A Violinist Plays for a Rodeo!

An account of a novel experience by Erik Johnson-Scherger, Canadian Violinist and Member of the “Musical Practice Community with Jennifer Roig-Francoli” on Facebook. Erik is a first year graduate student at the University of Ottawa.

Alexander Technique violinIn a comments thread from a few posts back, Jennifer Roig-Francoli asked me to share my experience of playing a rodeo this past weekend, so here goes! I’ve been gigging occasionally with a country band for the past year, and this weekend was our second time playing the annual Grand River Rodeo, which is a (rather small I think?) rodeo that takes place in the countryside in southern Ontario, in Canada.

The rodeo was staged in a field next to the local water tower, and there were dozens upon dozens of vehicles – both cars and horse/cattle trailers – parked around the fenced-off rodeo ground. There were many competitors and animals about, and lots of denim and cowboy hats! I had the chance to watch a bit of bull riding before our set began, which was a fascinating spectacle.

Our stage consisted of several plywood sheets laid unevenly across the damp earth, and we had a large canopy and back and side walls of canvas to protect us from the occasional drizzle. The end of the stage was just a few feet from the nearest picnic bench of the outdoor bar (which was very picturesque, featuring home-built saloon stylings and poker chips as drink tokens).

The size of the crowd in the bar area fluctuated as different events came and went in the nearby corral, but the volume of the musicians was quite loud the entire time, to help project to other areas of the rodeo where the speakers weren’t pointed, perhaps.

My band consisted of a two piece this year – myself and the singer/guitarist, Nick. Last year there had been the budget for the full four piece with bass and drums, but this year they perhaps sprang for a more expensive main act.

Nick plays mostly older, “outlaw country” songs, and for two hours I backed him up with rhythmic double stops while he sang and played call-and-response style melodic fills where there was space in his phrases. I improvised one or two choruses each song and occasionally would take the melody. Most of the material I played came from the blues and dominant pentatonic scales, but I managed to squeeze the occasional diminished and whole tone lick in!

After the performance came a few drunkenly enthusiastic congratulations from bar patrons, a handful of bills, and a burrito from a local food truck.

This gig was also my first time performing on a solid-bodied electric violin, which presented an exciting learning curve.

The solid-body prevents feedback, but the absence of an actual sound technician, the way the previous band had left the PA system set up, and my own inexperience posed some challenges in setting the right monitor mix so I could hear myself. I also found the electric violin – when amplified at concert volume, as opposed to bedroom volume – much more responsive to nuances of bowing and extraneous noise from bow retakes etc., which made me play more carefully.

Despite those challenges, there was an intoxicating feeling of power that came from hearing how loud I was during soundcheck, and I’m really looking forward to practicing more with it and getting a better idea of how to fine tune its sound in concert.

In summary, it was an experience very distant from any of the classical performing and even most of the non-classical performing I’ve done, and a really exciting opportunity to spend time immersed in a culture foreign to me. Plus, it constitutes one of the few times when I can get paid to wear denim on denim (we call it a “Canadian tuxedo” 😜)!


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How Can I Practice When the World is Falling Apart?

The Centered Violinist, The Centered MusicianI still need to practice another 25 minutes today to uphold my commitment to myself.

But I just watched a 20-min. news video/documentary about the Charlottesville riots.

I don’t usually watch the news – or any TV, actually. So I am super-sensitive… and now I am devastated. I am appalled. I am in disbelief. I am absolutely repulsed.

Like everyone in this country, I’ve read and learned about Nazis and WWII and the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. since I was a child, and I’ve seen more movies about these topics than I can count. But what’s happening in this video is not a movie – and it’s not over. It is happening NOW. In our country. HERE. I feel sick.

I will go practice and make music now, because that’s what artists do. But all I can do on my way there is wonder how I will do it.

And then I answer myself:
I will continue on, and practice what I preach, and practice what I’m being taught. I will begin right now, right here. I wonder: what do I notice about myself right now? And I notice just a bit of Ease that I wasn’t aware of a moment ago. And then… I ask myself the question again, and I wonder and I breathe. And again. And then I remember other helpful thoughts, and think those, too.

This is how I practice: just the same as every other time. I wonder about Ease and Peace, and I find it in myself, and I appreciate that in this moment I also find it here in my home. There’s no guarantee that the peace will remain in my home or my country or my surroundings, but I know I can always find it within myself. And that is very comforting.

A member of my Musical Practice Community on facebook, Ray Nichol, responded with this comment: “You will play, you will practice, you will teach because not to do these things of beauty and love and self expression means that they have won. And I for one believe in the yin and yang of the universe. Do not walk timidly to the practice room RUN!!! And play with more passion than ever before.” Thank you, Ray. How right you are!

Alexander Technique, musicians!


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Violinist: “My Pain is Gone!”

Alexander technique violinIn this post, I’d like to share a beautiful story that I’ve received from one of my online students, violinist Anne Brűggemann-Klein. Thank you, Anne! It’s letters such as this one that touch my heart and help spur me on to continue my work, reminding me yet again of the power of the Alexander Technique!

As a “returning” violinist, having taken up violin lessons again in 2004 after a hiatus of 30 years, I have always been on the lookout for communities of adult amateur musicians. I have been a passive member of Jennifer Roig-Francoli’s The Art of Freedom Village for Musicians Facebook group for a number of years, but the focus of Alexander Technique over violin playing did not draw me in.

That changed when Jennifer created the Musical Practice Community Facebook group and started it off with her original 30-Days Practice Challenge in preparation of her performance of Rossini’s “Un mot a Paganini” in the fall of 2016. The Musical Practice Community has challenges for everybody to participate in, guiding weekly questions and the option of giving and receiving feedback to and from peers. I was hooked. And I started to appreciate the power of the Alexander Technique and Jennifer’s Art of Freedom flavour to make everything we do better and easier.

I was originally motivated to seek out private AT lessons to help with pain and limited range of motion in my right shoulder. My teacher in Munich, Barbara Wiebe, did what halyoron injections, ibuprofen medication, 30 hours of physio treatment and much experimenting with online recommendations could not do: My pain is gone and my range of motion is nearly back to normal. Recently, two mentors and a number of friends, unprompted, commented on the improved freedom of my bow arm.

The scope of Alexander Technique is much broader than the physical. Its spiritual, mental and domain-specific implications are most amazing. I got an inkling of that through the online interactions in the Musical Practice Community. My biggest break-through in understanding, however, came from…

Continue reading

Expressing Musical Emotion without Tension?

Alexander Technique music violin

From Idea to Expression

I taught an online masterclass for violinists and violists last Sunday*, and – as always – some very interesting ideas came up in response to the music offered.

[*CLICK HERE to join my next online masterclass on healthy violin/viola posture/setup]

I’d like to share just a few of those ideas here, first on the topic of expressing intense emotions without indulging in the usual accompanying physical tension.

The sound/music we wish to create begins with an idea in the mind.  THAT is the music that we are directly involved in creating – right there, first and foremost IN THE MIND. To have a clear intention…a vision…a pre-hearing…of what we wish to create is the first task of our conscious mind.

The second task of the conscious mind, as I see it, is to think constructively (using specific Alexander Technique thoughts, for instance) in a way that helps us to interfere as little as possible with the pure transmission of that idea through the physical body and out the instrument into sound.

The physical tension that normally accompanies emotional tension can interfere with that free expression, so our job is to allow the tension in the MUSIC to express itself through us, but without allowing ourselves to take on that tension. Physical/emotional tension involves a contraction of muscles which impedes the free movement of our body needed to move the arms/hands/fingers, etc. for the best possible, precise technique.

We need to allow the music to do all of the “work” for us. We need to trust that it’s all there, in the music. We don’t need to add anything to it. The emotions are all there. We act as as conduit – a messenger – for the emotions inherent in the music. We feel them, but in the moment that we feel them, we let go of them, allowing them to move THROUGH us freely. Excess tension/contraction actually BLOCKS the free flow of musical emotion.

Studying the specifics of our musical technique is important, but we usually invest far too much time and energy into the pursuit of technique, with the misunderstanding that achieving a kind of mental-muscular control is the way to bring our creation closer to perfection. I think we have our priorities wrong when we do this.

The technical study of specifics must ALWAYS be viewed in the context of the whole, in which the general has priority. The WHOLE of the music is more than the sum of its parts. Attention to the whole must be uppermost in the mind even while focusing on specifics. Technique always needs to be secondary to the musical ideal in the mind, and awareness of Ease in the mind-body.

Alexander Technique music violinistsThe third role of the conscious mind is to TRUST.  To trust that the unconscious inner wisdom – our “Inner Coordinator” – DOES know exactly how to manifest the musical ideal through the body into the reality of sound.

A related topic that came up in the masterclass deals with allowing ourselves to be moved by our music.

Instead of “making music” and thinking of ourselves as the creator who manifests the music by DOING something to make it happen, let’s experiment with the idea that simply having the idea and getting out of the way, allowing the music to “do itself” is enough.

In fact, “making” the music is just another way of interfering with it. Let’s allow the music to live and move us. Our job is to listen to it create itself in the mind.

When I am playing at my best, I am allowing myself to be inwardly moved by that inner music that happens before it is manifested. If I listen to the resulting music more than that “primary”, inner music, I can be moved in a way that causes me to get “carried away” by the feelings it induces in me.

When I do that, it can FEEL great and highly expressive, but the actual music I produce is not as good – and doesn’t convey the musical emotions as well – as when I stick to the experience of the INNER music and notice what is happening to my mind-body-self in the precise moment of NOW.

alexander technique musiciansThe proof that this works is in the recordings I make of myself. In fact, I often can’t believe that it’s better until I compare a recording of myself getting carried away by the musical feelings with a recording of myself sticking to principle and allowing the music to have a life of its own, because making music this way so often just feels wrong because it is going against my habit of getting carried away by feelings.

I’m not saying it’s easy to play this way – because the mind is very good at interfering!!! But I do know that it is 100% possible to let the music happen this way, and there is nothing on earth more gratifying, because it paradoxically allows the music-making to be truly free and effortless…a pure expression of creativity in the moment.

This description of a way and an experience are rather difficult for me to put into words, so please forgive me if this post doesn’t make much sense or seems impractical, dear Reader! My hope is simply that it may spark and inspire you to wonder about what might be possible, and to experiment with what makes sense to you!

*To attend my next online masterclasses for violinists/violists, register here:
UPCOMING: “The Centered Violinist: Healthy Posture and Setup Clinic”
Sunday, June 25 / 1:30-3:00 EDT
REGISTER BY JUNE 18 FOR 25% OFF – USE COUPON CODE “EARLY25”


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You can help a musician and help support my practice by sharing this post! Thanks! 🙂

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How to Find Internal Motivation to Practice – Being Me

Finding motivation to practice is not difficult for me when I have a clear goal, such as a performance to prepare for.

What I find challenging is to find compelling and consistent internal motivation to practice in the absence of an external circumstance that gives me a deadline or something specific to do.

As many of my readers know, I’ve had a few very interesting years in which my life and my perspective on things has been changing radically. Briefly: I’m nearing the end of a long divorce process (after 26 years of marriage – I married young), my older son has just graduated from high school, and I am no longer teaching my usual classes at UC-CCM.

Alexander Technique violin

Image courtesy of koratmember at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Suddenly, I find myself heading into summer with more freedom than I’ve ever experienced before, in every area of my life. Yes, it seems I truly am LIVING The Art of Freedom! The world is my oyster and I am its pearl!  🙂

A funny thing about freedom is that it increases one’s awareness of infinite possibilities – which can be either awesomely wonderful or terrifying – or both!

As I continue to find my way through the fear of the Unknown, slowly letting go of it to find more and more ease, I’m realizing acutely that I alone am responsible for choosing what to do with my time here on earth. I am coming face to face with myself, and I realize how much there is about myself that I don’t yet know or understand! Continue reading

My Onstage Disaster: What it Taught Me about Perfection and Happiness

This is a personal story by one of my CCM students, an oboist named Jacob Martin. Jacob had one semester of Alexander Technique lessons with me while doing his Masters in music this year.

Alexander Technique oboeI’m not a gullible person. So when I asked “what does the Alexander Technique help with?” and my friends told me “It helps with everything!” I was immediately skeptical. What could be so broad in its application that it can benefit not only every aspect of music-making, but every aspect of living a life?

It sounded to me like the most dubious of all religious claims. Can anything really help with everything? Sitting, standing, breathing, the finer motor movements required of playing an instrument….how could AT help with every one of these things?

I went into my first lesson skeptical, but knowing if I was open-minded, I might at least gain a different perspective on things. It was a comfort knowing that if I found any or all of it to be absurd, I was free to reject it, a perspective I was not expecting my instructor to share (which she did)!

No one was forcing me to believe anything. This wasn’t a system of proselytization; no one was demanding that I believe certain things, or think a certain way. This I learned immediately but I was still unsure about what AT really was.

Over the semester, Jennifer helped me to understand. Gradually I came to appreciate everything the Alexander Technique truly is, the extent of its possible application, and its extreme value to everyone, but especially to musicians. I finally grasped how and why the Alexander Technique was able to “help with everything.”

Here’s what happened…

With the final semester of my Master’s degree drawing to a close, I was assigned an important musical part from my teacher, the first oboe d’amore part to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with the CCM Philharmonia.

This part was my “big moment,” my parting gift from my teacher, my biggest opportunity. It was important enough to me that I decided to bring it to Jennifer, as I was being asked to do some rather challenging things…. Continue reading

What Can We Learn From This Musical Adventurer? Come SEE!

Alexander Technique violin

Jasmine Reese, dog Fiji, and Violin!

A couple years ago, this adventurous musician captured my imagination on Facebook!

(You can watch he video of me working with Jasmine in a future blogpost – stay tuned!)

Jasmine Reese, her dog Fiji, and her violin have been travelling across the country for the last couple of years, practicing in all kinds of places, meeting new people, learning from musicians happy to share their expertise with her…and thoroughly enjoying her life and her FREEDOM!

Now, she’s planning a trip (with her dog and her violin, of course) all over the world. What’s not to love about this story?!

The problem is…. It turns out that constant biking and playing the violin don’t always mix so easily…

Alexander Technique violin

When Jasmine contacted me from Indianapolis a few weeks ago and inquired whether I could help her with some pain she’s been experiencing from her biking, which is now extending to her violin playing, I was very happy to arrange to work with her as soon as possible.

As you’ll see, not only is Jasmine an adventurous, free spirit filling the world with her music, but she has some wonderfully innovative ideas for how to connect with other musicians like myself, and we’d like to share what we’re learning with YOU.

After brainstorming together on the phone, we decided that she would come to see me in Cincinnati this weekend, and together we would video a session or two of my teaching her how to start freeing herself from her discomfort with her violin, The Art of Freedom, and the Alexander Technique.

***

Note from May 31: Stay tuned for a future blogpost that will share the video of Jasmine’s lesson with me, plus a podcast interview about The Art of Freedom and the Alexander Technique… When it’s ready I’ll post it – we had a GREAT time!!

Exploring My Resistance to Practicing

Alexander Technique, violin, violin teacher

The Violin of Life, by Terri Eilermann

In this deeply personal post, I’m sharing how I’m currently exploring my resistance to practicing, which is a recurring lifelong theme that crops up from time to time to help me grow and move forward as an artist, person, and violinist.

Last week, I spent a great week in Cleveland performing with Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra.

It was an inspiring week, as we performed an all-Beethoven concert on original instruments with the son of my first Alexander Technique teacher (Erik Bendix), Noah Bendix-Balgley, who is now the Concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic. He performed the Beethoven violin concerto, a piece that has always been very special to me.

As I watched and listened to Noah, I felt a deep heartache stirring within myself made of a strong desire to play that concerto again for myself. I began to look forward to fresh explorations of the piece when I got home, as I saw a world of new potential beckoning me.

But what happened when I returned? LIFE!  Of course.

Life with its thousand and one things to DO on my lists, with my children needing this and that, and work requiring this and that.

In the end, more than a week has passed and I haven’t even touched my violin! Funny thing is…. the more time passes, the less I want to practice… and the more I resist it. Because I could always make a few moments if I really wanted to……right?

But…. yesterday, I stumbled upon an unexpected key to something important at an art fair – the violin pictured above. I didn’t really understand why, but this gorgeous work of art called to me silently and won my heart…. So I brought it home.

There’s something about this discarded and beautified violin that is poking at my soul again, reaching deep inside me through all those thousand and one obligations that seem to have nothing to do with the violin, bringing me back to my origins as a musician….back to my 2-year old self that started out on a “violin” made from half a coconut…..back to something so old that it surely lived inside the hearts of our ancestors…. maybe its music even goes back to the beginning of Time itself….who knows what it is and why it moves me so much.

This violin represents something so raw and deep and essential… it is the perfect symbol for a revival of my musical self on a deeper plane…. and it comes at a turning point in my life, when old things are falling away one by one and I find myself standing in the middle of Rumi’s “field”… “beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing”…. and HERE is where I meet myself.

This violin represents…

Beauty
Secret treasures
Silence
Music
Growth
Life
Renewal
Past, present, and future
Shining
Expression
Soulfulness

…and Infinite Potential.

I will hold this violin in my hands, in my arms, and I will BE with it.

I will wonder about my relationship with violin, music, art, and myself….

In Silence.

This violin’s music is Silence. It can only be played in the imagination, its sound heard only in the mind-heart-self.

Listening to myself and the reverberation of Life between me, violin, and everything else, I listen to what this relationship has to teach me. What does it sound like? What does this musical Silence sound like?

Silence is the origin of Music, and it is found in the Heart of all things….

I will spend some time opening myself up to this…. to a Question that doesn’t require an answer… possibly doesn’t have one, and maybe has many.

I have discovered many times that opening up to life’s Question like this is enough. Asking is enough. And then…. the actions that might arise spontaneously are always the best ones for the moment.

What is best for me right now?

To practice or to not practice?

In fact, I don’t really care about that question….that’s not the question I’m asking….that’s not the question that matters.

I care about the bigger Question.

It’s a wordless Question with a hidden melody…. a Sweet Melody that lives within this beautiful violin and within my heart and within yours.

Remembering this open Question full of Life’s Wonder brings me peace, and I know that this way is my way for now.

And this is enough.

I smile.

 

 

7 Tips for Violinists Who Feel Discomfort While Playing

Question: I feel stiffness and discomfort when I play my violin. What can I do?

I specialize in helping violinists discover more freedom and ease in the mind and body while practicing and performing, thereby reducing or eliminating pain, tension, and anxiety. Here are just a few tips to point you in a more comfortable direction:

1. First, get in the habit of doing 5-20 minutes (the more the better!) of Constructive Rest with my “3 Magic Phrases” before you start practicing. You can download a free guide to learn how to do this from the purple box in the right sidebar.

2. Walking around or letting yourself dance a bit when you play is a fun way to remind yourself that your joints can be free and movable even while you play.

3. Don’t stiffen your legs while you play. No locked knees!

4. I don’t care what your teacher said – make sure your eyes don’t get fixed to one spot as you play – NOTHING should EVER be fixed or stuck in one place!  The point is to be aware as often as possible that you are free and mobile on the inside of you, so that you can learn to be outwardly relatively still, while you are free on the inside.

Your music will easily move your audience
when YOU are movable!

5. Playing an instrument is all about experimenting. There is NO right way to do anything at the violin!! (Or any other instrument, for that matter!) There are ways that are better for you, or less helpful for you. YOU are the one who knows what is best for you. Make the time to really listen to what your body is telling you, and be gentle with yourself.

6. When you’re in discomfort, only do very short bits of practicing at a time (just a few minutes), and take LOTS of breaks.

7. HAVE FUN!!! If you’re not enjoying yourself and you’re uncomfortable, it’s time to take a break and look around at all the beauty and peace in the world around you! There’s more to life than your discomfort, thank God.

These are just a few tips for beginners AND professionals. It doesn’t matter what skill level you are, and it doesn’t matter what your particular circumstances are. We are all human beings who tend to forget about the “being” part; somehow we think we’re human “doings”!

We need to remember to stop and listen to the inner wisdom we carry around within us all the time, which is full of life, breath, and movement at all times.

Learn to “Stop – think – play”,
and the most important of those is “stop”.

I wish you well!! If you’re interested in learning more about The Art of Freedom and the Alexander Technique to help you find a centered, easier way to play, let me know! I currently have openings for online lessons and classes, so it doesn’t matter where you live – I can help. 🙂

Practicing Don Juan with Alexander Technique and My Inner Critic!

I’ve been doing a lot of deep work with myself, my violin, and the Alexander Technique when I practice these days.

I’m discovering anew that making real, fundamental change can be scary, because it means confronting the Unknown and experiencing the feeling out of being control, and meeting aspects of myself I’d rather not look at because I don’t like them!

In this video, I’m giving myself time to experiment with sticking to AT principles while lifting the bow and practicing the opening of Don Juan. Practicing in this way is very confronting, and I find myself face-to-face immediately with my inner critic.

The only way to quiet this critic is, surprisingly, to COMPLETELY IGNORE the fact that I’m playing the violin, and direct my thinking to my Alexander Technique thoughts with vigilance! Not easy to do, this will require a lot of practice, bit by bit, over time.

It’s also scary because it feels like I don’t know how to play the violin anymore, and it sounds terrible to me – even though it’s not so bad when I listen to the recording later.

I will continue on with this self-disciplining practice because I KNOW that I am improving in this way. But what an adventure…self-knowledge and transformation requires COURAGE…it’s not for the faint of heart!!

Thankfully, artists are BRAVE!

And… I have all the time in the world. 🙂

Your comments are welcome, as always.

Alexander Technique violin teacher

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