NEW SONG // FRIDAY, SEPT 29  9-10:50AM (RM 210)

The Already and the Not Yet: Improvisation as Spiritual Practice
James Falzone

Contemporary theologians, ever looking for metaphors for understanding “the nature of God and religious experience,” are turning to the arts in general and improvisation in specific, as means to convey the complexity of theological discourse to everyday people. What had once been an antagonistic relationship between theology and the arts is now a rich, open, and far-reaching dialogue, with improvisation as a significant sub theme.

N.T. Wright, as one example, has posited that the central mission of a person of faith is to “discover, through the spirit and prayer, the appropriate ways of improvising the script with constant attention.” If we understand “script” in this sense to be the sacred scriptures, the traditions of Christian practice, and the life of the local church, then Wright is suggesting an improvised life of faith based on study, fidelity, and community.

My lecture/performance will unpack the practice of improvised music and discuss the ways improvisation mirrors spiritual practice, with particular emphasis on the Christian tradition. I will situate improvisation not as a technique to be applied, but as a way of being and knowing. Discussion points will include preparedness, ephemerality, risk-taking, and process in equal measure to outcome, relating these themes to spiritual formation, social justice, and life within community. Additional themes will emerge regarding improvised music within worship settings, based on my 15 years of experience as a liturgical musician.


Clarinetist, composer, and improviser James Falzone is an acclaimed member of the international jazz and creative music scenes, a veteran contemporary music lecturer and clinician, and an award-winning composer who has been commissioned by chamber ensembles, dance companies, choirs, and symphony orchestras around the globe. For over 15 years he was the Director of Music at Grace Chicago Church and was profiled in 2016 at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Also a respected educator and scholar, James was a fellow at The Center for Black Music Research and is presently the Chair of Music at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington.