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THE DREA WAGNER AWARD FOR BEST DEMONSTRATION OF GENUINELY SPONTANEOUS IMPROVISATION IN ANY STYLE (SOLO OR PIANO ENSEMBLE)


To qualify for this prize, students must evince real-time spontaneous improvisation with some degree of chance or randomness. Preferably, this should involve some input from and/or collaboration with the judges. Contestant may be soloist or collaborate with other students and/or judges on 1, 2 or 3 pianos (3rd piano contingent on availability).

This is a new prize category, inspired by two exceptionally creative students, Lauren Danforth and Emma McKinch, who included the following on their 2013 duet program:

• IMPROVISATION: REALIZATION OF A HARMONIC STRUCTURE CHOSEN BY THE JUDGES. IN THE KEY OF F, C, OR G, USING I, II, IV, V, AND/OR VI.

Emma also included these demonstrations on her solo program:

• IMPROVISATION ON IMAGES SELECTED BY THE JUDGES
• IMPROVISATION ON A 3-5-NOTE MOTIVE (WHITE KEYS) SELECTED BY THE JUDGES

Hats off to these brave young ladies (and their teacher, Drea Wagner) for making festival history! Since these intrepid feats of musicianship did not align very well with any existing 2013 prize category, this new "Spontaneous Improvisation" prize category was created. We hope many students will try their hand at competing for this wonderful new prize.



Other examples of demonstrations that might earn students this prize:

• Improvise on an extra-musical scene selected by the judges (not revealed in advance)

• Improvise in the key of either C, F, or G (judges' choice) using I, II, IV & V chords (judges may choose some or all of these)

• Improvise in jazz or "classical" style (judge's choice) using I, IV & V chords

• Improvise in C Major on a spontaneous blues pattern played by one of the judges on a second piano (or as a duet - 1 piano, 4 hands - with one of the judges)

• Improvise on a 4, 5, or 6-note motive (white keys) selected by the judges

• Improvise on a 3, 4, or 5-note motive (black keys) in which the 1st and last notes are selected by the judge and the other notes are selected by the contestant

• Improvise on an image or mood starting with the letter "___" (letter determined by judges). (Or: Student determines the letter, but judge picks mood or image starting with that letter.)

• Improvise on a simple "fake" chart (not revealed in advance, except perhaps for broad description of parameters - key, types of chord such as I, IV V, etc.). [Judges & Director will have fake charts handy for this if requested.]

• Sight-read and improvise on a short melody notated on a one-line "staff" by one of the judges. (Fill out harmonies? Vary rhythms, meter, etc?) See Houle's It's Easy to Improvise.

• Demonstrate randomly selected elements from one of the highly recommended Flip for Improvisation* books by Christine J. Schumann: Flip for Improvisation--Pictures in Sound (in 3 books):

Level 1 (Beginner, Easy: Animal Games)
Level 2 (Intermediate: Theory Concepts & Technique Tricks)
Level 3 (Advanced: Scales, Modes, and Rhythm)


* The judges would select a random page from each of the sections of one of these books. A sample result might be "Creeping Caterpillar," "C Major Scale" and "Triplets." The contestant then improvises something that sounds like a "Creeping Caterpillar" while using the C Major scale and triplet rhythms.


Many other out-of-the-box creative ideas can be found in these other outstanding books:

Piano Teacher's Guide to Creative Composition by Carol Klose**

Creative Composition Toolbox (in 6 books) by Wynn-Anne Rossi**

Creative Pedagogy for Piano Teachers: Using Musical Games and Aural Techniques as a Dynamic Supplement for Piano Teaching by Jeffrey Agrell & Aura Strohschein***


**Highly recommended by Dennis Alexander in the March/April issue of Clavier Companion.

***Endorsed by Drs. Salmon and Houle


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