Storytelling concert showcases improv music

BYU senior Hannah Giullian improvs at the piano in the Laycock Duo concert. (Photo by Taylor Davies.)
BYU senior Hannah Giullian improvs at the piano in the Laycock Duo concert. (Photo by Taylor Davies.)

Storytellers come in all shapes and forms, even improv. The Laycock Duos concert on Saturday, Sept. 14, showcased that emotion can be expressed in a unique way.

Improv music began to flourish at BYU from 2009 to 2011, when the College of Fine Arts and Communications as well as the BYU School of Music sponsored the Laycock Master Improvisers Residencies. Five visiting musicians worked with two BYU faculty artists, Steve Ricks and Christian Asplund, to record improvised duos and trios. Those recordings were made into a CD and honored by past and present BYU students at a release concert on Saturday night.

Hannah Giullian, a senior music compilation major from Morgan, Utah, was one of the improv performers. Though improv music may sound intimidating, Giullian thought differently.

“It’s not really that big a deal,” she said.

Giullian played the piano in the opening piece of the night, a trio with another pianist and viola player. The piece flowed from tones of eerie mystery to conflict and angst. Giullian mentioned that the group only had a couple of sessions together where they were able to get a read and flow for each others tendencies and characteristics.

“It makes it more fun to not know what’s going to happen,” she said. “You have to trust each other.” 

That same trust was seen in another one of the acts, a duo featuring Margot Murdoch, a BYU graduate who earned both her bachelor’s and master’s in music composition before going on to to receive her PhD in the same subject from the University of Utah.

Murdoch used her voice in an assortment of ways to communicate to the audience the varying emotions of her piece.

As an experienced composer, she said she enjoys the improv experience over traditional performances.

“I actually get less nervous than when performing something with notes on a page because it can’t be wrong,” she said. “The name of the game is listening and responding to your environment.”

The audience seemed to enjoy the new and raw experience as well.

“It was interesting expression of life and people,” said Nathan Kmetzsch, a junior majoring in biology and minoring in music. Kmetzsch. “I believe it’s harder than it looks, it requires a large level of musicality. They have to be accomplished musicians to do what they do.”

More information about the Laycock Duos and the world of improv instrumental music as well as the newest CD from BYU’s Tantara Records can be found at

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