Collaborative Music Workshops

Collaborative Music Workshop for Curva Minore in Palermo

Thollem’s Collaborative Music Workshops explore egalitarian group dynamics and decision-making, as well as listening exercises, extended techniques, free and structured improvisation, and more. The emphasis is on creative exploration as a process with a collection of individuals. The workshops encourage participation by anyone regardless of their musical experience, age or language, and the techniques can be adopted as teaching tools for participants to share with others. This is an enjoyable experience as well as a deep dive into a profoundly significant practice and philosophy derived from multitudes of historic artistic sources and movements. The only criteria is that the participants must arrive ready to challenge themselves and support each other. 

The workshops are structured improvisations of their own, a natural progression based on a framework that is flexible to suit the needs and interests of everyone involved. Participants will leave with a greater ability to work collaboratively with others and to fully realize their own ideas and projects, ideally empowering each individual long after. Thollem has worked within many communities and ensembles throughout North America and Europe, in schools, conservatories, prisons, and community and art centers.

The workshop can be presented in one of two ways:
1. Focus on collaboration through sonic exploration
2. Focus on multi-disciplinary collaborations

Overall, the emphasis is not necessarily on individual creativity but on exploration personally as well as with others collaboratively. This workshop encourages participation by anyone regardless of their musical experience, age, or language. Most importantly, the workshop develops organically from the input of the participants, a natural progression, a structured improvisation of its own.

Participants will leave the workshop with a greater ability to work collaboratively with others and to see their own ideas and projects through to their full realization. The workshop is specifically designed to empower individuals long after it has finished.

Active Listening

This workshop focuses on one of the most important skills in living: listening. This one-three hour listening workshop leaves the participants aurally rejuvenated, enhancing their awareness of the nuances of everyday sounds of life.

As well as traditional musical instruments and voices, the workshop also incorporates found objects and objects that already naturally exist in the space, the acoustical properties of the space and everything possible that we discover as an ensemble throughout the process.


In a lecture situation, Thollem talks about his approach as a composer/performer, his work with large ensembles, as well as his travels and the benefits of this lifestyle.

He performed for [my students] briefly on the piano, and then talked with them about his musical development, training, and interests, along with some of his notable performance experiences around the world, his recording projects, and his life in general as an entrepreneurial free-lance musician. He also demonstrated some of his improvisation techniques. The session was thoroughly enjoyable and engaging…” – Jonathan McNair, UT-Chattanooga

Working with Classically Trained Musicians

Thollem has been working on his improvisational techniques with great musicians of classical training for many years now. Some of his more well-known works have been with Stefano Scodanibbio (‘On Debussy’s Piano And’ on Die Schachtel Records), and a quartet release with Daniele Roccato, Marco Rogliano and Francesco Dillon recorded at the Rassegna di Nuovo Musica in Macerata (released on Setola di Maiale). He has also worked with full symphonic orchestras such as Orquesta Libertad in Oaxaca, México, and the San José Symphony Youth Orchestra as well as in universities and conservatories throughout N. America and Europe. As a classically trained musician himself, he has a deep understanding of the challenges classically trained musicians face as they engage in improvisation. Thollem has devised simple ways to unlock creativity and help empower musicians towards self expression and collaboration who have otherwise attained high levels of musicianship.

Some important elements that Thollem emphasizes to classically trained musicians:
1. Improvisation is simply the action of free will. It can be as simple as playing a sound without the direction from another human. The process itself is as important as the result and at times even moreso.
2. The techniques classical musicians have attained over years of training are fundamental to the ability to improvise even though the process of attainment often negates the freedom of expression unnecessarily.
3. Improvisation used to be an integral aspect of the European Concert Music traditions. Bach improvised fugues, Beethoven wrote extensively about improvisation in his compositional process and of course the virtuosi competitions in the Romantic era were displays of profound spontaneous relationship to their instruments and sound. Improvisation has been widely utilized by modern composers.

Past workshops/lectures/master classes include:
o CalArts
o University of Illinois
o University of Wisconsin
o Thessaloniki Music Conservatory – Greece
o Portland State University
o University of Ohio
o University of Tennessee
o San Francisco State University
o Jazzores Festival – Ponta Delgada, The Azores – Portugal
o Fylkingen – Stockholm, Sweden
o Orquesta Libertad – Oaxaca, Mexico
o Scuola Populare Di Musica Ivan Illich – Bologna
o Curva Minore – Palermo
o Centre Municipal Culture et Loisirs – Gap, France
o Methods utilized in both the Cologne School of Music & the Paris Conservatory

São Miguel PT
Ann Arbor
New York
San Francisco
Oaxaca City MX
Gap FR