Douglas Finch is known for helping to revive the lost art of classical improvisation in concert. He has given numerous improvisation workshops around the world, organized major improvisation festivals and collaborated with other artists as wide-ranging in style as Brecht singer Dagmar Krause, organist Naji Hakim, experimental drummer Eddie Prevost and jazz saxophonist Martin Speake, with whom he recently recorded a CD of improvisations: 'Sound Clouds' (available on the Pumpkin Records label).
Douglas Finch improvises on Paganini 24th Caprice, Summertime and La Vie en Rose
"Finch teaches improvisation at Trinity College [of Music], London. 'Classical music students often think they can’t do it', he says, 'but they all have the music in them. It’s just a matter of unlocking it.' Moreover, as the composer for Jon Sanders’ forthcoming film 'Painted Angels', he recently induced Kelley McGillis (who had never played the piano) to improvise her musical performance rather than fake it with the aid of an off-screen professional. His manner may be diffident, but his confidence is infectious.
"And he’s a true virtuoso: his improvisations carry a high charge of energy, which he attributes to the audience participation he encourages. 'Classical pianists try to screen out the influence of the audience: I try to respond to it.' He invites them to give him a theme – or two or three themes to juggle with – and then takes wing. 'I try to get an abstract picture of the theme,...then I start without any plan for the structure of the piece. When it is working well I’m completely relaxed, not thinking about technical things at all. It just evolves.' "
- Michael Church, The Independent, review for 'Improvisation – Tradition and Innovation Festival', St. Giles Cripplegate, Barbican Centre, London, 6-8 February 1998
"...one of the most amazing talents I’ve heard in years."
- Stuart Hamilton, Globe and Mail, Toronto, review for Douglas Finch’s improvisation on themes from the audience at Lois Marshall’s Farewell Concert, Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, 10 December, 1982
"Douglas Finch is one of the all-round composers/performers/improvisers, the kind of which became so rare in our post-modern narrowing down, ultra-specialising era. What makes him unique is his fluency across a huge variety of styles, a genuine expressive voice and the courage to take risks. Among the rare performing classical improvisers, Douglas is one of the few who performs chamber-music improvisations, where the risk-taking is greatly enhanced, elevating the art of listening to the height of mind reading." - David Dolan, Head of the Centre for Creative Performance & Classical Improvisation, Guildhall School of Music & Drama
"I love the tradition that Douglas is able to draw on. The whole history of classical music is there at his fingertips and he is that rare classical musician as he can improvise in the moment with that awareness." - Martin Speake, saxophonist
Improvisation workshops with Douglas Finch are available to pianists, instrumentalists and singers of all ages. Although the training is generally designed for musicians with a classical music background, the approach can be easily adapted to include jazz or popular music styles. No previous experience with improvisation is necessary. He is also happy to give private consultation lessons.
The aims and content of the workshops can vary, depending on the particular circumstances and participants involved. Click below for recent examples that show the versatile potential of these workshops:
- Sessions over three days at Chethams School of Music for 60 pianists aged 7-17, ending in a two-hour improvised concert for solo piano, duets and trios.
- A one-hour introduction to teaching improvisation to children, for piano teachers at a Surrey Youth Music conference near Guildford.
- A three-hour workshop with ten singers at Morley College in London, ending in a performance of three ten-minute mini-operas.
- A three-hour workshop for ten piano students aged 10-15 in a private studio in Vancouver, ending with a half-hour concert of improvisations for family and friends.
- A four-day project with pianists, instrumentalists, singers and dancers during the 2014 Co-Lab Festival at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, culminating in a 45-minute improvised opera, followed by an 18-hour marathon performance of Satie’s Vexations in a continuous relay of variations, arrangements and improvisations, live-streamed on YouTube.
"Douglas’ remarkable energy and enthusiasm were thoroughly engaging, and the students left the class with big smiles on their faces" - Dietmar Schmuecker, teacher, after an improvisation workshop for piano students aged 8-14, in Delta B.C., Canada.
Click below to read about the aims of Douglas Finch's workshops for children:
The aims are to:
- exercise creativity
- develop technical freedom
- learn how to apply some basic elements of theory
- learn how to relate improvisation to the interpretation of repertoire
- gain a deeper understanding of how musical works are put together.
Click below to read about a typical session in a workshop for children:
A typical session with children includes one-on-one time with each participant, as well as duo and larger ensemble playing. The atmosphere is focused but relaxed, and there is no expectation for participants to be able to “perform” in front of others, though a sharing/performance session will be provided at the end of the day for anyone who would like to try out what they’ve been working on. Content would normally include warm-up games and exercises, and exploring the basics of improvisation through gesture, rhythmic patterns, harmonic patterns, counterpoint, free “experimental” exploration, variations on simple tunes, “conversations” between players, and the use of words, pictures and graphic notation to create atmospheres and moods.
For other groups
Douglas Finch is also available to work with groups at music colleges, universities and conferences for teachers and amateur musicians.
“I put a lot of emphasis on individual creativity – whether it is through improvising, composing or analysing (which I think should be always a creative rather than purely dissecting activity) – and try to use creative thinking to get inside a piece of music. I am convinced that improvisation, even in small doses, can help students to become more dynamic and interesting ‘interpreters’.” - Douglas Finch
Click below to read comments from pupils, age 7-17, at Chetham's School of Music, after participating in one of Douglas Finch’s workshops:
“I’m not usually very good at improvisation – I didn’t think it would be possible for me to improvise a contrapuntal piece. It was still a challenge, but it was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be! It has helped my improvisation skills a lot, and I have learnt skills I can use in many other areas.”
“Improvisation can help secure normal pieces and can help get to the core of them.”
“I think it was difficult to start off knowing what to do, and it was interesting to hear what everyone else was doing, and how different each person’s idea was."
“For me, the joy of improvisation is the lack of right and wrong, the ability to play regardless of rules and techniques."