“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.
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...