Friday, March 25, 2016

The Space Around Us When We Play

I just returned from a few well-deserved days of vacation in Los Angeles away from playing or even thinking about playing, but when our daughter showed me and Michael a yoga-influenced exercise yesterday that involved a series of movements that raise awareness of the experience of right and left balance, I immediately thought of how the exercises could be applied to violin and viola playing.

A good 24 hours occupied by travel and sleep (sometimes at the same time) passed between the exercise we did and the time I finally picked up my viola back in Illinois. I closed my eyes (I didn't feel like changing into music glasses) and experienced a totally new kind of spacial relationship with my instrument. I will attempt to describe it here.

[It felt as if I were in a dream state having some kind of "vision." I'm writing about here to share, but I'm also writing about it so that I don't forget it!]

While I was playing the Bach G major Prelude I thought of my bow arm traveling along the circumference of a pie chart.

The A string was the yellow 10%, the blue 10% corresponded to the D String, the Green to the G string, and the red to the C string. This all makes perfect sense, and shouldn't be news to any string player reading this. What came as kind of a revelation to me is that my pie chart image was a not-very-thick disc, and that the circumference of the pie chart changed with where in the bow I happened to be. This gave the shape of each of the wedges a new kind of meaning for me.

Then I realized that I so often think of the "where" of my bow as being the "where" of my hand, when, in fact, the "where" of the bow goes both right (towards my hand) and left, towards the mysterious and exciting space that surrounds the tip of the bow on the "other side" of the wheel.

The core of my body (my heart and breathing mechanism) are at the very center of the wheel. I often give my students the image of a fulcrum on a teeter-totter to think of the bow on the string, but the image of a disk or wheel is so much more intense and useful because the space is solid and filled in.

So often as a flute player I thought of projecting my sound either forward or upward. I tried to imagine my sound going to other places in the room by focusing my eyes on different objects, but it always seemed directional, as if there were a dotted line connecting my mouth to the object. It was also very difficult to sustain attention on projecting towards different objects, because it was all something that happened in my imagination. I could sustain attention on it when playing long tones, but not when playing music when there was counting to be done and accidentals to pay attention to. All the "action" in flute playing happens on the right, so the mysterious area to the left is often left unexplored, particularly while practicing.

It IS really different with a string instrument. The movements that cut into in the surrounding space are the very things that make the sound.

I'll go practice now . . .

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