Body Mapping, Flying, and Flute: Chatting with Vanessa Breault Mulvey (part 1)
I first met Vanessa last summer at the Andover Educators® Body Mapping conference in Portland Oregon, and we had connected earlier because of my blog. Vanessa is a Boston-area flutist, instructor, and Body Mapping teacher, drawing from her many areas of interest to help musicians move better and play better. She has an incredibly articulate bio on the AE® page, which will give you some of her background. I spoke with Vanessa at the beginning of April.
Uncovering the intimate relationship between the best musical expression and movement is Vanessa Breault Mulvey’s mission. A Licensed Andover Educator, she utilizes Body Mapping along with experience in Pilates, Feldenkrais, flying trapeze and restorative exercise to guide musicians to uncover their expressive voice, as they eliminate playing limitation and pain. Ms. Mulvey has presented workshops around the world for musicians, venues include: New England Conservatory, Longy School of Music, SUNY Purchase Double Reed Day, British Isles Music Festival, Trevor Wye’s Boston Master Classes, Harvard University, National Association for Music Education Conferences, and Boston Flute Academy. In addition to working with musicians, she has a special interest in applying Body Mapping to fitness. She is working on a developing a playful movement workshop for musicians to restore energy through movement, and co-teaches an anatomy infused Pilates class. Ms. Mulvey is on the faculty at Longy School of Music of Bard College, where she teaches a popular Body Mapping course and the Poised Performer Workshop.
Kayleigh: How did you first learn about Body Mapping and its application to music?
Vanessa: Around 2004 or 2005, I was applying to present at Flute Fair here in Boston, and I wanted to speak about body position and alignment, since it’s something that I’m always aware of as a teacher and performer. My application was rejected for Flute Fair, and they said that they had a Body Mapping person coming, and since I didn’t know what it was, I thought, “I’d better go find out what that is.” The presenter was Lea Pearson, and when I was there, I thought, “This is everything that I’m talking about and teaching about, but with more exact language.”
K: So Body Mapping gave you a precise lens to look through flute and alignment things.
V: Absolutely-so I bought the book (Body Mapping for Flutists: What Every Flute Teacher Needs to Know About the Body) that day, and I started studying it, and it just made so much sense. I did more work with Lea when she happened to be in town, and I just kept running with it, and I saw the immediate impact on both me and my students. Lea was very encouraging, remarking, “I think you’d be great,” so I went to Summerflute out in California, and I was hooked. It made sense- it was fun, it was empowering, so I started studying and studying, and there were no Body Mapping instructors in the Boston area at that time, so I was on my own, and I went to Summerflute out in California three or four times. I also went to a body mapping conference in Ohio, and it was the best place- the musicians and instructors were truly collaborative and supportive
K: Where did you initially study flute?
V: I did my undergraduate degree at the Crane School of Music up in Potsdam, NY, and then I went to Cincinnati Conservatory for my master’s.
K: Were those teachers interested in the body, or was that something that evolved for you separately?
V: My undergraduate teacher (Kenneth Andrews) always talked about the body, whether it was the relationship of the feet and posture and the flute, or breathing- it was vague, but it was there. I was always aware of the body- I could see the changes in my playing as a result of cultivating awareness and connectivity. My graduate school teacher was not at all inclined towards the body, and at CCM, there was nothing for the body or wellness, so I went through graduate school cold, so to speak. When I got to experience the Body Mapping work, I realized, “There’s so much more that I can know and learn.”
K: You became interested in Body Mapping in 2004 or 2005, but how did this extend out into other forms of movement practices? V: It began as an undergrad- I saw the power of movement when I taught at Longy as the head of the Woodwind department. While there, I ran woodwind performance seminars, I ran juries and auditions, and I’d watch the way they moved. I’d say to people, “Why don’t you orient yourself this way, or move this way,” and I would see immediate change. I could work with just about anybody and make a difference. My language was very vague at that time, and body mapping gave me the chance to very specific, and know why and how the body is organized how it is, making even more of a difference. Of course, it was a lot of experimenting in my own personal practice, and that led me to this uncovering of movement, and it turns out that I’m very passionate about human movement- any chance I can, I’m moving. In classes, I talk about how you have to cultivate a lifestyle that supports your music-making. You might not be playing 12 hours a day, but chances are you are moving 12 hours a day, and those are opportunities to improve your quality of movement so that when you get to your instrument, overall awareness and movement has improved.
K: How do you define Body Mapping? I know that’s not the easiest of questions to answer, but it’s an important one for people who may not be familiar with it.
V: Body Mapping is understanding the body’s design for movement, and understanding it at the anatomical level, and then applying that into executing quality movement, and then taking that quality movement and integrating it into your playing. It enhances fluidity and poise, but most importantly, in my opinion, is it creates the ability to be independent in your movement. For example, blowing air faster, doesn’t mean tightening the arms or the neck; I can simply isolate my breathing and blow my air faster. So it’s that independence that I love to uncover.
K: What’s interesting to me is that you didn’t come to this work from a place of injury- so many players and teachers become more interested in the body when there’s a total breakdown of the body, rather than being interested before injury.
V: I have absolutely been uncomfortable, I have had unreliable technique and sound, but no, I was never injured. I’ve had pain between my shoulder blades, but it was never chronic, and I would always deal with it. But what I like now is that when I do experience pain, I can use movement to restore good function.
K: I think that’s always the goal.
V: It can be anything- I was rock climbing with my daughter and fell hard, and my neck is feeling cranky. I might see a chiropractor, but I can also say, “I know where this pain is coming from, I know what I need to work on to restore movement, and I can draw from all the things that I do to create micro movements and stretches and self care practices to address it.
K: What are all of the things, movement-wise that interest you, either currently or for future study?
V: Some of them I haven’t gotten to, but I flying trapeze has been one of the biggest bonuses for me. I also started doing pilates at that time, I also do feldenkrais whenever I can, and there’s a drop in class near me, I do rock climbing periodically; this year the big thing has been Nia, which is a dance that draws from lots of different disciplines, primal movement chains- I did a class with Perry Nickelston (of Stop Chasing Pain) down in NY. I’d love to do a parkour class at some time as well. I was teaching a few weeks ago and I remarked, “we’re kind of like parkour athletes in a small way- we need explosive athletic movements but with a keen awareness of the ground. We have to have that dynamism, but in very small ways.” I think that’s a fun way to think of it.
K: Are you a teacher of other forms of movement, or are you primarily a Body Mapping instructor?
V: I'm currently only a Body Mapping teacher. I’m thinking of different things to train in, but trying to decide is tough. I love all the movement practices, but I have to ask with certification, “is it worth it?” I love Feldenkrais practices, and I co-teach a pilates class with a pilates instructor where we look at anatomy and alignment before the practice. MovNat would probably be the highest on my list for certifying, because of the combination of athleticism and natural movement. (Kayleigh: Side note: I did my Level 1 training in MovNat in March- it was a blast!)
K: I sometimes want to train in everything, so I can understand.
V: I’m so busy right now, it’s hard to imagine adding anything else.
K: So what does your schedule look like right now, during the school year?
V: Right now, I teach body mapping classes at Longy and at NEC, and I’m coaching chamber music at Longy, teaching private students at home, and then doing body mapping workshops out and about. Later today, I’ll do a workshop at Walnut Hill for the Arts for the high school age musicians there. In the next few weeks, I have 5 workshops that I’m doing. I'm also playing, not as much as I want, but that’s there too.
Vanessa and I had a lengthy conversation, so I've broken it into a few shorter parts for reading ease. Part 2 to Follow Later this week, which includes talking about the trapeze and more!