PMI 2023 was filled with all types of music: classical, contemporary, small ensemble, large ensemble, and so much more! We strive to offer a variety of musical instruction to provide our summer intensive students with different opportunities to learn that they may not have access to during the regular school year. 

One of our ensembles, Jazz Intensive, focused on less traditional learning styles, including…soundpainting! This technique, practiced in rehearsals and demonstrated in the end-of-PMI concert, is a special style that both our faculty and students fell in love with. Read on to learn why!

What is Soundpainting?

Soundpainting is a way to create music (as well as other types of performance like dance or visual arts) in real time without any pre-written music. PMI Jazz Faculty, Steve Treseler, describes it as “a sign language for creating new music on the spot.” Performances are led by a Soundpainter who acts as the composer or director. The sign language the Soundpainter uses communicates what should be played, including notes, rhythms, and dynamics. “Each performance is a new journey, and making improvisation a community experience is less intimidating than asking individuals to play solos,” Mr. Treseler adds. 

Soundpainting is truly a collaborative art form, with each performance being a spontaneous and unique experience thanks to the Soundpainter and all the performers! Hawaii Youth Symphony President, Randy Wong, aptly summarizes soundpainting as “a fun, creative way for musicians of all ages, skills, instruments, and styles to interact and play together.”

Why Use Soundpainting?

Soundpainting is a fun, challenging way to learn the art of improvisation and collaboration. Improvisation provides music students with many benefits. To name a few:

  • Enhance musicality by encouraging musicians to try different melodies, rhythms, and harmonies, helping them gain a deeper understanding of the music itself.
  • Boost creativity by allowing musicians to think on the spot and outside the box. After all, in improvisation, there are no mistakes!
  • Improve listening skills since students must listen carefully to the music and fellow musicians in order to respond appropriately. 
  • Increase confidence by helping young musicians feel more comfortable performing with their instrument and expressing their true selves.
  • So much fun! Improvising can be extremely fun and rewarding; that’s why we love including it in PMI!

Let’s Improvise!

Many students’ biggest takeaway from our Jazz Intensive is the value and fun of improvisation. Both the individual growth and ensemble growth enjoyed by our jazz students are noteworthy. Several of our 2023 jazz students marked learning improvisation as their top highlight for the summer, one noting that “it was an awesome experience being surrounded by people who have a higher amount of knowledge and skill in jazz and improvisation. Being around all of those talented people helped me to develop and improve.”

Jazz Director Dean Taba elaborates on the effects of improvisation within Jazz Intensive. “While improvising as a group, students must decide for themselves when to step up and take the lead, when to follow and support another person’s choices, and even when to self-edit by letting the other musicians fully express the music,” he explains. “This happens throughout every measure and beat of an improvised performance and all musicians playing (or otherwise) must be fully engaged at all times in order for the music and the ensemble to attain its greatest potential.”

If there’s one thing we love at PMI, it’s allowing our students to reach their greatest potential!

Nontraditional Improvising

PMI’s Jazz Intensive is a natural place for musicians to explore improvisation; jazz is a genre known for improvising. At PMI 2023, however, we were excited to debut a new program: Freestyle String Ensemble. Consisting of violins, violas, and cellos, FSE was a nontraditional strings group that focused on learning everything by ear. With no music or music stands, FSE students learned how to play different roles, from a song’s melody to harmony, bass line to groove. 

FSE conductor, Duane Padilla, describes the creation of FSE stemmed from a recent movement within the string education community. “It’s not enough to know how to play in a String Quartet or Orchestra… string players of the future need to know how to play in Jazz bands, in rock-and-roll bands, in Hawaiian bands,” Mr. Padilla explains. “The idea is that modern string students should have all the tools they need to walk into any room where any style of music is being played and be able to contribute something meaningful.”

FSE’s performance at our end-of-PMI concert series reflected this exciting new style of string playing. We loved seeing each FSE student stand at the front of the stage and perform an improvised solo, playing any part and any length that moved them. Performing an improvised bit can be daunting, and we were proud to see these string students display their skills in a new way!

All About the Music

If soundpainting and improvisation pique your musical interest, PMI 2024 may be for you! We’re excited to share more information about our 2024 summer music camp in the Spring of 2024. Be sure to stay tuned for updates and announcements by subscribing to our email list