According to Brandeis Improv Collective (BIC) director Tom Hall, “everybody has a groove,” regardless of whether they play guitar, piano, bass, drums or even a dress and heels.
On Sunday, Nov. 15, the BIC held their semester showcase in Slosberg Music Center, featuring improvised musical performances from 15 members.
The night started off with solos, moving to group performances with an increasing number of people on stage at once, ending with the entire collective together on stage.
“The only underlying structure to musical improv is the number of people on stage at once,” Hall said. Otherwise, there are no set structures or boundaries, and any combination of instruments can be on stage at a time.
Hall picked members to perform randomly, each specializing in one or multiple instruments, emphasizing the importance of the relationship between improvisers.
The energy and suspense in the theater built as the number of musicians on stage increased steadily. The performances started off with two quick solos and duets, showcasing the skill of each individual member and their ability to build off of a partner.
The collective then moved into a trio performance with Dave Stiefel ’16 on piano, Mitch Mankin ’16 on the saxophone and Ben Kazenoff ’15 on drums. The three started out with mysterious, dissonant sounds as buildup for a more haunting tone in the climax.
The instruments seemed off at first when they were put together, but this dissonance added to the power of the climax when they began to harmonize. There was a return to the slow buildup in the middle of the piece when the music began to feel a bit cluttered. The improvisors seemed undecided on an ending, resulting in a drawn out finale, but ultimately resolved this by bringing the performance to a conclusion.
The show hit a high point when a quartet comprised completely of drummers, including members Henry Goodridge ’18, David Matthews ’16, Zachary Anziska ’16 and Kazenoff, were given time on stage. Each member focused on a different style of drumming, adding to an overall upbeat piece. They made each drum sound unique, differentiating themselves from one another, but contributing to a smooth sound when putting everything together. Hall said that it is important in musical improv to know “when to say something and when not to.” The group began one-by-one and found “the groove” quickly, listening for just the right time to add to the piece, careful not to create discord by playing too much.
The piece itself was slow, the drum set keeping a steady beat while the hand drummers were let loose to add in varying rhythms, building the intensity of the performance until the crowd began to clap along with Matthews. The hand drummers sped up as the piece progressed hitting a climax before returning to a slower pace. They successfully built up the energy in the room and released it slowly, resulting in a satisfying end to the quartet.
The BIC ultimately built up to eight members on the stage at once. Hall called up six members of the current collective as well as two alumni of the group. This performance truly pushed the boundaries of improv. Not only were eight musicians communicating at once, two of them had not performed with the group in a relatively long time.
The alumni made use of whatever they could to support the instrumentation of the whole group. One used her body as an instrument, incorporating the sounds of her flapping dress, as well as her steps across the stage. The group worked well together with this support and succeeded in maintaining a harmonious piece that was as enjoyable to listen to as it was to watch.
The group was not finished, however, concluding with what the crowd was waiting for: the entire 15 person collective on stage at once. The piece itself was ambitious, but meshed well, with each member contributing a small but necessary component to a larger whole. The music was upbeat and filled with powerful rhythms, and it was clear the members were having fun on stage. This finale emphasized the connectedness of the group and the trust each member put in one another. The night ended on a high note, meeting all expectations put forth by the suspense of watching an increasing number of people improvising together.
The BIC is open to all students who play an instrument or sing. They meet on Tuesday nights for 10 classes a semester. Sign-up sheets can be found in the Slosberg Music Center at the beginning of each semester.