In 2001, as Assistant Professor of Violin at Wichita State University, I founded Wichita State University’s String Improvisation Department. Supported by grants, our three part-time teachers in the department provided a gentle introduction to various forms of string improvisation for people of all ages. We also hosted String Improvisation Day each year.
String Improvisation Day introduced improvisation to violinists, violists, and cellists who had little or no experience with improvisation. During the day, students chose from a variety of clinics, including free improvisation, baroque ornamentation, blues, popular music, bluegrass, and contemporary praise and worship. The day ended with a clinic and performance from a nationally recognized string improvisor.
In 2003 I expanded our String Improvisation program with a new grant-funded initiative: Sharing Music Sharing Culture (SMSC). During the academic year, two WSU string improvisation classes interacted with students and professors at the University of Limerick’s Irish World Music Center using videoconferencing and the BlackBoard web portal. Students at the Irish World Music Center taught WSU students how to play Irish Fiddle music. Conversely, students at WSU taught their colleagues at the Irish World Music Center how to play jazz and blues. For String Improvisation Day we simultaneously invited internationally-acclaimed American fiddle player Mark O’connor to WSU and Irish fiddle legend Frankie Gavin to the the Irish World Music Center. Through live videoconferencing, students and guests at the Irish World Music Center and at WSU coached and taught, and played for each other.