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The Intersection of Music and Psychology: An Interview with Lisa Chisolm of Master Performing

 Canadian Bassoonist and Coach

Canadian Bassoonist and Coach

As I manage a busy summer season in upstate Western NY with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, I wanted to take a little time to share what some other amazing people are doing in the fields of music, medicine, movement, the brain, and more.  This week, I have an interview with Canadian Bassoonist and performance coach Lisa Chisholm of Master Performing, who began her career exclusively as an orchestral bassoonist, and has since branched out, while still retaining a performance career.  

KM: Tell us a little about your varied career these days -how did you get where you are today, in terms of your multiple degrees in music performance, as well as psychology and counseling.

LC: I studied music at McGill and at Juilliard, and have enjoyed 20 (egads!) years of a variety of freelancing and full time orchestral positions. Today, I am equal parts performer and coach. As an aside, I find this very helpful - it's important to be able to relate to clients on the level of having experienced elite preparation and performance, and I do often hear that feedback from clients. There is so much about sports psychology that translates nicely and directly into the performing arts, but so much that does -not- translate quite so directly. Filtering it all through the lens of a seasoned artist has proven to be, in my opinion, a wonderful combination.

The question of how I came to develop a parallel career with the Master Performing curriculum is a great one! Originally, I went in search of consumer-grade sport/performance material in order to bring more Olympic-level consistency to my own auditions. However, in my search, I found that there was a great lack of relevant and/or high quality consumer-grade material available, so I decided to go right to the root of the material, academically - so, I went to school when nobody was looking! I pretty quickly realized that there was a vital piece of curriculum that I wished I had had in my own training, and that I wanted to bring to other performing artists. That is why/how I developed my Master Performing program.

It's important to note, I am still as active as ever as a performer, by the way. Sometimes people assume that I have left playing in order to coach - quite untrue! One aspect of my coaching that I feel is vital is the fact that I am still very much on the stage, and am constantly filtering sport/performance psychology through the lens of a performing artist. I'll never stop playing; it is so much a part of who I am - and I also think it adds a vital dimension to my coaching.

KM: I can totally relate to that with my own dual career life.  What is the intersection between psychology and music, and how has learning more about the brain/mind/body connection changed your life and music making? 

LC: Wow, that question could take an all-afternoon chat -- and it would be a great one!!!! I think what I love the most is the idea that "psychology" is "the study of the brain/mind".... Often in a colloquial sense, people think of psychology strictly in the therapy/counselling sense, and often associate it all with stereotypical "problems", anxiety, depression, "seeing a shrink", etc. All these things are of course part of the field; but not to be overlooked is the part of psychology that is about how our mind learns, processes, recalls, executes... all these things that help us as performers! How to better acquire (learn) our material - memorize better, execute a passage more smoothly..How to be more efficient at practicing. How to handle distracting thoughts or occurrences during a performance; focus and distraction control. How our minds process the worlds around us and how we behave/perform. All these tools of excellence in preparation and consistency in performance - that is all psychology!  It is tremendously exciting to catalogue all this great stuff together into batches of information that is relevant to a high-level performer.

On this note, the Master Performing curriculum is a mix of sport and performance psychology, social psychology, the psychology of learning and memory, delivered through a coaching approach rooted in the approaches of positive, narrative, cognitive, behavioural, and solution-focused schools of thought. 

What I love most on a personal level is how EASY it has made things for me. As all performers know, a wonderful side effect of teaching and coaching others is that is brings clarity to that area in your own skill set. So it's a cute little triangle, that I originally sought out this information for my own betterment, instantly realized I wanted to collate it all together and bring it to other artists, and in the process of delivering it to other artists, presto-change-o, there is a degree of ease in my own preparation and performance that I am very happy about. Talk about win-win! :-)

KM: In terms of your client base, who do you primarily work with right now?

LC: In the performing arts, I work with approximately 50%-50% actors - musicians, and some dancers. (But presently mainly actors and musicians.) 

KM: What can working with you do for musicians, and how might they get started?  

LC: Working with me will make you smarter! Better-looking! You'll get more dates!!!! (*KIDDING!!!*)  Seriously though... Working with me, my goal is to educate performers on the mechanisms and concepts at play when we are getting in our own way, and to equip artists with a variety of tools which they can apply at the right moment. I feel very strongly that You Are The World Expert on You, and the best approach in terms of lasting improvement is a psycho-educational approach, where you learn the mechanisms at play in your own world, and can learn how to create a more efficient and effective performance approach for yourself. 

I am fairly no-nonsense and practical/tactical. I teach as much factual, evidence-based material as I can find. I avoid pseudo-science and soup-du-jour tactics, and I encourage critical thinking. I always want an artist to understand -why- they might employ a certain strategy for themselves, because what may work beautifully for you this week, might not work so well for you next week. I want you to have knowledge and tools to reach for in order to develop your own best approach for consistency. We are ever-changing and unpredictable in our vulnerabilities, and there will never be a one-size-fits-all answer. I am very wary of any approach which says, "Here are your X-number of steps and here is just what you should say/do pre-performance."

My workshop curriculum is loooooong. Presently 19 hours long. This is the best way to get all the foundational information and concepts. After that, 1-1 coaching is the best way to tailor those to the individual - we come up with strategies together that the artists will use for themselves.

KM: What are some of your upcoming projects or events?  

LC: Funny you should ask, particularly on the heels of that last question. :-)  Actually, very soon, in Boston I am hosting a 5-day intensive workshop from 7-11 August. It will cover the full Master Performing curriculum as well as some drills and "road-testing" of the skills. Here is the link to that: http://masterperforming.ca/optimal-artist-7-11-august-2017-boston-ma/

KM: Any last words/things you'd like to add?

LC: Kayleigh, you have asked some great questions! Thank you so much for having me as a guest. If I would add anything, it would be how delighted I am to be a part of this field, in a time where the performing arts field is really beginning to recognize that what we ask of our minds and bodies in performance is truly Olympic - and yet typically we have only had training on our artistic craft, and not the auxiliary areas necessary for prime performance. I am so thrilled to hear of schools which are beginning to incorporate this material into their curriculum, and practitioners who are bringing complementary physical and mental pieces of the puzzle to the artistic field. Outside of this interview, we spoke about Body Mapping - that is one great example! I would describe Body Mapping as "functional anatomy awareness for performing artists". Did anyone teach me about me rotator cuff and my ulna and radius when I was in school? No. Did I use my rotator cuff and ulna and radius 10 hours a day while practicing, reed-making, carrying my instrument, etc? Yes! When I think of it, how can we NOT be teaching this in conservatories?!? We're asking Olympic level duties of our bodies, and yet how many of us know how our arms and hands are put together?  Same goes for the mental preparation. So, I am so pleased to be here at a time that I would consider "the forefront". I hope that in 10-15 years, this material will be commonplace in artistic training institutions, and that we will all look back and marvel at this stage.

KM: Thanks so much, Lisa!

For more about Lisa and Master Performing, visit www.masterperforming.ca

Supporting All Voices: Interview Part 1 with Dr. Anita Kozan

Dr. Anita Kozan is a Minnesota-based speech and language pathologist whose focus has been on the care of the speaking and singing voice.  She's worked with a wide range of clients, from children diagnosed with autism to older clients to transexuals.  I first heard about her work in the context of supporting the transexual voice, and I'm so thrilled that she made time to speak to me the day before she had rotator cuff surgery.  

Kayleigh: So how did you begin in speech pathology?

Anita: It’s a fascinating field, and honestly, I had never heard of it growing up.  I was from a small town where we didn’t have a speech pathologist or speech therapist in our community, but a man I had dated told me about it, saying that I liked helping people and I might like this field.  So I started taking classes as a sophomore in college, and had never ever really seen what it was until I transferred to the University of Minnesota my junior year, and I instantly thought, “Oh my gosh, I love this!”  I feel really lucky that I have found a profession that I have loved my whole career- I’m 69 and I’ve been practicing since I was 22.  Just celebrated my 47th anniversary in the field.  I’ve worked with all different ages too- never babies, but I’ve done preschool children all the way through the ages to geriatric clients who have had strokes, with an emphasis on voice, often working with people after accidents or illness.  But voice is really my favorite thing to do.  I finished my bachelors in 1969, and went back to work on my masters in 1970, finishing in 1972, and at some point in that year, I went to a regional conference where there was a speech and language pathologist working with a transexual woman, demonstrating the outcome of the work she had done with this woman.  I was fascinated and I really thought, “I want to do that- I think I can do a good job,” and that was really the beginning of looking for opportunities to learn more about the trans community.

K: That’s amazing because you figure 44 years ago, transgender sexual identity was rarely if ever talked about or discussed.

A: Yes, you’re right.  I grew up in a town where a female neighbor dressed up as a man, but I thought that was just her and never thought much about it.  I thought that was just who she was.  I don’t remember seeing anyone in school or in public who was openly trans.  So that was really the beginning in 1972- it took a while to find things and resources, but by the eighties, clients were being referred to me by their physician who were having trouble with their voices; hoarseness, etc., but the real issue was that they were transitioning and they didn’t know what to do with the changes in their voice.  People started to find me, trickling down from other sources, and because of my interests and in putting my energy out there, I continued to be sought out more and more.  It’s a difficult speciality- it’s some of the hardest work that I’ve ever done, in terms of people that I’ve worked with.  The hardest is when singers are transitioning, because I want to preserve their voice as much as possible while expanding and evolving their range.  By the 1990’s, people were being referred to me fairly frequently, it was becoming more acceptable to seek out help during transition, and insurance companies were beginning to pay for it and acknowledge the health challenges it posed.  But still, there were people who did not want to be seen, who did not want to use their insurance, did not want to be seen in a public hospital setting.  I had always had a private practice, but that was also when i began melding singing and voice exercises for those who were not singers, who were also transitioning.  I had worked for many years at Northwestern Hospital where I had a voice labarotory, and was studying people’s larynxes underendoscopic light. The Sister Kenny institute, which was part of the hospital, also had an instrumentalist clinic, and they saw a lot of people who were professionals having difficulties, and so I very much respect your interest in overuse injuries and musculoskeletal problems, especially since I got trigger finger from playing saxophone once!

 Note: I had never heard of  Sister Kenny  before, and she's been really interesting to learn about.  

Note: I had never heard of Sister Kenny before, and she's been really interesting to learn about.  

K: Yes.

A: But I also wanted to tell you about some interesting research at Sister Kenny that changed the wayI work with all voices and injured voices.  Sister Kenny was an Australian nurse who pioneered rehabilitation with polio in Minnesota, and was trying to help patients recondition their muscles.  The work wasn’t highly thought of at first, but she continued on with her work, and the center continued with a rehabilitative model.  Some of the people who were involved as physicians with the clinic began to do research on people who had been diagnosed with polio as children or teenagers, and they were having a post-polio syndrome, where they began having muscle weakness long after treatment. (Note: PPS is a condition that affects polio survivors long after the initial attack of the poliomyelitis virus on the nervous system )  The physicians did a controlled study where they had people with this syndrome divide into two groups.  One group did muscle testing before they began and then they had them engage in a specific exercise for X minutes, and then tested their strength again.  The experimental group had the same testing process, but the exercise was done in an interval training model, where they did the exercise for a minute or two, then rested, and then exercised again, repeating the cycle.  What they found was that the people who exercised continuously were weaker on the post test, and that the people who did interval training, were stronger in their post test.  I used that research and applied it to two singers who both were performers with post-polio syndrome, and I used this technique as part of their healing process.  I had them working on speaking and singing using interval training models, but they both regained their abilities to sing, and one of them just had an incredible voice by the end of it.  I extrapolated from that experience and generalized the model to singers who did not have post-polio syndrome, and then generalized to singers who had injured voices, and then I applied it to people who were transgender, and in the midst of that, starting using singing voice exercises with all of my clients, irregardless of whether they were singers.  With all of those different populations, I used interval training models and singing exercises to help condition muscles that hadn't been used before or hadn't been used efficiently, especially with male to female transitions, who are learning to use a range of their voice that they’ve maybe never used.  They may have played around with falsetto or head voice, but it’s not something they’ve used regularly.  I started using really simple vocal exercises and interval training with people who were singers and who were trans, and then with people who were trans and non vocalists.  But I could see that if we wanted people to speak in a higher range, we want them to sing as well.  It’s a melding of techniques that has worked well for a variety of people.

K: Did you train yourself as singer?

 This image from  www.voicedoctor.net  does an excellent job of showing the nasal pathway of studying the vocal folds.  

This image from www.voicedoctor.net does an excellent job of showing the nasal pathway of studying the vocal folds.  

A: Yes,  I have sung my whole life.  I've done some solo work, but mostly choirs, barbershop quartets, and then after high school I played in bars and bands.  I also play keyboards, and have played and sung in weddings, funerals, and churches.  I played in a rock band from 1978 to 1981, and then I realized that singers of all genres really need help in not injuring their voices.  That was the extra push in seeking out the singing voice.  By 1987, I started work on my PhD at the same time I opened the first voice laboratory in Minnesota, examining vocal cords endoscopically through the nose or through the mouth.  I've continued to sing throughout my life, but I always need a gig or concert to work towards in order to be motivated to practice.  But when I am singing, I try to do all of the things I teach my students in warming up, practice duration, and most importantly, cooling down- that’s why I had gone back to work on my dissertation.  Cooling down was mentioned in Etude magazine in the 1950’s, originally called “warming down,” but very little research had been doing on vocal cool downs.  One of my colleagues, Dr Alfred Lavarado had told me about it - he had been a speech pathologist and singer, and I was at the International Voice Symposium at Juilliard.  He had worked with singers prone to overuse on warming up and cooling down, and had helped them reduce the swelling of the vocal folds enough so that they could speak and sing, even if they had overused their voice.  My dissertation had been studying the effects of the vocal warmups on singers, but I certainly had a special interest in the “cool down” process as well..

K: You’ve already illuminated some of the crux of your dissertation work, mainly that warmups are a critical part of vocal health and maintenance, but what were some of the other aspects of the research that came up?

A: Cooling down has still not been studied within the research model that I used, but with warmups, the study was the impact on perceptual judgments of the effects of vocal warmups on the singing voice.  I had twenty year olds: ten were classical trained singers and ten had no training.  The same was true for the older age group- I had wanted post-menopausal women, and once again I had ten classical trained singers and ten non trained.  I had three different singing tasks- one was to sustain a note five steps down from the top of their range, then sing a one octave scale, and third was to sing the star spangled banner.  I had them do those tasks, and then led them through a 17 minute task, and then repeated the vocal tasks.  I took recorded samples, across the passagio, the high pitch, the one octave scale, and then one particular passage of the star spangled banner, and then randomized the tracks, and played them for vocal judges, who did not know what the focus of my research was.  Their job was instead to pick out if the before/after recordings were different, and if so, how was clarity and uniformity impacted.  Over the 40 singings, judges correctly picked out 39/40 singers- the warmed up voice vs. the unwarmed up voice, especially with the sustained high pitch.  The one singer that was indistinguishable had told me that it took her 40 minutes to warm up her voice, and between her wide vibrato and instability, I knew it wasn’t a healthy singing voice.  Of course it wasn’t my place to say that, but it was an interesting aspect of the research.  So at the time, my final vocal advisor had said that I could make a career of testing singers and conducting research- I took it as a compliment, but I knew that just wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to be out in the field helping people. 

K: Of course- more connection.  More importantly, you proved that warming up was such an integral part of vocal care, which has become more mainstream in vocal and choral teaching.

A: Yes- absolutely.  For now, I’m going to work for one more year, maintain a small private practice, and go from there.  I’m also interested in supporting youth, specifically homeless and LBGTQ youth, who are often homeless as a result of their identities.  An opportunity came up to be a speech a language pathologist in a high school, working with autistic and non autistic students.  I left the hospital and research environment a few years ago, even though I loved having a vocal research laboratory, but it was such an amazing opportunity to change my focus.  Being around teenagers has put me closer to youth and the singing voice. Within my client base in the last 9-10 years, over 50% have been singers, whether it was for enjoyment in private all the way up to semi professional singers.  

K: Fantastic!

*In the second part of this interview, we delve more into the care and keeping of the transitioning voice, and how the support of the trans voice has changed in the last 35 years.*

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Ruth Boden, Cellist, Hiker, and Outdoor Performer

You may not have heard of Ruth Boden before, but once I saw the video of her hiking through Oregon ("Andante") with a cello strapped to her back, I knew I had to find out more.  Ruth is a professional cellist with experience in many genres, who is also a professor at Washington State University.  In addition to her more traditional teaching and performing work, she backpacks with her cello and performs outdoors.

KAYLEIGH: What's your background as a cellist/educator/performer?

RUTH: So, to start. I started playing cello in fourth grade through the public school system of East Valley in Spokane, WA. I had wonderful educators throughout, and a cello teacher who pushed me to apply for conservatories when the time was right. In the end I decided on The Cleveland Institute of Music where I studied with Stephen Geber. While at CIM I completed both my BM and MM degrees in cello performance. Upon his recommendation I moved down south to study with Carlton McCreery at the University of Alabama, which is also the place I first started teaching. Since then, I have taught at a number of places but now live in Pullman WA where I am an Associate Professor at Washington State University where I teach cello, bass (my secondary instrument), music theory, and coordinate our string/piano chamber music program. I've played with a bunch of orchestras throughout the country both as section member (cello and bass), and as a soloist. A couple of years ago I released my first solo CD "Off the Cuff" which features music of a quasi improvised nature. The big feature on the CD is the Solo Cello Sonate by Kodaly.

K: Have you always hiked/camped/etc?

 Still from "Andante"

Still from "Andante"

R: I haven't always hiked or been a huge outdoor person. I was a pretty heavy kid (most would have probably just referred to me as a "big girl") and wasn't all that keen on physical activity. Our family went on a number of hikes and had a huge adventurous spirit, but I had never really tackled anything very large. This all changed pretty dramatically after a few summers in Colorado at a music camp called Rocky Ridge. There I had the opportunity to do quite a few hikes, and to play my cello outdoors. The first time I ever went backpacking was just a few years ago when I tried to launch the first ever project for Music Outside Four Walls. Honestly, I was so under prepared for what I was doing that I am luck I didn't get seriously injured. Now, after a lot more experience and successful miles, I feel very comfortable and at home in the woods.

K: What is the "goal" of performance for you and what does performing mean? (Whether in concert setting or otherwise)

R: The only goal I ever have had in performance is to pursue a transformative experience--both for the audience, and for myself. I practice hard and like a weird little maniac in terms of the analytic process of problem solving. Mostly slow, thoughtful, deliberate practice with metronome, drone, or tuner--lots of recording, lots of note taking, and high focus and patience. This is all so that when I get to the stage the mechanics are completely set and ironed out so that my only thought is of music making--which I equate to story telling. In the end, performance is about a shared experience, whether this is between you and your instrument, you and nature, or the music and the audience.

K: What inspired you to perform outdoors in such an unconventional setting and how does it change the psychological experience as a performer?

R: In terms of the concept behind playing outdoors, and especially in wide open places (like mountaintops)--it really kind of changed performance for me forever. The first time I played on a mountain I was awed by the fact that the music didn't bounce back. Without reflecting walls, ceilings, seats, etc. the music just leaves and goes. Something about this seems just so right somehow. The change of the soul for me in this was that I came to realize that this is what performance is--it's not about perfection, showing what you can do, or proving anything to anyone. It is simply about that transformative experience, which it turns out for me didn't require an audience at all--just the experience of playing to the universe. It's interesting to bring this feeling back into traditional performance venues--I can be more relaxed, more contemplative, and less bound up by the minutia of chasing a 'perfect' performance, in lieu of simply sharing this one snapshot of my musical journey. In teaching, I focus far less on the performance outcome and far more on the learning outcome. I feel that teaching my students how to practice, how to think more globally about the music they are learning, and how to rigorously control the technical aspects of playing gives them the freedom then to process their own journeys through repertoire and enjoy the destination more.

K:What are the usual responses from passerby and other hikers?

R: Other hikers largely have been really friendly and encouraging. Once I stop for the night and the cello comes out, other hikers listen, sing along, make requests, and share their own stories. I haven't experienced any animosity out hiking, nor have I had anybody request that I not play at a campsite. I do try to be respectful of others' space and hikes--
There is often a lot of disbelief that what I'm hauling is indeed a cello, but this is usually followed with questions about when they might get a chance to hear it. I know many long distance hikers think I'm nuts, but there really is such a wonderful spirit of 'hike your own hike' that while they think it's crazy they support that crazy!
The strangest phenomenon between other hikers and myself occurs when I've been hiking for quite some time by myself and I stop to play by water or on a mountaintop. It turns out that acoustics carry the sound for miles--so when folks actually run into me on the trail there is that relieved/awed moment when they realize they aren't crazy or hearing things.

 Carrying a cello and a pack is no light task!

Carrying a cello and a pack is no light task!

K: Where have you hiked/played thus far, and where do you hope to go?

R: To date I've backpacked over 400 miles of the Appalachian Trail with my cello, including Mount Washington, Mount Katahdin, parts of Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. I've also backpacked much of the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon (where Andante was filmed). This summer I will be tackling the Pacific Crest Trail through Washington State. This project through Washington State is part of Music Outside Four Walls (my ongoing project), and will be a documentary about my life's journey so far-- "Walking Washington; A Cellist's journey home."

K: I'm impressed not only with Ruth's projects but also her strength and endurance for managing a heavy pack and a cello for extended periods of time.  All still images from this blog are taken from the mini documentary "Andante," which was filmed by Gavin Carver.  Check out their interview here at Backpackers.org andCheck out her website Music Outside Four Walls, as well as her facebook page for more updates on her upcoming adventure!

 

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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! 

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