major, year in university, email.
2. Briefly describe why you are interested in this course.
3. Have you had experience with meditation or contemplative practices (what kind of practice, how long have you been practicing, how regular)?
4. If not, are you interested in learning and pursuing a regular practice, at least for the length of the term involved?

5. Integral Basic Musicianship (improvisation-based music theory and aural skills

The IBM course is an improvisation-based alternative to conventional music theory and aural skills training designed by UM faculty member Ed Sarath. Second-year students can opt to take the course instead of the regular sophomore theory and aural skills track. The course integrates a trans-stylistic approach to improvisation, composition, keyboard skills, harmony, melody, aural skills, rhythm and analysis within a hands-on format which utilizes resources from diverse musical traditions. Students bring their instruments to class, and they improvise, compose, sing and play all concepts covered at the keyboard as well on their major instruments. Rhythmic training utilizes principles from African, South Indian and Brazilian music. Improvisation is undertaken in jazz, globally-influenced, contemporary classical and figured bass styles. Harmonic training draws from Jazz and European classical music, with keyboard realization as the primary learning vehicle. Students learn to be pianistically ‘bilingual’–able to play contemporary jazz/pop chord symbols, and baroque figured bass ‘chord changes’. This integration of jazz and classical sources is also central to the writing component of the class, where as an alternative to the four-part chorale context which is central to much theory training, the class uses a keyboard-style written approach which, in fact, is rooted in both baroque and jazz traditions.

6. Creative Arts Orchestra

The Program in Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation at The University of Michigan School of Music has been designed to reflect the eclectic and global trends which increasingly characterize our musical world. The Creative Arts Orchestra is one of the many courses and ensembles offered by the program which embody this vision. Utilizing strings, double-reeds as well as instruments more commonly associated with improvised music, the Creative Arts Orchestra’s musical horizons encompass jazz, rock, contemporary concert music, and myriad ethnically influenced musics, as well as collaborations with dancers, poets, and actors. While part of the ensemble’s programming includes compositions of students and faculty, the 20-25 member group is one of the very few ensembles of its size in the world which performs entirely improvised concerts, with no parameters set forth in advance. The group presents several concerts per year of this nature.

The Creative Arts Orchestra’s CD, Strata, has been received favorably, Cadence magazine calling the disc an example of “what spontaneity brings forth when highly skilled students are left to their own devices. These students have learned a feel for interaction which other programs only touch upon. Projects like this keep jazz education from belonging to the strictly conservative camp”. Fred Sturm of the Eastman School of Music described the Creative Arts Orchestra as “a fresh and vital alternative (within) a national jazz education universe that is still dominated by the traditional big band. Within a single performance, Ed Sarath and his charges draw upon their collective artistic influences to create music with multiple histories. One can only imagine the possibilities that will come forth from this unique ensemble.”

The Creative Arts Orchestra has performed at New York’s Knitting Factory, with Gregg Bendian as featured soloist; the Detroit-Montreux Jazz Festival, the International Association of Jazz Educators Chicago conference, the Eastman School of Music, Cornell University and Humber College.

7. Master of Music in Improvisation

This graduate degree program has recently been ranked 7th nationally by U.S. News and World Report, and offers students a systematic approach to contemporary improvisation. The program includes an innovative approach to rhythmic training which draws from midEastern, African and Indian concepts, focus on interactive skills in eclectic improvisatory formats, as well as advanced jazz improvisation techniques. In addition to the Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation requirements, ample electives in the program allow students to pursue areas of interest in addition among the most popular of which are the exceptional courses in ethnomusicology, composition and technology offered at the University of Michigan.

8. Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation Department Mission Statement

Art forms evolve through the interplay of two contrasting, yet complementary forces-the ongoing quest for new possibilities, and the continual inquiry into past forms and practices. When this present-past interplay is structured at the heart of artistic training, students not only gain optimal mastery of skills and concepts within their field, they also experience their field as a vehicle for a broader, cross-disciplinary exploration. The Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation at The University of Michigan has harnessed these principles and emerged as a leading new educational voice. Combining the finest in traditional jazz training with systematic study of jazz’s eclectic offshoots, along with innovative, interdisciplinary options which are at the cutting edge of pedagogical thought, the department offers students a variety of educational pathways few schools can match.

Jazz and its creative foundations are the vehicle; the rich musical and extra-musical resources of one of the world’s leading academic institutions are the terrain.

We invite you to consider joining us in this exciting journey!