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CVA musicians build improv skills

On Wednesday, Jan. 15, Central Valley Academy jazz band musicians had a rare treat, learning musical improvisation techniques from some of the region’s most accomplished jazz musicians.

The program was part of the Herkimer BOCES Honors Program. The program exposes promising students to different opportunities that would otherwise be impossible because individual districts lack staff, sufficient numbers of students or finances. This group included students from CVA, Herkimer, Poland and West Canada, the only area schools with jazz band programs.

This day’s focus was improvisation. Improvisation—the art of drawing from a musical piece to spontaneously compose a unique melody—is one of the fundamental skills of good jazz musicians. But the idea of creating one’s own music “on the spot” can be intimidating.

CVA band teacher Michael Fenton said that jazz does not have to be that way.

“This clinic is designed to help take the fear out of improv. The students are learning a few basic guidelines that make jazz more approachable,” he said.

The five-hour program featured a morning session with a trio from CNY Jazz. CNY Jazz performs throughout the region and conducts a variety of educational seminars. The group presented the theory behind improv, then demonstrated techniques that to help student move beyond theory to application.

In the afternoon, Central New York composer, musician and Hamilton College adjunct Monk Rowe led a workshop giving the young musicians the opportunity to practice what they learned. Each student had the opportunity to solo, showing what they had learned about improvisation.

Carol Dunka, BOCES Art and Education Coordinator said the goal is for these students to apply what they learn in their personal musicianship and to share that with fellow students in their schools’ jazz programs.

The BOCES Honors Program provides workshops for students in grades 3-12 in a variety of subjects including nutrition, dance, Native American studies, Lego robotics, drama and birds of prey. Each district selects students to attend the workshops based on ability and interest. Exposing students to new and different experiences opens doors to future education and career opportunities.

Photo of CNY Jazz musicians leading workshop

Photo of high school jazz students and teacher playing Photo of Monk Rowe leading high school jazz students