Music Making as an Embodied Movement Practice
In the last three weeks, I've spent a lot of time in the car, driving from New York to Texas, and then all around Texas, thus my lengthy pause in writing. I've also spent the whole summer completing an anatomy and physiology course, and had the opportunity to see how disembodying anatomical science can be when divorced from the experience of feeling, seeing, and being in one's own body. Let me backtrack though- what does it even mean to be embodied?
Most people, musicians and civilians alike, are disembodied, or at least, our modern society lends itself extremely well to being disconnected from one's body, one's thoughts, and one's physical and emotional experience of moving through the world. In the last few years, I've begun to see music-making and personal practice as a perfect vehicle for exploring these principles, especially under pressure.
A friend played a mock audition for me over video, and I noticed how much attention and time she took between excerpts. She remarked, "I just need that time to get back into my body before I start-I can get so disconnected towards the end of a passage." I thought it was particularly poignant because performing under pressure requires this ebb and flow on attention, of coming back to the body and returning to the moment by moment experience of playing. All musicians will have heightened awareness around certain aspects of music-making: a wind player will be more attuned to breath and embouchure, a string player more aware of their hands and finger sensitivity, and so forth. What I mean is going beyond that to have a whole body experience- being aware of standing, breathing, and everything else while playing, regardless of your instrument. It's also using awareness to solve technical or musical problems- when my energy is frantic and unsettled, my bow changes and string crossings are less effective. When my left shoulder is relaxed, my shifting is more effective, and I can play well without overusing muscles in the jaw and neck. That's not to say that I can do all of those things all of the time, but it's maybe using one of those things as an anchor under stress- it's keeping contact with the body during Don Juan or Mendelssohn Scherzo, or Daphnis et Chloe.
There are many inroads to bodily awareness- for me, walking is a helpful starting point, but many people love running, swimming, yoga, martial arts, and more. One can also be profoundly disembodied in all of those activities, but one might also use them as a lens for turning on awareness for the rest of the day. How can you explore your own movements both with and without the instrument to guide your problem solving and preparation skills? How can music making become a chance to explore your relationship to body, breath, and self-expression? I find myself constantly inspired by different movement practices- from Yoga Tune Up® to pilates to natural movement to body mapping to meditation practices, and I'm constantly learning and evolving in my body and awareness. There is no one somatic practice for everyone (although many teachers will tell you otherwise!), and there are many paths to exploring your relationship with your body and music-making. Rather than seeing the body as a hindrance to musical perfection, why not change your relationship with it and begin seeing it as a vehicle to co-creating that which you wish to accomplish?