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.
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.
The 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.
The 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
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