Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Improvisation in music, teaching and life

Over the last few months I have been immersed in studying improvisation.  I have been honing my own skills as a musician by taking courses and have been researching how improvisation concepts from drama can be used in teaching to build knowledge.  I used to think that improvising a lesson was "winging it", but have come to realize that the ability to improvise actually requires deep understanding of subject matter so that the teacher can go in any direction with it, according to the the immediate need of the students.  And the ability to improvise in life can make the difference for a person;  adapting to change and being happy.

I watched travelers in the airport yesterday dealing with a late flight.  The agent was very professional and clearly communicated what she knew about the situation, and gave passengers updates regularly, along with apologies on behalf of the airline.  Most folks were quite patient and good natured about it, but one man was fuming about the poor scheduling of his flights and the "poor service".  Meanwhile the agent was dealing with many inquiries about seating, and passengers for the next flight were beginning to arrive and wonder what the delay was about.  When the aircraft arrived, passengers needed to be directed to their connections, and one did not understand English.  The agent was a master improviser:  after trying several times to direct the man to his next gate, she took him by the arm walked 10 steps with him in the direction he needed to go and said "keep walking!"  and gestured down the hall, knowing that another agent would help along the way.

The Delta agent was a master improviser, and  she enjoyed her job. She was unruffled and smiling, and came on board as we finally boarded to say she had enjoyed working with us that day. Her ability to solve many problems at once, to go with the flow, and to ease anxiety in others made the difference in how the passengers experienced that delay.