Art School Teacher: Creative Habit Class, Improvised

Not feeling up for what I have planned, I ask the students if they would rather watch videos than do activities.

But now they are curious.  What kind of activities? they ask.

I don't feel up to explaining, so we just do them.


(as experienced by the audience and performers before a Lawrence University concert that blended movement, writings of ethnomusicologists, and improvised soundscapes)

Stand in a circle, shoulder to shoulder, and pass a sound, person to person, 
letting it change as it moves though you.  
No representational sounds - no words, no animal noises.

One student says he's nervous.

"Why do we get so nervous when asked to make sounds?" I wonder.

"Because we might make an embarrassing one," he says.

So the bold girl makes some embarrassing sounds and we all laugh.

And they do it!, though it keeps breaking down at the most introverted girl who is so pained by the prospect that all she can do is shrug and mumble, "I don't know."


(as imagined the hour before class, wanting to honor a student's suggestion that we all bring in objects this week and wanting to experiment with sound and movement since we so often stick to paper and pen)

Choose an object.
Make up a sound for the object.  
Practice the sound until you are comfortable with it.  
Carrying the object, walk around the room making only the sound of the object.  
When you encounter someone, without talking, teach each other the sounds of your objects.  
Trade objects.  
Walk around with your new object and new sound.  
Continue trading.

They do it!, though the most introverted girl is still so pained that the sound for every object she gets turns into a very quiet "hm?"


Add a movement to go with the sound for the object. 
Walk around trading objects, sounds, and movements with those you encounter.

All is going great, but I'm worrying that they will get bored, wondering perhaps as I am, where is this going?  I cut the activity short and then lose my chutzpah to keep going with the plan to combine objects into compositions; still-lifes with the objects and movement sound sculptures with our bodies.


Instead we sit down and I ask them, what can we do with these objects, sounds, movements?  One girl says we could take one object and stand in a circle and pass the object around and everyone can make a new sound for it.  We try it but abandon it after one round.


Another girl suggests that we make a story, each person adding one word as we go around a circle.  A non sequitor, yes, but everyone seems enthusiastic about the idea.  So we go around adding one word at a time and quickly have a very silly and nonsensical story about a cat, an octopus, a cookie, and a priest.  Everyone seems to enjoy it, except for the terribly shy girl who shrugs every time she must add a word until someone gives her a suggestion which she repeats so quietly, no one can hear.

After several times around, afraid to lose the tenuous hold we have on a story, I wonder if its best to now stop.  The students agree.


But there are still ten minutes left of class.  So I pass out index cards and suggest that we each draw a character from the silly story we collectively wrote.


We put all the portraits in a row on the table and look at them.  No one has anything to say about it, so we stand in silence.

I ask if any of them listen to Welcome to Night Vale which I happened to hear for the first time last week. The bold girl throws both her hands into the air and squeals that she LOVES Welcome to Night Vale.  I don't know why, but in some obtuse way, this reminds me of that.  The bold girl frowns.  The others just shrug.  The introverted girl sits with her head hanging, her hair covering her face.  And then the bell rings.

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