I recently searched newspapers.com for the phrase "improvises music" and turned up the interesting story of Ella Malone from San Jose, CA. Ella was a teenager who was first reported in the San Jose Mercury as having extraordinary experiences in which she channeled spirits while playing the piano. Her story is worth quoting at length (author is unknown)
"She goes into a trance, in which she claims to be, not Ella Malone, but a man named Charles S. Evans, who died several years ago, but who was, while living, a musician and a member of a minstrel troupe. While in this state she is said to execute difficult music on the piano with her eyes closed, she being evidently in an abnormal condition. After a few performances of this kind she is able to give the same music in her normal state. In this way, in less than a year, without any previous knowledge of music, and without any present knowledge of written music, she is able to execute many difficult pieces with the skill and precision of an artist. At times her 'control', as the influence is called, improvises music, and has composed several pieces in which Ella plays in her normal state. In this way she is acquiring her musical education independent of books of earthly instructors."Malone's story made a small splash in the fall of 1877, with her story being retold in newspapers in Reno NV, Detroit MI, Milwaukee WI, Holton KS, Davenport IA, and Pulaski TN. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch dismissively wrote that "If the spirits' music is no better than their literature, she might do better to learn from a dog with a tin kettle tied to his tail."
Ella Malone is known to have given a concert at Little Music Hall on 19 September 1877, which was very well reviewed. The Batesville Guard (Batesville, AR) reprinted the report from the San Jose Mercury (author, again, unknown) :
"The so-called trance medium, Miss Ella Malone, of this city, assisted by the Parkman family, gave a concert at Little Music Hall last evening. The attendance was not large. Shortly after 8 o'clock, an overture having been played by Professor Parkman, the medium was introduced ... she rubbed her eyes a few minutes, after the style of Fannie Allyn and other "trance mediums" who have appeared here in public, turned to the master of ceremonies, who bound her eyes with a handkerchief, after which she was apparently seized with a fit of trembling and jerking. This continued a minute or two and the agony was over; she was then, as the Spiritualists say, "possessed, or under control." Without more ado she turned to the piano, a Weber furnished by Morton & Co., and commenced her execution, and, in the language of a bystander, proved before five minutes had passed that she was a "lightning striker." Her movements were all characterized by the same irresistible nervous twitching, and the way she clawed the keys while executing some of the lively Irish reels, was simply marvelous ...
She then executed a piece which she informed the audience was the "Wrecked Daughter," and another entitled "The Soldiers Crossing the Plains," followed by the "Arkansas Traveler." The latter was perfect. After this she played a piece not in print, called the "Spirit March," which came from the "Higher Powers," whoever they may be. After this exertion, she asked that the band would play while she rested ...
At the close she asked that the boy violinist play what he pleased and she would accompany him. He did so, and gave a musical medley which in the main was accompanied correctly. At times she was at fault as if finding the keys, and in one instance she failed, and listened for the time to end. She then sang "Come to that Beautiful Shore," with much expression. The "Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane," was next, but the lines were given as if by spasmodic effort. The "Blue Danube Waltz" and "John Brown's Body" followed, both of which were rendered in first-class style.
A Mr. Hughes, a violinist, in the audience then asked to be permitted to take the boy's violin and see if she could accompany him, and the test was satisfactory. We allow all who were present to draw their own conclusions, as to whether the girl is an expert musician, figuring to be controlled, or is controlled, by a supernatural power. Suffice it to say that, taken throughout, the entertainment was pleasing and well worth the admission fee."I was unable to find any information about "Professor Parkman" or "Charles S. Evans".
An Ella Malone was reported to have committed suicide in Los Angeles in 1907. Perhaps it's the same person. In any case, I couldn't find any other leads to what happened to her. If this is the same Ella Malone, it is a tragic end to what could have been a remarkable career.