Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.18- Ways to FInd Balance

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Life is like riding a bicycle.
To keep your balance, you must keep moving.
-Albert Einstein

Remember- how you do anything is how you do everything. If our lives as musicians are “out of balance” that means that many things we do are also out of balance. There is also the reverse way of thinking about this. If we begin to find balance in some different ways, the balance will begin to move into other areas as well. Balance is a physical as well as emotional factor. Our “sense of balance” comes from the inner ear, as many of us learned in high school health or biology. As a counselor who loves metaphors, I think the awareness of balance connected to the “inner ear” is a great metaphor well beyond the physical facts of human anatomy.

The “inner ear” is also be about that part of who we are that listens to how we are feeling, inwardly. The “inner ear” listens to the signals and feelings from within. The “inner ear” can “hear” discomfort and internal pain, it can feel “out of balance” and knock us out of whack as much as an inner ear infection can cause us to be dizzy and unable to maintain physical balance. (Yeah, I’ve had that happen!)

In this month’s posts I have been talking about the ways we can be “compleat” musicians. One of the things that seems to jump out of all that I have written is balance. That came to mind on Sunday at the Pops Orchestra concert. As the 4th trumpet I was only needed for the first number. I went out into the audience to enjoy the rest of the show. At intermission I went backstage and told the director how good it was sounding in the auditorium. His only question:

Was it balanced?

Yes, it was. Which was why it sounded good. Of course the question was more than just about whether the oboe could be heard appropriately with the violins. It was also about blend and how everyone was playing. If one trumpet is playing the section staccato and another is playing the same passage legato, it will stand out. So balance is more than just weighing two or more things against the others. It is the overall sound and tone, the style and dynamics. As always:

It’s all about the music

There are different things that I have found that can help me find balance so that I can translate it into my music. Perhaps the most valuable and effective are the movements and disciplines surrounding the ancient arts of yoga, T’ai Chi and Qigong. While yoga has kind of morphed into a wide range of exercise options, at its heart is the ability to move and stretch into a more balanced life. If you want it for aerobic or extreme exercise classes are available all over the place. I am not going to talk much about yoga. I highly recommend it for learning how to move and stretch, to grow into a more flexible and physically fit musician.

For me, the T’ai Chi and Qigong (pronounced chee-gung) based disciplines have become a key part of my own journey into better balance. I have been working on these two disciplines at various levels for four or more years. I am in no way an expert at these. I am a mere beginner who has discovered a way that has helped me in many, many ways. As I did some digging recently I found that a number of music schools, including Berklee and Vanderbilt have T’ai Chi courses for musicians. From Berklee’s catalog:
Tai Chi Chuan, or "Grand Ultimate Fist," is a moving meditation/exercise/martial art that can complement and energize your studies, music, and all the activities of your busy day. ... It is also a constantly evolving art/science that promotes physical, mental, and emotional balance, and is a useful tool for identifying playing-related tension patterns and opening constricted channels of the body. Tai Chi Chuan is a slow, flowing, no-sweat exercise with excellent health benefits that requires no uniforms or equipment, a moderate amount of floor space to perform, and no opponent to compete against except yourself. -Link
For their Qigong class, "Playing in the Key of Qi" Berklee says:
These exercises promote emotional balance, mental clarity, and an optimum physical state. Students will learn about the unique physiological benefits as well as how to apply these exercises to their instrument, daily activities, and creative endeavors. In addition, students will learn how qigong can act as a catalyst for healing or preventing an overuse injury and other health maladies. By the end of the course, students will be more able to conduct the inner orchestra of their mind, body, heart, and spirit through a state of relaxed awareness. -Link
The Harvard Medical School Guide to T’ai Chi (Harvard, 2013) lists ingredients that are the framework for T’ai Chi. Five that have particular impact for musicians:
  • Awareness
  • Intention
  • Active relaxation
  • Strengthening and flexibility
  • Natural freer breathing
In that same book, there is a chapter on enhancing creativity with T’ai Chi. Artists and musicians make comments like:
If you like music, you will probably like T’ai Chi. You can learn to tune into your body and know what that means. (Harvard Guide, p. 254)

T’ai Chi is about getting flow to happen, from inside to outside, side to side, and top to bottom. This is the same as creativity. (Harvard Guide, p. 252)

The experience [of T’ai Chi] felt so similar to playing music. Movement, rhythm, themes, and even vibrations, all come into play in both activities. When you play music, you have to play in tune, balance with your fellow players, and know where you are without thinking about it. Practicing T’ai Chi teaches you to tune in to the mind-body, the sense of balance, of being in the moment, and nowhere else.Doing the T’ai Chi form is a lot like playing chamber music. (Harvard Guide, p. 253)
Okay, I know this is sounding like an infomercial on T’ai Chi and Qigong. I guess what I am trying to say is that this is one way I have discovered to build balance into my own practice. The meditation in motion enhances my awareness and mindfulness. The discipline of easy breathing is an aid to relaxation before or after practice or performance. (Sometimes even during a performance.) Playing music is for many of us far more than just the notes on the page. It is deep movement, it is the breathing, it is the experience of doing something with others that is moving and entertaining. Above all, it is also a gift to ourselves allowing us to find the melody and the balance in tune with ourselves and the world around us.

There are more places offering T’ai Chi or Qigong than in the past. Google it for your area or check with a local community education program or healthy living center. Do some exploring for yourself. The best way is to learn with a teacher, but there are some good videos that can help you discover what it means. Here are links to three videos that I have personally found helpful:

Don Fiore T’ai Chi
Qigong at Spark People
T’ai Chi Chih

Mindful Musician
Tai Chi Health Products

With these we come to the end of this month's tips on being a "compleat" musician. In the end, self-care in all its forms allows us to grow and develop our skills. We can learn to be better balanced in music as well as the daily lives that surround our music. Or perhaps the music surrounds our lives to give us greater harmony and joy in life.

Next month we will jump back into ideas about practice, reminding us of the effective, efficient, and deliberate ways that we can use on a regular basis. See you then.

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