Improvisation can be scary, especially for classically trained musicians. It can be shunned as a lesser form of practice, and is often misunderstood as something lacking in structure, function or cause. But improvisation is a fundamental human drive. It shouldn’t be treated like a precious commodity.

Keyna WilkinsKeyna Wilkins. Photo © Tawfik Elgazzar

I started as a classically trained flutist and pianist, with a light sprinkle of jazz. My institutions were the old guard: Sydney Conservatorium, Bristol and Bath Spa Universities in the UK, and the University of Hildesheim in Germany. I mostly stuck to the rules but dabbled in the shadows of free expression during these years, often as a tool to generate ideas for my compositions.

When I was 19, I saw a performance in a little hut by a Tibetan Buddhist monk, Tenzin Choegyal, playing a bamboo flute. It was so powerful, intuitive, deep and moving, I approached him after the show and asked to take lessons. He agreed on the condition that they were free. Those short lessons changed my life....