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Student-Initiated Arts Fund Brings Musical Improvisation Clinic to HC

After Pudding Run’s loud covers of pop songs the previous night at Lunt, I was ready for a different style of music, one that I’d never heard before: I was ready for Dave Fiuczynski’s own brand of jazz-rock. I got this and more.

While the basement may have been filled with the usual people, never had I seen it filled with so many, and with such a variety of musical instruments and tools. As an interaction based clinic with some 30 eager protégés, each person needed a guitar, amp, or drumset (hand drums too), so these instruments filled the basement.

Before teaching anything, Fiuczynski and his band introduced themselves and described their varied musical interests and influences. As an instructor at the Berklee College of Music, Fiuczynski has experience teaching jazz and improvisation and has been influenced by everything from Turkish and Middle Eastern music to Afro-blues styles. Regarding his eccentric styles, Fiuczynski said sometimes “I try to sound as out of tune as possible” which is easier on his fretless guitar, where he can play “microtones.” Other members of his band, all of whom helped teach the clinic, have played with Matisyahu, Santana, Lionel Hampton, and Steely Dan. In order first to engage his students, Fiuczynski played a contemporary jazz song with his band and, with the help of participants, analyzed and broke down the song into sections. The first part, he explained, is the intro and last part is the outro. “So what’s in between?” he asked. “It’s the between-tro.”  The “between-tro” is made up of the verse, bridge, and chorus.

“So we’ve demonstrated and now we want to see you play: the way we teach is completely interaction based”, Fiuczynski exclaimed. So everyone got out their instruments, which included guitars, electric basses, a saxophone, and even a violin. Fiuczynski emphasizes improvisational abilities and creativity in song-writing. In fact he rejects practice, calling it a “waste of [his] time.” Instead he prefers to “jam.” In this manner, he compared his methods to those of Black Sabbath, who would record jams, and, upon listening to their jams, would “pick out the parts that didn’t suck.” Fiuczynski called these parts “little gems.”

All thirty of Fiuczynski’s students picked up their instruments. Fiuczynski started by having everyone tap their feet and hum a melody because this “develops good lick memory.” Then, he let everyone figure out the tune on their instrument because, “after all, if you can sing it, you can play it,” Fiuczynski elucidated on the basis of his methods. When everyone played together, it sounded so well put together an unknowing listener might think they had all been rehearsing the song. While everyone played the original riff and some harmonized on it, Fiuczynski would pick individuals out and have them solo.

Walker Anderson ’11 said, “It is stressful when someone that good calls you out to solo” but since Fiuczynski was not intimidating and was clearly just trying to “include everyone regardless of skill level,” Anderson felt comfortable enough. He pulled out a saxophone solo that greatly impressed Fiuczynski and left the audience clapping.

Fiuczynski continued with this method for three other songs. His method involves building a different “riff” into a song with the tapping of feet and singing of riffs after which it is easy to learn the riffs and solo instrumentally. He used the Simpsons theme song, a ska song and an afro-blues song, exemplifying his varied influences. At one point during the ska song, when Fiuczynski was apparently feeling the music, he began to “skank,” a form of dancing practiced when listening to ska music.

The Student Initiated Arts Fund (SIAF) funded the clinic in conjunction with the Hurford Humanities Center, which invites any students who want to bring artists to run workshops at Haverford to contact the Center. James Weissinger ’06 explained that “the greatness of Haverford lies in its students. Adam [Subhas, who organized the clinic with FUCS and the Humanities Center,] is one of those guys that makes Haverford great and if we have more people like him, we have more events [like the clinic] that are this awesome.” Weissinger encourages students who find an artist of any kind, painters, photographers, musicians, even creative writers and poets who could run a workshop at Haverford to contact him at jweissin@haverford.edu or another member of the Humanities Center. I agree: we need more events like this clinic at Haverford. After all, without student involvement, what happens to student life?

-Daniel Weaver reprinted from The Bi-College News

The path that leads to the Gardner Integrated Athletic Center and Whitehead Campus Center. The GIAC opened in 2006.

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