John Stevens: Search and Reflect - A Music Workshop Handbook

John Stevens: Search and Reflect - A Music Workshop Handbook

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Search and Reflect: Concepts and Pieces by John Stevens
- A Music Workshop Manual -

This music workshop manual documents the pieces used by the London-based organisation Community Music in its workshops. The value in these pieces lies in their practical application and they are an excellent tool for every music workshop leader, for every music teacher, and for individual musicians with an interest in improvisation. The pieces are designed to encourage more people to participate in group music-making and therefore cater as much for the musically inexperienced as for the proficient musican. Each piece includes detailed guidance, but only a few include musical notation. They may be played or sung.

An introduction – Preliminaries – offers invaluable advice on how to run an effective improvisation workshop. The manual is then divided into two sections – Rhythm and Improvisation. In the Rhythm Section, the twelve pieces aim to help develop rhythmic skills - maintaining regular tempo, independence, and overall rhythmic awareness. The author demonstrates the essence of timekeeping with the basic unit of ONE TWO. This is presented with clear guidelines for its practice and development, stage by stage. Later, the Rhythm Tree chapter teaches how to play 3 over 4, 5 over 4, and 7 over 4, with many practical ideas and exercises for workshop use. Oddseven explores the harmonic possibilities of a scale within a rhythmic framework.

The Improvisation Section deals with specific processes and skills which help to prepare the way for a sensitive, concentrated approach to create group interaction and individual spontaneity. Beginning with three preparatory exercises to encourage each individual to maintain a balance between being a receptive ear and having creative freedom, this section continues with Click Piece (focussing on short sounds, independence and connectiveness), Sustain (focussing on long sounds and breathing) and a further 14 pieces which develop listening and playing skills within a group environment.

Search and Reflect was first published in 1985 by Community Music, with a foreword by Christopher Small. This edition is re-published by Rockschool in 2007, with additional forewords by Steve Beresford and Maggie Nicols.

Book, spiral-bound, 112 pages


About John Stevens
John Stevens (1940-1994) was one of the pioneers of free improvisation in the UK. The son of a tap dancer, he began to listen to jazz as a child. While doing his National Service, he studied drums at the Royal Air Force School of Music in Uxbridge. There, he met saxophonist Trevor Watts and trombonist Paul Rutherford, two musicians who became close collaborators. The Spontaneous Music Ensemble (“SME”), which he co-founded in the mid-1960s with Trevor Watts, explored a form of improvised music that was not dependent on conventional harmony and timekeeping. SME performances at their London base, The Little Theatre Club, could range from duos to 12-piece ensembles.

Early lineups would invariably feature trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and saxophonist Evan Parker but Stevens played alongside a large number of prominent free improvisors in the SME, including Derek Bailey, Peter Kowald and Julie Tippetts. He also worked with jazz musicians such as pianist Gordon Beck, bassist Ron Matthewson and guitarist Allan Holdsworth. From the 1970s, the make-up of the SME began to settle down to a regular group of Stevens, Nigel Coombes playing violin, and Roger Smith playing guitar. John Stevens died in 1994.

About Community Music
In 1983 John Stevens co-founded Community Music, an organisation based in Islington, London, in order to take music to disadvantaged groups who would not normally get the chance to receive professional music guidance. Its work drew upon John’s long experience of running improvisation workshops at Ealing College and elsewhere, from the early 1970s onwards. The pieces in Search and Reflect grew out of the musical philosophy established by John Stevens and developed by him and his musician colleagues at Community Music. The writing of the book itself was a collective project by this group with the aim of exploring how best to present John’s ideas as teaching titles. Thus the pieces in this manual have been thoroughly road-tested in hundreds of workshops.