Art of Improvisation

Music for People Faculty

Mary Knysh
Mary Knysh is the founder of Rhythmic Connections, ( an innovative company advancing education, health, and creative development through drum circles and music improvisation. Mary is a cutting edge workshop facilitator, trainer and consultant who uses music as a means for personal and organizational transformation through creativity, leadership and non verbal communications. She is a professional musician; recording artist and international author. An international teacher/trainer with the Music for People organization ( ), Mary is also an Orff Schulwerk clinician and teaching artist for the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts, Young Audiences of NJ, and New York BOCES.  She is endorsed by Rhythm Band Instruments and Remo corporations.  Mary travels throughout the United States, Europe, Australia and Asia offering music improvisation seminars, drum circle facilitator trainings and performances.
David Rudge
Dr. David Rudge teaches Free Improvisation at the State University of New York at Fredonia where he leads the Improv. Collective, a performing ensemble dedicated to free improvisation for self-expression. As an improvising violinist, he has performed with Paul Winter, Paul Horn, Arthur Hull, Don Campbell and David Darling. He has also served as conductor for David Darling and Jon-Luc Ponty. Involved with Music for People since its inception, David also now teaches at the Music for People workshops. ( David has taught Free Improvisation in such diverse settings as Oklahoma State University, the Connecticut and New York Public Schools, the Kiental Center in Switzerland, the Tenri Cultural Center in NY City, Strings without Boundaries, Brian Wicklund’s American Fiddle Camp, Charles Castleman’s Quartet Program, the North Carolina School of the Arts and the Omega Institute of Holistic Studies, where he was part of the summer staff. Dr. Rudge is also the Director of Orchestras and Opera at SUNY – Fredonia. He has conducted symphony orchestras and operas in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South and Central America to critical acclaim. (
Irene Feher
A 2017 graduate of Music For People’s MLP Training, Dr. Irene Feher facilitates Music for People improvisation workshops and MLP training in Montreal (Canada). She also runs the Concordia University initiative “Live Your Music at Concordia - Music Health Breaks." Irene teaches classical/contemporary voice at Concordia University, vocal techniques at McGill University (Music ed.) and voice lessons at her private studio in Montreal. Known for her sincere expressivity and warm mezzo-soprano voice, Irene Feher performs regularly as a soloist and recitalist. With over 25 years of teaching experience, 30 years of performing experience, and a passion for healthy vocal production, Irene teaches musicians and singers of all ages and levels. Her approach is holistic combining formal classical training, classical and popular performance experience, somatic awareness, and MfP improvisation techniques. A devoted pedagogue, Irene Feher completed her doctoral degree at The Schulich School of Music/McGill University.
Alina Plourde
Alina Plourde -- Music for People's Regional MLP Trainer in Syracuse, NY -- performs frequently with Symphoria, Syracuse’s professional orchestra, and is a founding member of the New Leaf Ensemble, an improvising chamber music group. She teaches oboe at Syracuse University and at Onondaga Community College, where she also teaches an MfP-style improvisation class. She has a studio of private oboe students, and works with younger students at the Montessori School of Syracuse, weaving improvisation into classes that include Orff instruments, recorder, and world music.
Alison Weiner
Alison Weiner is an improvising musician. She is the creator and caretaker of mahaloArts (, and earns her keep teaching, performing, and facilitating community music-making. She has earned degrees and pursued careers in architecture and music, and is a graduate of Music for People’s Musician and Leadership Program. After her formative years in NY, then she moved on to NC, HI, FL and is now back in NC. She is thrilled to be residing in Saxapahaw, a fabulous little village smack in between the Triangle and Triad regions of NC, where music, the creative arts and sustainable living in general are vigorously intersecting. You will find Alison performing with her flexible ensemble mahaloJazz at The Eddy Pub in downtown Saxapahaw every Tuesday evening, where jazz meets farm-to-table meals, half-priced bottles of wine and awesome patio sunsets, all coming together to commence the start of the weekend (you read that right).

Art of Improvisation Presenters

 Ami Sarasvati
Ami Sarasvati
Ami Sarasvati is a healing arts practitioner, author, teacher, and musician. She is a Certified Music Practitioner (CMP) and has published "Learn to Play the Native American Style Flute" available on Amazon, which is also an online course on
She is a trained facilitator of community music-making events through Flute Haven, HealthRHYTHMS, and Music for People Workshops. Playing the Native American flute is a wonderful healing journey that Ami loves to share with students near and far.
She is a member of the World Flute Society and is active writer on the Health and Wellness Committee.
Bernard Maurer

Bernhard Maurer (Switzerland) Cello studies in Bern, Berlin and Basel. Training as teacher for string groups in Germany and training in improvisation with David Darling. For a couple of years he has been a cellist at the “Berner Symphonieorchester”, later assistant of Christoph Coin (baroque cello) at the “Scola Cantorum” in Basel. Concerts and recordings with various ensembles for early music. Freelance projects and teaching at the “Musikschule Köniz”. Main instrument cello, familiar with double bass, guitar and voice.
Focus: Teaching cello, baroque music, improvisation, singing and string ensembles, orchestral conducting and music projects. Co-founder of “Freitagsakademie”.

Christoph Wiesmann

Christoph Wiesmann (Switzerland) Public relations work and passionate musician, loves to perform. Multi-instrumentalist (oboe, English horn, saxophone, different flutes, kotamo, percussion and voice), classical training, long standing experience in different music genres: Classical, Jazz, Ethno and others. Works as an Oboe and Saxophone teacher in improvisation. Freelance projects and teaching at the “Musikschule Wohlen”. The enjoyment of spontaneous musical expression with voice and instruments let him come across David Darling. In July 2004, he graduated from the MLP training course.
Focus: Collaboration with various musicians around Berne. Has his own show with a loop machine. Passionate live performer. Music and movement as a dancer and dancing accompanist.

Clíodhna Ní Aodáin

Clíodhna Ní Aodáin (Switzerland) is a professional cellist, conductor, composer, teacher and creative artist. Clíodhna studied cello with Olwen Lewis and Aisling Drury-Byrne in Dublin, Emma Ferrand at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester (BMusRNCM), Yuli Turovsky at the Université de Montréal (Mmus Interprétation) and Susanne Basler at the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste (Konzertdiplom). She has participated in Masterclasses with Janos Starker, Valentin Berlinsky, and David Darling. Originally from Dublin, Clíodhna currently lives and works in Bern, Switzerland. She teaches cello at the Musikschule Konservatorium Bern and conducts the Orchester Divertimento Bern ( Clíodhna performs as a soloist and chamber musician internationally and loves to explore musical expression through improvisation. She is the Artistic Director of Music for People Europe ( and has facilitated workshops in kindergartens, music schools, refugee camps and senior residences. Her most recent project is The Celtic Cello

Dawn Tyler Watson
Singer-Songwriter Dawn Tyler Watson is a multi-faceted and seasoned entertainer whose fiery performances have earned her a place among the International Blues elite. After graduating with a degree from Concordia University in Jazz Studies, she launched a career that has spanned over 2 decades, five continents, and numerous recordings. She also works as a musical animator and educator with different populations and cognitive levels. In 2012 Watson co-created Vocal Expression Montreal and began running workshops with singers of all levels. She has been invited to give master classes on vocal performance and improvisation in Western Canada, the US, and France. Watson continues to tour extensively and has recently won a JUNO for her fifth album; “Mad Love.” Website:
 Elaine Lemieux
Originally from Montreal, Elaine Lemieux has always been fascinated by vocal expression. The spark began at five years old when her family bought a blue record player for Elaine to sing along with. She saw her parents faces light up at her singing. That was the moment when she recognized the power of musical language.
Twenty years later, Elaine began her classical training in voice and then received a Post-Master’s Degree (D.E.S.S.) from the University of Montréal. Elaine then gained experienced as a recitalist, cantor, chorister, choir director, performer, voice teacher and music facilitator.
Elaine has a thirst for knowledge. Her discipline has been enriched by theatrical and dance improvisation styles co-created by talented performance artists. She received instruction from Pol Pelletier creator of Dojo for Actors, Sara Zalek from Butoh Chicago, Richard Armstrong’s Extended Voice from the Banff Center for Arts and Creativity. Further, she completed five year training in the Musicianship and Leadership Program (MLP) from the Music For People organization founded by David Darling. She has truly enhanced her leadership and creative musical language and has found her doorway to help people find their authentic expressive selves. She brings a new sensitivity to music improvisation with her foundation in formal classical voice. She is an active member of NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing, Inc.) Elaine teaches in both French and English at her private voice studio VOIX-DE-VIVRE in downtown Chicago and at the Lycée Français de Chicago and by Skype from anywhere.
Elaine is enlivened by her voice teaching for people of all ages and levels of experience. To further her expertise and knowledge as a voice teacher, she recently participated in the NYVC 40-Hour Voice Teacher Training & Certification led by Justin Stony. She deepened her understanding of belting and vocal physiology. The program demystified the differences among vocal styles. She appreciated Justin Stony’s devotion to his students and his love of voice. Elaine enjoyed every moment of this training.
Harold McKinney Sally Atkins
Harold McKinney, Professor Emeritus at Appalachian State University, lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina where he is active as a trombonist and teacher. Dr. McKinney taught trombone, music improvisation, Philosophy of Music and Expressive Arts at Appalachian for thirty-six years. He is an active member of King Street Brass, Momentary Quartet, Gypsy Harvest and Sonorous Threshold. He has performed at the International Society for Improvised Music, the International Harvest Symposium for Expressive Arts, the International Spring Symposium for Expressive Arts and the International Brass Chamber Music Festival. His summer activities have included service as visiting artist for the European Graduate School; teaching for the Appalachian Expressive Arts Institute, the Windswept Music Conference and Cannon Music Camp; as well as performing for Mountain Home Music’s Blue Grass and Brass Show. He has recorded with Swiss pianist Paolo Knill on the CD Saas Fee in Appalachia and with Knill and percussionist Robert Falvo on Gypsy Harvest’s Syncopated Synapse. Gypsy’s most recent work is with a larger ensemble that includes kotomo, native American flute and harp. This CD titled Earth and Water is centered on the poetry of Margo Fuchs and Sally Atkins. Musicians can connect with his teaching at the “Improvised Music Harvest” sponsored by Music for People.

Harold's session at Art of Improvisation - Emergent Poiesis through Musicking and Word in a Zoomified Field of Play - features guest poet Sally Atkins.
Jan Hittle
Jan Hittle is a singer in New York City where she participates in an ongoing vocal improvisation group and the NYC Music for People gatherings. After singing for many years in classical choirs, a chance hearing of Bobby McFerrin's Medicine Man album led her to seek out improvisation teachers. She's a graduate of Music for People's Musicianship Program, of Rhiannon's All The Way In program and of other music improvisation workshops, including Bobby McFerrin's CircleSongs workshop at Omega. More information about Jan's work is at
Jessica Wooldridge
Jessica King has recently completed the second year of her Music Leadership Program certification with MFP. She's a bassoonist and contrabassoonist with Syracuse's professional orchestra, Symphoria. In 2017 she completed her Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the Eastman School of Music where she studied bassoon performance under John Hunt, with foci on ethnomusicology and new music. Jessica plays in New Leaf Ensemble with Alina Plourde and Steve Rosenfeld, and facilitates Wunderjam, a very silly gathering of improvisors that convenes at Syracuse's queer theater bar, Wunderbar. She's taught bassoon to high school and college students for two decades and works to perform and promote music by living composers.
Jim Oshinsky
Jim Oshinsky has been part of Music for People since its inception in the 1980s. He is the author of Music for People’s book "Return to Child" and has served on staff in a variety of teaching and administrative roles. Jim has been teaching improvisation at Adelphi University in NY for the past ten years. This year, the campus closed down in March for safety reasons related to the COVID 19 pandemic. Flying by the seat of his pants, Jim adapted the improvisation activities for an online format, with predictable bumps associated with the learning process. Following the model of Arthur Hull for processing "what worked, what needs work, and what would you do differently,” Jim’s session at AOI 2020 will present the activities that worked best, the challenges of making group music online, a small amount of tech info for Zoom classes, and some experiments using Zoom for video and telephone for sound. Please have headphones handy and your instruments of choice!
Joelle Danant
Joëlle Danant is an improvisational vocalist, musician, songwriter, sound healing channel, educator, meditation teacher, interfaith minister (One Spirit Seminary/One Spirit Learning Alliance—, and writer. Joëlle is a certified music improvisation teacher, certified Yoga teacher (Integral Yoga Institute-Level 1); and a Chopra Center certified teacher in Primordial Sound Meditation. She teaches meditation and offers sound healing & chanting sessions, mostly at Pratt Institute (Brooklyn, NY) since 2013; and more recently for the first Summit on Mindfulness for Higher Education, hosted by Pratt (March 9, 2020). Joëlle is a recipient of the Music Ambassador Award from Music for People (2013, for her “Music Improvisation for the Soul” workshops); and of the Pratt Faculty Fund Development Grant (2017) for her upcoming book on Meditation. Joëlle’s“Sacred Union” CD has been played in healing settings such as massage and sound healing sessions, as well as in improvisational dance classes. Joëlle is a member of the NYC Healing Arts Alliance (of sound healers and musicians); and is one of the featured vocalists at their upcoming concert at St-Paul and St-Andrew Church in New York City (October 2020, contingent upon the pandemic status). Joëlle was recently invited for an upcoming podcast interview with the Planetary Gigs Society, an organization committed to Peace through Music. For more information, visit
Joelle Danant
Jonathan Best
Jonathan has been playing and teaching music around the world for over 30 years. He toured the Pentecostal churches of New York City and the south with The Elect Lady Evangelist Shirley Davis and has toured the world with Talking Heads leader David Byrne.
As both a performer and workshop facilitator he is constantly looking for common ground where everyone can communicate through music. Jonathan’s frequent trips to Kenya to work with the Maasai taught him that participatory music is a necessary ingredient for sustainable communities. He believes that the language of music is inside us all. It does not need to be learned, just coaxed.
Teaching has always been an integral part of his career. He has taught lessons one on one and has led workshops in recording, songwriting, piano, music composition and improvisation. His current passion is to entice everyone he meets to share their innate music from their soul.
Jonathan’s teaching style involves openness, kindness, enthusiasm, curiosity, and risk taking. He is convinced that creating music is part of a healthy life. Humans need to share music and they need a safe place to do it in. Jonathan provides that safe space through his excitement for music no matter who it’s coming out of. He also demonstrates his own curiosity and vulnerability through his music.
Nancy Salwen
Nancy Salwen grew up in New York City where she was raised on the folk music of the 60s. As a teenager she developed an interest in the traditional music of our culture and other cultures, and this continues to be a passion for her. A long-time resident of Keene, New Hampshire, she has sung with local choruses, ensembles and bands, has attended Village Harmony multi-cultural singing camps, and is a lead singer in a small band. Nancy is a Music for People Grad and a licensed Music Together early-childhood educator, and teaches in a wide variety of schools in New Hampshire’s Monadnock Region, as well as early-childhood family music and movement classes. Nancy also leads music-based team-building workshops for businesses and organizations to help teams improve communication and creative problem solving. Her love of community singing informs all of her teaching and she is devoted to facilitating community music-making opportunities for both experienced musicians and complete beginners. She is the author of “The Fear of Singing Breakthrough Program: Learn to Sing Even if You Think You Can’t Carry a Tune”®, an leads “Fear of Singing”® workshops in New York City, Vermont, and California. She teaches private lessons in Keene, NH and worldwide, via Zoom, and runs an online singing program for beginners called The Fearless Singers Playground. To learn more about Nancy and what she does, visit
Sarah Tenney
Sarah Tenney has introduced thousands of people of all ages to the pleasure of creating their own rhythms and melodies. In her workshops, participants play their own instruments.
She developed the Marimba Magic Method to offer children the joy of making their own music on junior sized marimbas. Sarah is a Master Practitioner of NLP and a Brain Gym Educational Therapist. She is on the faculty of the Rivers Music School and Northeastern University, and is a world percussion clinician of drummaker REMO, inc.
Shahzad James
Shahzad James is a professional Indian Classical Music player. He plays four instruments: tabla, dholak, harmonium, and piano and instructs classes to perform Indian classical Music/Vocals.
Sharon Little
Sharon Little
Stu Fuchs

Stu Fuchs is a heart-centered, lifelong musician and teaching artist. “Classically trained, improvisationally freed with M.F.P.", his ukulele and guitar workshops empower people of all backgrounds to connect with their inner musician. His music spans jazz, world & original styles with playing that is both meditative and exciting. Stu weaves virtuosity, humor, audience participation and soulful musicianship into his uplifting performances. As a long time practitioner of meditation, Stu is passionate about sharing music as a daily practice for health & well being. His playful, inspiring, and holistic teaching method "Ukulele Zen” make his workshops a not-to-be missed experience. Stu’s workshops playfully encourage students to deepen the mind-body-spirit-instrument connection which allows for enhanced listening, increased creativity and greater ease in music making.

Over a 25 year career, Stu has performed gypsy jazz guitar with symphony orchestras, presented ukulele workshops at festivals worldwide, toured internationally and recorded with Snatam Kaur on her 2018 Grammy-nominated album “Beloved”. For eight years he worked as an artist-in-residence at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, offering healing music and creative therapies for cancer patients, families ad hospital staff. In 2014 he was awarded a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts to compose an original, interactive performance using film & music documenting for his work offering healing music at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Stu’s offers weekly ukulele lessons and inspiration on his popular YouTube channel “Ukulele Zen” to Uke enthusiasts around the world. He holds his transformational Ukulele Zen retreat at holistic centers around the world. You can learn more about Stu on his website, and on his YouTube channel “Ukulele Zen.”

Terry Beck

Terry Beck has performed and choreographed dance worldwide as a solo artist for over thirty years. Additionally he performed and toured with his Philadelphia based Dance/Theatre Company - Terry Beck Troupe garnering numerous awards for dance and choreography. This includes The Edinburgh Festival's Critics Award for Dance – the highest honor of the Festival. As choreographer and filmmaker, he won an Emmy Award for his film "If the Walls Could Talk" which was commissioned by PBS. Recent projects include a new film which he created and directed with filmmaker Ros Smith, and the accompanying dance work entitled ‘Harbour’ for Rubicon Dance of Cardiff, Wales. His association with Rubicon Dance first began in 2015 and then again in 2016/17 before this latest project. As part of Rubicon Dance’s active repertoire are Beck’s excerpted performance of DIG, (originally commissioned by The Pennsylvania Ballet as an evenings length work for ten dancers), and ‘Collecting Gravity’. Both of these works originally toured extensively with both Terry Beck Troupe and with The National Dance Company of Wales (formerly 'Diversions Dance'). For ‘Harbour’ he requested to work with dancers who were associated with Rubicon Dance Company from years past. Therefore, the cast of this new work ranged in ages from 55 to 79 and was premiered in Cardiff in May of 2017. The work will go on to be performed at Saddlers Wells in London in 2019. Additional film projects as performer and dancer includes his work in the short 2015 dance film 'Shorelife', directed by Colin Connor of Cal Arts. In the late Fall of 2017 he began a multi-year collaboration with European dancer/choreographer and performance artist Milos Sofrenovic. This new work will premiere in Vienna before additional performances in Iceland and Paris. During the Fall of 2018 he will also begin a new Movement-Theatre work with Ellen Hemphill of Archipelago Theatre in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Beck’s work has been supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Pew Foundation the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the Carnahan Jackson Foundation Award, among others. Terry teaches ‘Movement for the Stage’ and ‘Dance Improvisation’ in collaboration with David Rudge’ s “music Improvisation’ class at SUNY Fredonia. Besides his movement and dance work, he is a noted acupuncture practitioner and has been teaching and practicing T’ai Chi for over thirty years world wide. He currently holds Tai Chi classes throughout Western NY.