“The mind in its natural state can be compared to the sky, covered by layers of cloud which hide its true nature.” – Kalu Rinpoche
Once we learn to generate movement from our core and not interfere with it, once we start to follow rather than control the music, we experience an extraordinary new space.
Like a city dweller suddenly finding herself under a huge desert sky, for some this space can be terrifying.
What do I put in it?
Who am I in it?
In fact, it is there we find connection. With ourselves, the music and the audience.
“In order to really be, you have to be free from the thinking… Non-thinking is an art and, like any art, it requires patience and practice.”
–Thich Nhat Hanh (Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise)
Thought is necessary. We need to think during our practice – about the composer’s life, the harmony, the metre, the structure. We need to observe how we are playing our instrument and how it corresponds, or not, to what we hear in our inner ear. But thought in the form of planning, judging, remembering and commenting takes us out of the present moment and when we are thinking in this way, clear observation is impossible.
Here is an example of a ‘thought’ during practice, which is in fact a judgement, followed by a clear observation.
Judgement: ‘Out of tune!’
Observation: The note was flat, which means I did not prepare the shift enough. My elbow needs to bounce higher so the forearm falls further.
‘Thoughts’ we have during concerts can be even more harsh: ‘You have no right to be on stage!’ ‘Your teacher will be disappointed!’ But they can also be ‘positive’: ‘Think about releasing your thumb on the G’. ‘Go to the B flat’. ‘Good. Must remember that for next time’. ‘Relax’. ‘Try to be present’.
Every one of these thoughts does the same thing. It takes us out of the present, even the one that asks us to be in it. Because a concert takes place in the present moment, I believe that fifteen minutes’ meditation a day can be far more helpful than four hours’ thinking which we call ‘instrumental practice’. I also believe that if our practice could be composed of clear observation, listening, both leading and following and respecting the natural movement of our body, we would have to do very little of it.
Getting Ourselves Out of the Way
As musicians we fear that, unless we inject every phrase with our ‘personality’, our playing will be boring. Unless we do things to the music we won’t have an ‘interpretation’. However, when a musical line falls like an autumn leaf, or rises like an eagle soaring on a thermal, is this our personality? Or our interpretation? When we are able to get ourselves out of the way, there is no ‘I’ to judge or be judged. Because there is no judgement there is no duality, no perfection, no imperfection, no right, no wrong, no them (the audience) and us (the performer). There is only a magical moment-to-moment unfolding.
A desire to make music from the inside-out is growing. I often wonder if it is a reaction to the virtual outside-in world in which so many of us artists find ourselves, and the human and spiritual meaning we long to bring back to the act of making music.
Working consciously with the breath is powerful because we develop a felt sense deep inside the body of the mechanics of movement, of how muscle groups work perfectly together, especially when we change direction (up and down, left to right etc). This felt sense somehow manages to bypass our intellect, which can be a very helpful thing in our learning (or unlearning) process.
Injuries come not from tension, but from lack of life. They occur when things are static. If tension and release were in a healthy relationship, connected to the music and centrally generated in the body, I feel fairly certain there would be no injury.
Have you ever had the feeling when you are talking with someone that they are not listening at all but rather waiting for any cue to jump in with their own point of view? Or do you recognize that kind of non-listening in yourself? And do you sometimes mistake this kind of non-listening for listening when you practice and perform?
Have you ever wondered why so many jazz, world and folk musicians are so relaxed, so chilled? Why their phrases are so often like ripples made from a pebble dropped in water, their movements as natural as the bounces of a skipping stone? I think it is because they are allowing the music to follow its own destiny. Their mind is not constricted by thought and their body not brittle with commands and control. Rather than making the music, they are in a constant state of becoming it.