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Commentary: We Learn to Improvise

Monica Corsaro

Wynton Marsalis has a saying: Improvisation is part of all American life. If you cannot improvise you will not survive.  And therefore, indeed, I live life as a jazz artist, because life is constant improvisation.   

In life we know there is a beginning (Part I of the jazz piece) and that there is an end death/or life's transition, (the piece is finished).  But what about the middle?  The middle is where we participate in and struggle the most.  It is where our most important decisions happen. 

We decide about our education, who we marry, if we marry.  We experiment and decide our career, and now end up having many jobs. We decide whether to be parents.  It is the middle of life where we experience moves, conflict, resolution, reconciliation, death, and new life.  It is in the middle where many of our most profound decisions and rituals happen.  If one does not have tools at which to go through the middle, one could become stagnant, handicapped or, even stalled. 

And now it feels like life has happened to us, the COVID-19 virus and we feel stagnant or stalled.  How can we make life decisions, how do we keep up with our friends, how do we apply for jobs, decide on where a relationship goes when can’t be in person? 

Well friends we improvise, we use zoom and have virtually game nights. Job interviews now can be done from our own spaces, because we have many platforms at which we can see each other.  Long distance couples have date night and “cook” together thanks to facetiming.  We, like the best jazz ensembles, improvise and negotiate.
Being Fully in the Moment
For me, the most holy moments while watching a jazz ensemble live are when I get to see the communication that goes on between the players.  There is an intimacy and trust there. The piano player hearing the saxophone play knows something really good is happening that was not written on the page, it is sacred. The piano player drops out, even though the “dropping” out is not written on the page. The piano player lets the saxophone sing.  

Our new normal was not written on any page anywhere, but we will get through because we will dig into our own creativity. We will negotiate, improvise. We will have courage trying things we never thought we could because we are an ensemble people. Trust the folks in your ensembles. Do not be afraid to create something new. Negotiate and improvise, and most importantly with each other because together we are and together we will be.

Reverend Dr. Monica Corsaro is a United Methodist clergy from Galesburg. 

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio.  Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.