The tennis player observes the ball as it leaves his racket and completes the trajectory he has sent it on. He is no longer ‘in control’ of the ball but rather relaxed, alert and watchful. Primed for the return. Once we have learned to initiate movement from our core, we must then practice not interfering in it. For those of us who have learned that playing is all about control, holding and doing, this is quite a challenge, and yet this is what allows us to replace fear of being out of control with freedom and ease.
“When the abandonment to gravity comes into action, resistance ceases, fear vanishes, order is regained, nature starts again to function in its natural rhythm and the body is able to blossom fully, allowing the river of life to flow freely through all parts.” – Awakening the spine…Vanda Scaravelli
It takes strength to hold a bow-arm from the string, and with added adrenalin this becomes even more challenging. Fearful of dropping it or crashing onto the string we grip the bow harder and migrate to the tip to escape the arm-weight we cannot control. That’s a lot of doing for a small sound! Practicing in a way that works with, rather than against gravity, we reorganize rather than withhold the weight. In forte, for example, the arm is aligned so that there are as few kinks as possible and the weight flows freely into the string. In pianissimo the elbow is low and the weight, unable to travel up the hill of the forearm just as water does not travel up a U-bend, rests at the elbow. All dynamic nuances (plus their corresponding vibrato width in the left hand) arise from the natural play between these two attitudes of tension and release, best illustrated in the action of bouncing a ball.
The Still Point
“…Except for the point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance.” – TS Eliot
At the end of the out-breath there is a still point. A point of non-doing, of rest and relaxation. It is also a point of regeneration. T.S Eliot calls it ‘the still point of the turning world’. There is such a point in the arc of the bow, in each note, gesture and phrase. When a gesture is complete, and a note comes to a natural end (with the elbow down and wrist up in complete release) we have arrived there. For many it is a scary place, one we either flee on a regular basis or do not even know exists, but it is one I highly recommend making friends with and hanging out in! Complete relaxation of body and mind come, of course, only at the end of a piece of music, but there are degrees, and becoming familiar and comfortable with this still point means we can sail close to it whenever we need, continually regenerating ourselves and the musical line.
To change our relationship to doing we need to learn to trust in the wisdom of our body more than the wisdom of our mind. This takes practice. Rather than trying to make the length of a note fit our idea, we practice allowing our note to be just as it is, in direct proportion to and a consequence of the preparation we make. We develop a kind of honesty by not interfering with it, and if we want it to be different, we go back to the preparation. (That is when we draw in the wisdom of our mind). If we work, first with one, then a series of notes, then an entire phrase in this way, eventually we are able to ‘generate’ a whole movement. Unencumbered by detail, we are driven rhythmically and harmonically, rather than by individual notes, entering into relationship with rather than controlling the music.
A pandemic rages. The concert halls, pubs, theatres and colleges are empty, and the music has stopped. A global pause button has been pressed in the life journeys of all musicians. Not just pit players, not just students, not just rappers or folkies, but all musicians.
The wall between stage and pit is just one of those that can exist between people, even playing the same music in the same place at the same time. However, thanks to Covid 19, a chink appeared in that wall last night, and through it the twain did most certainly meet.
In the recent and fascinating discussion on the benefits of yoga for musicians on The Exhale, someone asked the question ‘What about Pilates for strengthening the core?’ and, in his answer, my wise yoga teacher, Peter Blackaby, confirmed my hunch that isolating any muscle group or body part, even ‘the core’, to make a movement is counter-productive to flow and energy.
“I knew there was no way I could practice the amount I needed and not just completely destroy my body. I wondered how other people did it. It never occurred to me in college that it was something I could learn”