She’s known about this musical performance for months, though she hasn’t practiced a single piece or even brought a single page of sheet music with her. While she unpacks her instrument on stage, she nods and chats with the other musicians who will soon play alongside her. They too have foregone the pre-composed music and formal rehearsals that many people instinctively associate with a musical life in the limelight.

Canterbury House Concert Series: 24 Hours of Improvisation

Tonight at 6 p.m. through Tomorrow at 6 p.m.
Canterbury House
From $10


Once she’s ready, she takes a deep breath and remains poised, instrument held aloft. A hush falls over the crowd, and their eyes fix eagerly on the performers. The audience has no idea what they’re about to hear.

Then again — as an artist of improvised music — neither does she.

Tonight, the International Society for Improvised Music will pull together some of Ann Arbor’s most talented musicians for a fundraiser as unpredictable as the songs the artists will create on a whim: a 24-hour improvised musical extravaganza at Canterbury House. The event will feature spontaneous performances by local professors, students and residents, whose unorthodox artistic passion springs from their one-of-a-kind musical methods.

“There’s no pretense that this is high art music,” said Matt Endahl, Canterbury House musical director and a School of Music, Theatre & Dance graduate student. “This is music for which the process is the interesting part … because it’s more of a direct creative process than learning a piece of music and then performing it.”

The first and last performances of the fundraiser will be given by members of MT&D’s Creative Arts Orchestra, while the rest of the event will showcase the colorful collection of Ann Arbor improvisational talent, uniting to create a truly eclectic experience.

“People will have a very wide variety of instruments and also a wide variety of opinions about what it means to improvise music rather than play composed music,” Endahl said.

Though the standards of scripted music may dominate the world of musical performance, many devotees of get-togethers and concerts that celebrate music made on-the-spot enjoy exploring the inner source of their artistic inspiration.

“Improvised music strives to tap into that wellspring of whatever creative impulse is in people,” Endahl said. “It kind of directly harnesses that, whatever it is. You can choose any word for it, and you can get spiritual if you want, but there’s no denying that same thing exists across our entire species.”

It was the presence of this pervading inventive spirit that led MT&D Prof. Ed Sarath, to found the International Society for Improvised Music in 2006 and unite a fragmented but passionate community of artists.

“(Sarath) founded the organization because he felt that there were a lot of people around the world who were making improvised music,” Endahl said. “They had numerous small organizations, but there wasn’t any international group with a conference and that sort of thing, and he kind of saw a need for that, so he put (ISIM) together.”

Attendees eager to meet the man who started it all should be sure to stay for tomorrow’s 9 a.m. performance — Sarath will perform alongside fellow MT&D Prof. Stephen Rush in an improvised piano and flugelhorn duet.

Even with all of the willing-and-able talent involved, the event needed — and found — a place to call home. The fundraiser is hosted through the Concert Series at Canterbury House, Ann Arbor’s Episcopal student center. Canterbury House has long used the series to support music of all sorts, including ISIM’s improv-inspired fundraisers.

“We’ve booked numerous well-known acts for this concert series over the years,” Endahl said. “The Concert Series has been running for at least a decade in its current form. There’s been a long history of Canterbury House supporting the arts, both local and touring.”

Though the fundraiser has not been held since 2007, its revival has already garnered eager attention from Ann Arbor’s music lovers. Above all, it’s the freedom and unpredictability of improvisation that makes each performance different and keeps artists and audiences coming back for more.

“It can be both (fun and confusing),” Endahl said. “Even the performer doesn’t know exactly what’s going to happen. They go in there with kind of a rough sketch about who they’re going to work with, but no one knows the precise music that will be played.”

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