Improvisation with Dr. Ruth Debrot

First published on January 8, 2018 | Nicholas Patrick Quigley

Many people unfortunately dread going back to work or school after the winter break. However, as spring semester peeks around the corner and we begin to think about work and school again, I am reminded of what “work” it is we will actually be doing.

At the very end of last semester, my last minutes on campus were spent with friends old and new, improvising on instruments usually expected to be found in an elementary music classroom. Dr. Ruth Debrot (DMA ’14), a music specialist in the public schools of Sharon, MA, visited our NAfME chapter to share her insights from teaching and leading improvisation with middle school students, and demonstrate her pedagogy by facilitating music making with us. What started as a humble gathering with patterns and pizza culminated in a full-on blues jam, with everyone taking solos—on their saxophone, djembe, metallophone, whatever happened to be with them in the moment.

This is the “work” that we do, and this is why I am excited for spring semester. Not only were we making music, but we were on somewhat of a journey as well. Indeed we were all University music students in this class setting, but the journey from first meeting and picking up sticks to jamming together and playing the blues is nonetheless a process, and a process that is largely made possible by people like Dr. Debrot. I have a hunch that many of us were in the room as music educators because we want to better help students navigate such journeys.

Music making for us as educators can be both the goal, and the start of what we do. In the moment, we were not only enjoying each other’s company and making music with instruments that we may not have considered to be our “primary,” but we were also examining the steps taken to help guide us in these acts. Gatherings like this one are what I look forward to in the coming weeks, and why I am excited for the next semester to start.