People sometimes ask me what sets top musicians I work with apart from other players. I often say that the best of the best breathe with their entire body... and they have the emotional strength to fully connect with their audience. The best players project so much vitality and presence that one can feel their sound as well as hear it. And they can often convey more of the full range of the human experience in their music.
So how do great players tap into these extra dimensions of expression?? And how can Energetics of Performance techniques help any player experience more of the same for themselves?
FLASHBACK TO FALL 2014
In the Fall of 2014, I had a vision of an expanded path before me. It was quite a time!
One part of this vision was about how to improve Monette instruments. I saw that new, updated bell and leadpipe designs would dramatically improve every Monette Bb and C trumpet we make. It took a few months to complete the new designs. The results were stunning improvements in most every Monette instrument!
Another part of the vision was more global. I realized that I needed to find new, more expansive ways to help players more fully take advantage of the acoustic benefits Monette equipment provides.
"Yoga for Brass Players" classes, and "Body Use and Breath" sessions I had given over three decades often helped players play with more freedom and resonance. But often, musicians were not able to fully sustain the improvements they experienced with us once they were back home and on their own. I realized that players needed new tools to help them first identify and then move beyond their inner critic, emotional conflicts and other playing challenges. And they needed a larger contextual view to help them understand and integrate the new, more effortless ways of playing we were showing them.
Over the last few months of 2014, I was introduced to the Feldenkrais Method of somatic education. This was the opening I had been waiting for.
My first Feldenkrais "Awareness Through Movement" class felt like the most comprehensive Yoga class I could imagine. It both grounded me and allowed an expansion into more of myself. It felt like Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, brain hemisphere balancing and a profound integration meditation all wrapped up into one fifty minute lesson. What a revelation to experience more physical ease, expanded awareness and new levels of integration of mind, body and spirit... all through this gentle somatic experience! Moshe Feldenkrais recognized the interdependency of acting, sensing, thinking, and feeling in human activity. He understood and taught that changes in movement influence all these layers of awareness.
WHAT IS THIS EXPANSION... AND HOW DOES IT RELATE TO MAKING MUSIC?
In various Yoga and meditative traditions, it is understood that there are many layers - many "bodies" - that make up the totality of who we are as unique individuals. Physical, mental, emotional, and more subtle layers combine to define us - and to determine what we consciously and unconsciously experience.
In Moshe Feldenkrais's book AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT, he mentions that Raja Yoga, Zen, Kabbalah and the Tibetan inner practices all share common themes; and all can lead to heightened and more integrated awareness.
Energetics of Performance helps players become more conscious of how they are making music; with and through their physical body and beyond. With more conscious understanding, more real connection and communication is possible.
Different people may gravitate towards expanding awareness through one or more of these "bodies," depending on their own unique orientation. Academics may tap in mostly through the mental body. Dancers or Hatha Yogi's mostly through the physical body. Actors through the emotional body. Artists and people who frequently meditate through the Etheric, Causal or higher bodies. Whatever the person's "in" or "ins" may be, this expansion and integration is what many musicians experience to varying degrees when they have a life changing playing experience.
One way of experiencing this is a simple but powerful meditation to help differentiate - and then integrate - the physical and subtle aspects of who we are, as shown in the diagram above. I think of this as the "The Calculus of Life" meditation. More on this in a future post.
On the top of page one of Mark Reese's brilliant biography on Moshe Feldenkrais, A Life in Movement, there are two quotes that succinctly address awareness, expansion, and integration:
"This cosmic reality is so immense and overwhelming that it is only when we are at our best that we can catch glimpses of it. We have to be a poet, a mathematician, a musician, and a philosopher to have any idea of the immensity, extent, matter, energy, or duration - all of which are beyond our imagination, let alone grasp. Our knowledge, which was acquired by so much exertion on the part of the best human brains, is only a measure of our ignorance of this reality, and a challenge to our future”
Page 87, The Elusive Obvious
"Every word and every action contains all the ten sefirot, the ten powers emanating from God, for they fill the entire world..."
Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz
Famous Russian Spiritual and Religious Scholar
Great Grandfather of Moshe Feldenkrais
On page 154 of The Elusive Obvious, there is a graph that illustrates Dr. Feldenkrais's experience that musicians in the height of their creative process are able to greatly exceed what most people experience as normal brain function. The level of brain function that, for example, allows the best jazz musicians to spontaneously
flawlessly perform improvisations that other world class musicians could practice for months or years and still never be able to play; let alone compose and play at the same time. This ability far exceeds the ten percent brain function most of us maintain.
So how can any musician achieve and sustain these "glimpses" of expanded awareness Moshe Feldenkrais describes?
The keys to helping players transcend their previous limits of creative expression are found in a combination of techniques... all based on the evolution of the real instrument: the musician.
One roadmap I have enjoyed over the years that my mentor and friend Maynard Ferguson cherished is the Yoga Sutras. In my favorite translation of this work, Swami Vivekananda states:
"In life, there is the subtle and there is the gross. The effect is the gross and the cause is the subtle."
The relationship between the subtle and the gross - and the experience of becoming more conscious in the moment of the layers in which these are inextricably intertwined - is what Energetics of Performance is all about.
In the next post, we explore all of this and more in greater detail... including the brilliance of DR. GUSTAV FECHNER.
To be continued...