The music next door

The Feldenkrais Room is adjacent to a rehearsal room. In my private practice I would never put music on during a lesson for all kinds of reasons. The few times I have used music were when I worked with children with Autism and other deficits who responded well to the organizing properties of Bach’s cello suites or his orchestral suites. At those times I found that my lessons where better organized and my thinking and feeling had a “flow” I did not experience to this extent at any other time. Since 40 years of my life was devoted to music from very early childhood, my creativity is at its best when I let it guide me.

In the first day of my stay at Yellow Barn Chamber Music School and Festival, the two pieces rehearsed were Schubert’s Rosamunde quartet and a Telemann flute concerto. Since I do not have a choice in this matter, and since all my students here speak the language of music, it is O.K. with all of us.

Settling into the lesson I was giving and feeling enhanced by the music, I was thinking about the similarities between a piece of music and the structure of a Feldenkrais lesson.

In a lesson the teacher thinks of an everyday activity, a “Function” in the Feldenkrais language, or a component of it, which he/she thinks will enhance the student’s life if done better, with less effort and with grace. The way to make it happen is by having a sensory conversation with the student’s nervous system which will bring about new learning. The tools we have are quite similar to composing a movement of a symphony.

The movement is composed around the Functions (note the similar word!) of a certain key, which are organized in a basic progression throughout the entire movement. Each one of these functions gets established by harmonical journeys away from it and back to it, or by circling it, which then highlights it. The digressions can be enormous, but as long as the composer has the original progression in mind, the listener feels that every sound is inevitable and that the piece ends exactly in the right moment. There is a tension that does not get completely resolved until the last sound.

It is an apt description of the ideal Feldenkrais lesson. Sometimes we use elements of other dynamic relationships from other lessons (functional progressions) to highlight a missing element in the picture the brain has of the chosen function. It is sometimes necessary to journey quite far in the service of a vision of home base. As long as the vision of what needs to be learned is clear until the end, there will be an internal, sensory logic to the lesson which will be appreciated by the student and establish new patterns of action. Here, in Yellow barn, it will mean better performance and injury free playing.

Embodied Music in Yellow Barn and Marlboro

As I gather my professional equipment and personal belongings to drive to Vermont tomorrow, I visualize what my work will look like in Yellow Barn (3 weeks) and Marlboro (3 weeks) music festivals. I imagine the scenery, the campuses, the rooms I will be working in, and the people who will come to learn something new about themselves, something that will help them find the most appropriate, effortless movements which correspond to the sounds they want to make. They will come to learn to identify the habitual, unnecessary work they do and leave it behind, making room for a spontaneous flow about which all musicians dream about.

The responsibility I feel is great, since the musicians, most of the time, will have to play immediately after the sessions with me, either in rehearsals or in concerts. In every lesson I will give, like in a concert, I will have to be at my best.

The challenge is: by what means do I make my students rediscover the early, preverbal rhythms, timings and lines of movement with which we all come into this world and with which we respond to sound, especially organized sound? How do I make the idea of “Embodied Music” real for the performer?

A while ago I came across a documentary called “When the Moment Sings” by John Collins & Jon-Roar Bjorkvold, which describes and compares everyday movements of people in Africa and westerners in Europe. Song and rhythm, from the beginning of life, accompanies everything the Africans do. The rhythm is internalized and present whether they walk with 20 kilos on their head, shifting the weight beautifully from one leg to the other, whether they work in the field, whether they build a railroad or whether they dance. The music informs their movements and their movements inform their music in a continuous feedback loop. It is “Embodied Music” and there is where I got the inspiration for this name. You can imagine that the Europeans, hurrying to the subway, do not fare so well in comparison!

But as babies, we have the same capacity as the African babies. All babies love to be rocked, move rhythmically to music, and are delighted when they learn to negotiate gravity and find mobility with no effort. They learn it all by themselves! Later, culture and socialization overrules some of these innate tendencies and we stop listening to our internal music, but it is all there to be accessed.

As musicians, we cannot afford to stop listening. If we do not discover again these innate rhythms and movements when we play, we will either not get the results we want, or we will use the kind of movement that causes injury.

It is my passion to discover more and more ways to have people sense the embodiment of music.

As a Feldenkrais Method trainer, I have a lot of knowledge about movement and its imperative importance in life. I also have many tools to bring to bear in creating change. But when a person comes in the door or a group of people lie on the floor in class, the particular organization of life that is unique to this person and to the group demands from me a new organization of the knowledge and the tools I have. It is exactly this creative reassembling of tools to respond anew to a new situation that makes the Feldenkrais method so effective. This is why continuous learning on my part cannot be compromised. There is no turning away from learning if I want to be present with a new person and take the time to identify what is the change that will be most meaningful to her or his life.

As I am packing, I am humbly gathering the gifts I have to be able to do this.

Welcome to the Feldenkrais for Musicians Blog

Welcome to the Feldenkrais for Musicians Blog!  In this blog we will cover topics relevant to musicians seeking to relieve pain, achieve a higher level of comfort while playing, and improve their overall performance.  Check back soon!