Body Mapping, Flying, and Flute: Chatting with Vanessa Breault Mulvey Part 2
On Wednesday, I shared part 1 of chatting with Body Mapping instructor and flutist, Vanessa Breault Mulvey. Here's part 2, in which we talk about flying trapeze and more!
K: Changing gears a bit, I’d love for you to talk a bit about the trapeze- that’s something really unique that we haven’t addressed yet.
V: So in 2011, I was getting more and more scared of heights. Once I had children, I just noticed that my fear of heights was growing and growing. We were in California and went to Knott’s Berry Farm, and the kids wanted to go on the roller coasters, but I sat and watched them go by because I knew I couldn’t do it. Watching them was so frustrating, and I knew that if I didn’t do anything about this fear, it was going to cripple me. So there was a trapeze school right in my town that I had sent my kids to, and I had watched them cringe as they were pushed off the edge, but I had never done it. So I bought a groupon for trapeze classes and went from there. It’s 24 feet off of the ground; you have to hold onto the bar and you’re harnessed, but it was hard and I was scared to death. I came up with so many excuses not to fly- my hands are ripping; I have to play this week, I can’t…but I went to two classes and the teacher told me to come back next week and not to wait. I came back a week later, and in the course of those 60 minutes, the paralyzing fear transformed into exhilaration, fun, and a sense that “I can do this,” and I was hooked. I told Lynne Krayer-Luke, another flutist and Body Mapping teacher, that she had to try it, and she went through the same process as me- she was scared at first, and started to adjust. She remarked, “This is just like performing; you have to prepare, you have to get ready, you’re nervous, and then you have to take off, and literally fly, and while you’re flying you have to know where you are in space, you have to be aware, and you have to receive instructions.” I thought she was right, so we started doing it more, and we formed “Flying Flutistas” from that. We don’t fly and play, but we’re learning about learning, and learning about performing in flight. Trapeze flight takes about 14 seconds, and in those 14 seconds, you have to do so many things, and manage them altogether at once. You have to get the timing just right. We started to realize that 14 seconds can be a long time- you have time to think and feel and do the movements. So it was interesting how that changed. It was also so valuable for me to do things that I never thought I could do. Never did I expect to fly, but more importantly, never did I think I would attempt a split, upside down, hanging from a bar. With each trick that you learn, the teachers then give you your next trick, and I always think, “Oh, I can’t do that, that’s crazy!” But the teachers always said, “You can do it.” So I made a rule for myself that I’ll try everything once, and if I don’t like it, then I won’t do it again. That was a turning point for me, and I would always realize that I can do this, and that I can do more than I ever imagined I could. The process of learning how to move in the air is just exhilarating and the strength and control is amazing, and it’s truly a whole body movement. I did perform in a show andthe venue was filled with people and I was successful on one of my tricks and not the other, but it was ok. It was amazing to realize that I could prepare, perform, and do what we might consider “fail” and it was ok, and then say, "I’m going to try again." Working with serious professional flyers was also so inspiring- watching them move with ease, organization, and perfect timing was truly amazing..
K: Fantastic. It’s amazing how these other forms of movement can inspire the way we move and relate to our bodies and music. I also saw that you teach at something called FlootFire- what is that exactly?
V: It’s a flute summer camp based out of Texas actually, and it’s a total immersion with solos, ensembles, master classes, piano lessons, and it will include Body Mapping and Alexander Technique. There are 8 different locations this summer, from Austin to Indiana to Boston, and it will be a lot of fun.
K: How has Body Mapping changed the way that you play and the way that you move?
V: It has allowed me to connect internally rather than be externally focused. Body Mapping and all of the movement work has allowed me to tune in to the relationships between body parts, and the strong connections inside- not weightlifting strong but dynamic strong, and use those to create the movements I need to make adjustments as I play in real time. I might start to get stuck and I can say, “Oh wait, that’s not going the right way. My air’s not moving well; let me make an adjustment.” I think it’s the internal connections that I wasn’t in tune with, and most people aren’t in tune with, and it gives you a confidence that’s hard to describe. It gives music making a movement foundation, rather than always practicing with metronome more, but asking, “What do I need to execute this task? I need finger movement, arm movement, tongue, embouchure, and I can notice what movements are getting in the way of what I’m trying to achieve. SO I can refine that, and it’s so much easier to attain the dynamic or technique- it’s not abstract; it’s distilling it to movements which is so comforting, and I think it gives students confidence. It’s moving away from end goal teaching, i.e., “You have to play Firebird at this tempo, cleanly” and become very process oriented.
K: I always love the idea of process oriented learned as opposed to end goal learning.
V: It’s so important.
K: How have you seen students change, whether they’re private students or students at NEC taking Body Mapping for the first time? V: It’s often pretty profound. NEC really blew me away- I had unbelievable players who were already at a top level, but some of them were in discomfort, or not connecting to the audience well, and over the course of 7 weeks, I was able to see huge changes in connection with the ground, with the audience, and a more thoughtful presentation of the music. I had many undergrads this semester who went from good playing to truly great playing. Some of them were taking auditions for festivals and doing well, and many of them commented that it helped them clarify some of the problems they had been struggling with for some time. They were able to get past those issues with this information.
K: Which is amazing, given the short amount of time.
V: They really embraced the work, and after one class, many of the students were implementing these ideas of awareness in spine and whole body in their performances and auditions. They were curious, they tried new things, and it was a really profound experience for me. With some of the other schools I’ve taught at, even if the student is not at as high of a level, it can take someone who is dependent and make them more independent in their learning and performance skills. They get empowered and grow in maturity once they make those internal connections. I’ve watched adult beginners make huge progress, and even with my younger kids, they can get a more mature sound (if they practice), much quicker. It’s looking at things like how you bring the flute up with awareness, how you breathe, and young kids are so used to sitting all day and not moving- it’s tricky to get them inclusively aware. They usually get it pretty quickly though once you can restore that.
K: Fantastic. It’s great to see Body Mapping in more music conservatories- it not only helps musicians out of pain causing patterns but can make them better performers and better teachers. I hope to see that continue in other music schools too.
V: The NEC class was fantastic- the faculty was very supportive. I reached out to the faculty at the beginning of the class, letting them know what we addressed and giving some comments, and I’ve gotten great feedback from them. Paul Katz came to class and was a huge supporter, and then Dmitri Murrath saw how quickly his students grew. It’s been really inspiring. The students get it, and that’s the most rewarding thing.
K: Thank you so much for your time and all of the energy you put into your teaching and flying! Maybe the next time I go to Boston, we can have some trapeze adventures.