Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians (and normal people)

Filtering by Tag: cello

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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Move More, Sit Less

If you read fitness and wellness articles as much as I do, you'll notice there's a new trend, with sensationalist headlines like:

Image and article from the August 2013 issue of Runner's World.  I don't necessarily know if sitting is the new smoking (I think high heels win for that title), but we could definitely do with sitting less often.

Image and article from the August 2013 issue of Runner's World.  I don't necessarily know if sitting is the new smoking (I think high heels win for that title), but we could definitely do with sitting less often.

"Sitting is the New Smoking"

Sitting Is Bad for You. So I Stopped. For a Whole Month.

Are You STILL Sitting?

And of course, Why Sitting Is Killing You

So what's the problem here?  Why all the fuss about sitting?  If you do your 45 minute workout and then sit at work (teaching, orchestra, etc.), then aren't you following healthy movement protocol?  Not so much, actually. 

First of all, sitting all day, standing all day, walking all day... any perpetual action isn't inherently good or bad-It's the quality of movement plus the elapsed time spent in that activity.  If you walk and stand a lot, but wear poor shoes and have dubious movement patterning, then you could easily be in pain.  (Hello waitressing, customer service, retail, nursing, and teaching !)  With sitting, most of us sit on our sacrums instead of our sitz bones (which by now, you have seen discussed frequently, from sitting for children to sitting on a bike...) and then we sit for 8-10 hours a day.  (Drive to work, sit to bike, sit to play, sit to eat, sit to hang out with friends, sit to type, write, etc.)   Try Katy Bowman's How Much Do I Sit Quiz for a good reality check on how much you're actually sitting.

So back to the task at hand.  What are some of the consequences of perpetual sitting?

Sitting looks pretty scary, eh?

Sitting looks pretty scary, eh?

1.  Musculoskeletal problems from poor alignment.  Ahh, repetitive stress injury, I know thee well.  We've mentioned some of these issues already, but here  are a few of these again:

Head Forward yielding Neck Issues

Sitting on the Sacrum and Not the Ischial Tuberosities

Slump in the Upper Body (excessive spinal flexion)

Let's not forget that our muscles and bones respond to the stress we put on them, so the musculature of your hips, back, core, shoulders, etc., will start to lose mobility if you're constantly sitting, especially in poor alignment.  Remember, when you bring these issues to your normal seated position, they follow you when you play in orchestra, chamber music, recitals, driving, etc.  They're a real pain (pun intended).

2.  Cardiovascular Issues.  Katy Bowman's blog is great for explaining this in more detail than I can, but short form summary, even if you lower your cholesterol and you "exercise" every day for an hour, you can't undo the effects of sitting.  Your blood cells pass through your arteries, hopefully smoothly, but sitting creates more of a maze like structure for cells to pass through.  It's like an obstacle course for your blood cells, and if you've already got thickened arteries from genetics and other factors, your body is more at risk for cardiovascular issues.  (She explains this so much better than I do because she is a science-y lady, not a violist.)  This makes sense though-you can be an ultra marathoner on the weekends and still have heart disease, even if you have high intensity workouts planned frequently. 

"You can’t undo 8 hours of wounding with a run or with bigger muscles. Fitness doesn’t touch the wound that has been created." - Katy Bowman

3.  There are various other studies that link computer use and sitting with an all over decrease in movement, which affects weight, lymphatic flow, blood flow, muscle strength, etc, and frankly, science hasn't made an all encompassing statement on all the bad things that happen to you when you sit all the time.  I think we can all agree that we should sit less though.

Ok.  So now what?  If you're a cellist or pianist, you're logging some serious sitting time, i.e., 8-10 hours a day sometimes, if you practice, teach, rehearse, drive, bike, and type.  That's more than most of us sleep, which is distressing.  Rather than try to undo that with intense cardio or weightlifting, let's move more.  Walk more often.  Take breaks and stretch every half hour or so.  Have meetings while walking.  Stand while typing.  Pay attention to how you sit in the car.  Make phone calls while walking rather than while sitting. 

More on that next time, but start noticing how much you sit every day.  Seriously. 






Looking Beyond the Music

by Andrea Kleesattel

What does it mean for a body to be in good health?  What is our goal in finding balance and well-being in our bodies?  Does it mean to be without pain?  To have greater control of our physical actions, greater mental acuity and self-awareness?  Does it mean to have less anxiety, tension, and frustration in the practice room or on stage?  Does it mean more spontaneity in our expression and performance?  

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Likely it is a combination and balance of all of these things.  Perhaps it is good to take a step back even further and ask:  What is it that we are trying to achieve as musicians?  Sometimes in the midst of preparing for an audition, a recital, a performance, or a lesson, we become blinded by the goal that we think is pulling us.  We become stressed about our intonation, about our rhythm, about our phrasing or our sound, or any other of the countless aspects of music that need our attention. It is important to play in tune and in time, it is important to have ideas about phrasing, it is important to have a good sound.  These make us more reliable musical colleagues, they help us communicate the message of the composer and allow the audience to listen more freely.  It is important to give them attention, but are they the final goal we seek?  

In the same way that it can be important to give attention to individual aspects of the musical picture–pitch, rhythm, phrasing, sound, character–so too is it important to give attention to our individual body parts and aspects of our health–wrists, shoulders, backs, muscles, tendons, sleep, diet, energy, artistic satisfaction.  As musicians we must put a great deal of our focus on the parts, but after we do this, it is important to step back and think about the larger goal.  What do we want to accomplish?

Sometimes we have pain.  Sometimes we have frustration.  Sometimes we are limited and don’t know the block that is keeping us from moving forward.  The answer may lie in examining the part of the body that is hurting, or the phrase that evades us; but sometimes taking a step back from the acute problem may also encourage the answer.  The shoulder may hurt because of the way we are holding our hips, the way we are sleeping, or breathing, or stress from known or unknown factors.  A phrase may be stilted because of our intonation, or tempo, or the way we are breathing, or a habitual tensing of a certain part of the body.  The answer may lie somewhere beyond the usual places we look.  

What can we do to transcend the limitations that we sometimes experience in the body?  What can we do to become more unified so that we have the full resources of ourselves?  There are many practices to help us focus on various aspects of mind and body, to improve our technical, mental, and expressive approaches to music.  Each person is on their own journey, coming closer to something that is uniquely theirs.  And while there are many different paths that have been worn before us, offering us something from the experiences another has collected, in the end it is important to gain trust in ourselves and strengthen our inner guide.  Why do I do this?  What do I need in my practice right now?   Perhaps the answer lies in the mind or the body, in some combination of the two, or in another aspect of life.  It is important to stay open to many different possibilities.

In the course of sharing on this blog, I hope to offer some different perspectives from my own experience with various mind-body practices and how they relate to the technical and expressive elements of making music.  I’ve personally learned a great deal from the practices and ideas of Moshe Feldenkrais and Rudolph Laban and look forward to sharing more about them in the coming weeks and months, as well as others whose ideas about movement and artistry have inspired me.  I hope it can be of some help to you as we each find our way.    

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ANDREA KLEESATTEL currently plays cello in the Hyogo Performing Center Orchestra in Nishinomiyakitaguchi, Japan. Prior to this appointment, she completed her masters and doctorate degrees as the cellist in the graduate resident string quartets at the University of Kentucky and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, respectively. She earned her undergraduate degree at the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Her doctoral thesis, Applications of Somatic Practices to Cello Playing and Pedagogy draws from work in various movement disciplines including Feldenkrias, Alexander Technique, Bartenieff Fundamentals, and Laban's theories of movement and expression.  Dr. Kleesattel's primary teachers were Ellen Shertzer, Norman Johns, Lee Fiser, Benjamin Karp, and Uri Vardi.  When not playing in orchestra, Dr. Kleesattel enjoys playing chamber music and teaching. 


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