This past week my lovely wife (hereafter to be known simply as Lovely) took me to see Bobby McFerrin as a belated birthday present and my soul is still smiling from the experience! He is a fantastically talented man with a true gift for using his voice as an instrument, not of language, but of sound. To top that off, he has a vibrant and generous spirit that shines brightly from his eyes and his smile. He seems so humble, gracious, and thankful to be on stage performing for you. The joy I felt from hearing him perform was almost otherworldly. Simply being in the same room as him makes that creative place inside you perk up a bit.
He sang for almost an hour straight, backed simply by a stand up bass player and a pianist. They played jazz, classical, blues, African-inspired songs and beautiful things that I don’t know a name for. His voice, though not booming and overpowering, is intriguing and draws your attention like a magpie to a shiny thing. You just can’t pull your attention away from it. He makes the most wonderful music!
At the end of the evening, he took questions and talked to the audience a bit. He left us with a parting thought on improvisation which I felt was like the surprise toy in the box of your favorite cereal.
He said, “Improvisation is, fundamentally, motion.”
These words have stuck with me for nearly a week since hearing them. “Set a timer for ten minutes,” he said, “and sing, hum, play an instrument – whatever it is that you do – until the timer is up. I promise that within two minutes your brain is going to tell you to stop. It’s going to tell you that what you’re doing doesn’t make sense or somehow doesn’t sound right. You’ll think, ‘oh, what if my parents hear me!’ or, ‘if my neighbors hear me they’ll think I’m crazy!’ But don’t listen to your brain. Just keep going.”
Dwell on that thought for a bit and then go set yourself a timer or go on a walk. No matter what happens, don’t stop playing until that timer ends or until you reach wherever you were walking to.
And in the meantime, here is a beautiful improvisation from the sage of song, himself: