When I was still in my early 20s, there was a group of dancers in the modern dance program at Washington University that I fell in with. I was playing percussion during the contact improv (an improvisational dance form, I'll dig up a video in a bit) sessions this crowd had begun to organize in their free time. We were hanging out on the outdoor patio of a bar, having some beers.
The conversation was about one of their choreography classes and it was spinning the drain of the topic of lack of inspiration for class, and the overly critical nature of their instructor. Although a couple of folks in the group were very old friends of mine, most had only recently met me or were meeting me for the first time at the bar. I was getting bored with the conversation. I was attracted to this group for their creative vivacity, and I was insanely jealous that they had the means to produce an arts education while I was already well into the working world after dropping out of college myself. I couldn't bear to hear how unenjoyable the experience was for them, especially given the beauty and grace I'd seen these same people pull out of thin air while improvising. But the topic was a choreography class, very much in the mold of longtime Cage collaborator Merce Cunningham.
After a while, I just couldn't take this conversation any longer. I was sitting on the ground, next to a rain drain, and a bit of garbage had collected near the spot where I was sitting. There was a metal Band-Aid box, and a bit of gravel. I improvised a shaker with this humble material and started shaking out a syncopated rhythm. My buddy Todd was a bit of a drummer himself, and he added the "clave" part with a stick and an empty beer bottle. Within moments the whole group was clapping and singing and we had ourselves a little on-the-spot drum circle in spite of the fact that none of us had a drum to speak of at the moment.
The mood of the group went from morose to elated. Maybe we had just finally drank enough beer to lighten up. Or maybe it was the rhythm I shook out on a Band-Aid box. I used the opportunity to introduce myself to a few of the people in the group that hadn't met me yet. Then I took a risk and said "this is what you need more of in your compositions, you need to open yourself up to chance."
It took a few more years for me to get familiar enough with Cage and his influence on this school's dance program to comprehend that I was giving contrary advice. That my "random" was quite different from a composer's "random", and especially different from the composer's random. He was looking for some cosmic order in the randomness, a divine chance that really left nothing to chance. I was looking for the rhythm that was already innate in all of us. I was tapping into the biological metronome of our central pattern generators.
I don't know if my little speech helped folks with their choreography class. Some folks seemed to think it would. I was young and selfish and it was more important to me that day that I had saved our evening of beer drinking from descending into a depressing bout of grousing never to return.
There was nothing about that moment that could have been practiced or rehearsed. Nobody ever taught me how to shake a Band-Aid box.
This is one of the first times on the lines forum I've ever seen anybody try to make it personal in a demeaning way. Please try not to do that.
How to react to somebody else in an improvised situation: