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.
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.
Introduction Many people ask me on Breathing Bow retreats if stage presence is something we can practice, if it is possible to find a way to be exactly where we are - in a concert hall with an audience right here and right now, about to share what we love? I believe that the answer is yes. Musicians’ preparation on a concert day can range from taking beta blockers to eating bananas. However, as soon as we are on stage we feel fear. Fear of losing control or mental focus, and above all fear of judgement. Our muscles contract, our heart rate speeds up, we go blank, our bow shakes, we sweat….the list of symptoms for ‘stage fright’ is endless and for many of us, coping with them simply isn’t
Power versus Strength ‘When you have attained complete relaxation, you are able to be flexible and agile in your movements.’ - Zen master Yang Cheng Fu “To relax is not to collapse, but simply to undo tension….There is nothing to be done. It is not a state of passivity but, on the contrary, of alert watchfulness. It is perhaps the most ‘active’ of our attitudes, going ‘with’ and not ‘against’ our body and feelings.” - Vanda Scaravelli - Awakening the Spine. Building strength through force only promotes the shortening of muscles as they contract, causing fatigue and strain. That strain goes against rather than with our body. Developing power is another matter entirely. Power is a natural state. It involves movement generated from our core, a great deal of relaxation and a...