I went to a local middle school basketball game yesterday, and was pleasantly surprised to see a keyboard set up in the corner. Just before the game started, a young student (around 13-14 years old) accompanied two of the school's vocalists in a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. They performed the song very well and I expected to then hear canned rap or hip-hop music start blasting from the speakers as the teams were announced.
What happened next surprised me. Instead of walking away from the keyboard, the young teenager started improvising music to get the crowd cheering. He played energetic music as each player came out onto the court, in a way reminiscent of how organists improvise at major league baseball games. (But even this isn't as common as it used to be. Now they mostly play recordings too. And professional basketball games never use live musicians anymore, except for an occasional song or two.)
It was great to see how he played here and there throughout the game, moving from classical to pop to hip hop as the mood demanded. The best part came near the end, when the crowd started a spontaneous chant for the home team. The young musician soon joined in, emphasizing the chanted rhythms and modulating higher and higher. The crowd responded by chanting with increasing energy until it reached an exciting high point.
This amazing kind of live improvisation cannot be planned in advance and cannot be contrived. It involves the mind and ears of a real person, who can read the mood of a room and respond, adapt, and improvise in real time to bring something very special to an event such as this. Something special, and increasingly rare these days.
Bravo to that talented young pianist, and to his school for recognizing the power of live music (and piano improv) to transform an event such as this!
If you liked this, you'll also enjoy my humorous tribute to Middle School Band Directors.
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