Initiatives

International Society for Improvised Music
Founder, President

ISIM promotes performance, education, and research in improvised music, and illuminates connections between musical improvisation and creativity across fields.

Melding diverse cultures, ethnicities, disciplines, and ideas that shape society at large, today’s musical world is increasingly characterized by creative expressions that transcend conventional style categories.

Improvisation is a core aspect of this global confluence of this eclectic musical activity. Initially used to describe jazz and its offshoots, improvised music now encompasses a broad spectrum of formats-from computer music and multi-media collaborations to string quartets, bebop bands and multiethnic fusion.

Improvisation is spontaneous interaction between musicians from the most disparate backgrounds, dissolution of boundaries between performers and listeners, and access to the transcendent dimensions of creative experience. Improvisation is at the heart of a new musical paradigm that uniquely reflects contemporary life.

Musical improvisation sheds light on creativity in many fields, as corporate executives, educators, athletes, medical professionals and other practitioners recognize an improvisatory core to success and fulfillment in their respective disciplines. ISIM brings together artists, listeners, teachers, industry professionals, and researchers, to further the growth and understanding of improvisation in our educational systems and society at large.

The Alliance for the Transformation of Musical Academe (ATMA)

The basic idea behind ATMA—which translates as “soul”—is to connect music studies with the innermost dimensions of consciousness through creativity-rich and culturally diverse musical foundations.

As with the overarching Jazz Cosmos network, ATMA is grounded in principles of an emergent, consciousness-based worldview called Integral Theory.

An integral music studies paradigm invites an entirely new vision for 21st century artistry, pedagogy, diversity, social justice and a range of further topics—including spirituality, environment and peace—that are of importance in today’s world.

Consortium for Consciousness Studies in Higher Education (CCSHE)

CCSHE seeks to help guide the establishment of consciousness studies as a foundational area of study in the 21st century academy. Viewing itself at the intersection of burgeoning consciousness studies and contemplative studies movements, CCSHE strives to take this work further through the following angles:

  • Advocacy of grounding meditation and related practice in robust theoretical accounts of the nature of consciousness, its development, and the relationship of individual consciousness to the cosmic wholeness in order to usher in a new, integral worldview for humanity.
  • Shifts the onus when it comes to defining consciousness from neutral, if not privileged status of materialist viewpoints to the centering of a nondual, integral worldview. Consciousness is not a byproduct of the physical, it is primary in the cosmic order. This is not to categorically rule out materialist arguments, but to alter the backdrop against which such arguments are made.
  • Recognition of the arts, and particularly improvised musical art as not only powerful vehicles for heightened consciousness, but also important sources of ontological insight in the quest to understand consciousness. To reiterate a key ICC precept; human beings are co-evolutionary participants in the improvisatory cosmic unfolding.
  • To use the improvisation/arts-inspired, nondual understanding of consciousness as a format to sustain a conversation about contemporary spirituality of unprecedented scope and inclusivity. Aiming to transcend denominational, ideological and political divisions, this conversation will engage individuals from contemplative lineages, indigenous traditions, religious faith traditions, adherents to a spiritual-but-not-religious identity, and beyond to celebrate common ground, critically interrogate points of difference, and above all recognize that the primacy of spirit is where humanity and all life most profoundly unites and is the basis for navigating the present juncture in the history of the world.
  • Recognize the growing volume of research into the physically transcendent, nonlocal, and intersubjective dimensions of consciousness—research that is often uncritically dismissed due to its paradigmatically challenging nature—as essential to the understanding of the human being and human potential, and thus essential to the future of the academy and society.
  • Integrate a robust social justice/social activism thrust within the improvisatory/arts-driven consciousness revolution. This enables emergent consciousness studies work to intersect with, yet also expand the horizons of the activism that has long been prominent on college campuses.
  • Promote awareness of what improvisatory-art driven, consciousness-based inquiry and engagement has to offer approaches to environmental sustainability.
  • Promote awareness of what improvisatory-art driven, consciousness-based inquiry and engagement has to offer approaches to peace.  
JAZZ COSMOS Think Tank

Jazz Cosmos Think Tank brings together thought leaders from a broad sector of society—including business, government, education, arts, humanities, medicine, sciences, religion, and social and environmental activism—to engage in far-reaching visioning around an integral revolution in creativity and consciousness that is inspired by jazz and its improvisatory and spiritual foundations.

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

675/455

WED 5:30-730
2 CREDITS
ROOM 2058, MOORE (SCHOOL OF MUSIC, N. CAMPUS)

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

675/450

WED 5:30-730
2 CREDITS
ROOM 2058, MOORE (SCHOOL OF MUSIC, N. CAMPUS)

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!

Diversity in Musical Acadame

Bridging Tradition and Change, Sustaining Breadth and Excellence, Assuming Global Multi-Cultural Leadership

Diversity in Musical Academe (DMA) is a joint initiative of the International Society for Improvised Music and the National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan.  The purpose of the DMA project is to sustain dialogue and generate practical initiatives that help the field of musical study expand its demographic and creative horizons in response to the ever-expanding horizons of the contemporary musical landscape.

The project may be summarized in terms of three basic principles:

  1. Music is ubiquitous among the world’s cultures and unmatched in its capacities to inspire, inform, and catalyze diversity efforts in education and society.  The diversity of the musical landscape is a direct reflection of the diversity of the global cross-cultural landscape.
  2. Academic musical study, however,  finds itself conspicuously distanced from the overarching diversity of musical practice and the world at large, thus limiting its capacities to assume a much-needed leadership in the diversity movement  both within and beyond the arts.
  3. Through constructive dialogue and carefully-planned initiatives for reform, a more diversified student and faculty population combined with an expanded approach to musical study will cultivate a skill and aptitude set that enables musicians to not only move freely across wide ranging contemporary genres, but also penetrate deeply into those areas of the musical world—including the treasures of the past that lie at the heart of all traditions—that are most meaningful and fulfilling to their artistic development.

Commentary:

Even after a half-century of appeals for reform, musical academe remains immune to the foundational kinds of change needed if musical study is to adequately align itself with the musical world.  While the counter-argument is sometimes made to the effect that—with the addition in recent decades of coursework and programs in jazz, music technology, popular music, and world music—the field has indeed achieved a fair degree of diversity, this overlooks the important fact that hands-on engagement in these newer areas is usually relegated to the curricular fringes.  The majority of music majors continues to graduate with little or no direct contact with music outside the European classical tradition and its offshoots.  The problem is not European classical music, the beauty and importance of which is beyond dispute, but the extent to which it has assumed centrality, at the expense of much other beautiful and important music.

The guiding impetus for the DMA initiative is the conviction that the expansion of the horizons of musical study need not be seen as a threat or compromise to the conventional  model, but as a means for enabling the entire field to take its next evolutionary strides.  A key principle here is that the core creative and integrative processes of improvisation and composition provide a comprehensive and integrated foundation that, when complemented by rigorous training in performance and various areas of craft and musical understanding (e.g. theory, aural skills, history, aesthetics, cognition), enable a kind of musicianship that enables musicians to thrive in whatever  areas of music-making they might choose.  Through the synergistic interplay of these diverse areas, a skill set emerges that enables the wide-ranging engagement called for in our times as well as an awareness of the interior workings of music that illuminates both the profound connecting threads, as well as rich distinctions, that run across the many lineages that comprise the global musical landscape.

If progress in this direction is to be made, a new kind of dialogue is needed, one that diffuses the tensions between the contrasting musical worldviews that prevail with informed, nuanced, and unifying perspectives.  The fact that an improvisation/composition-based approach is, perhaps ironically, both strongly rooted in the European tradition—Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Lizst and many of the musicians of their times were improvisers-composers—as well as contemporary practice provides an important point of departure for productive dialogue.  Also needed are corresponding practical initiatives, including new curricular models that bridge conventional and new terrain, as well as strategies for diversifying student and faculty constituencies.

Through a multi-pronged approach to diversity, a new era in musical study will be possible in which music schools continue their long-standing mission of preserving the treasures of the European past as well as fully embrace the multitude of contemporary developments.

The second DMA Think Tank will be held on Dec 4, 2010 at the University of Michigan, ,     Rackham Building, 4th Floor, West Conference Room, 9am-1pm

Please consider joining us in this exciting and important work.

Practical initiatives:

DMA Think Tanks

These annual events bring together colleagues from different institutions to probe

the opportunities and challenges related to diversifying musical study.  The first

DMA Think Tank took place at the University of California, Santa Cruz in December 2009.  The second Think Tank will be held on December 4, 2010, from 9-1pm at the University of Michigan.

DMA Curricular Task Force

This group is charged with exploring areas in the conventional music curriculum in

which openings for expansion might be identified.  This task force also explores

possibilities for new models of coursework and overall curricular structure.

DMA Demographic Task Force

This group explores ways in which student and faculty populations may be made more diverse.

Other DMA activities involve assessment of diversity indicators (e.g. curricular, faculty and student demographics, tenure and promotion representation) nationally and internationally, and alliances with diversity offices and initiatives across fields, within education and government.

For more information, please contact:

Professor Ed Sarath

School of Music, Theatre, and Dance

Creativity and Consciousness Seminars

Ed Sarath is available for keynote talks, lectures, workshops, and seminars that:

● Unlock the creative potential that fuels success and fulfillment in all fields

● Build teamwork and community through hands-on experiences.

● Approach creativity as a transformational process.

Ideal for sports teams, educational organizations, and business groups!

At the core of all human creativity is an integrated state of consciousness, which in optimal creative performance is sometimes described as “flow”, “peak experience” or “transcendence”. Features of these states include mental clarity, inner joy and calm ­ even amidst the most intensive activity, mind-body coordination, heightened intuition and insights, adaptability and spontaneity. When individuals can tap into these states on a consistent basis, they gain more fulfillment from their work and see it as means not just for individual success, but for contributing to the world at large.

Ed Sarath’s Creativity and Consciousness seminars provide hands-on, practical exercises that provide glimpses of heightened states, and methods for cultivating them in one’s work and life. These include meditation practices, rhythmic exercises (designed for individuals with no musical training), and improvisational games.  The exercises are not only fun, but they also cultivate a sense of community among participants.  The seminars also provide easy-to-grasp theoretical concepts that enable participants to understand the inner mechanics of heightened creativity and consciousness.

Ed Sarath has utilized these techniques with athletes, business practitioners, musicians and individuals in a wide variety of disciplines. He has appeared at The University of Michigan’s Business School, Harvard Business School, The Forge Institute, and the Program on Negotiation.