The eighth week of my experiment on playing without a shoulder rest and / or chin rest is already finished. Here are some updates and some feedback. I am sending this newsletter a few days later than usually, as I was teaching Alexander Technique and performing in Canterbury (UK) for 2 days and played in a Dutch television program yesterday. It was a nice experience, also for this experiment, I will tell a bit more about it in this newsletter.
Thank you for sending me your videos, it’s really important for my research. Please keep doing it. We are at different stages, not everyone is in week 8 now, that is completely fine. Everyone can do it in their own tempo.
Again, some more new participants joined as well, welcome to Rebecca, Pedro, Elisabeth and Gerrit! Many people already filled out the entrance survey. Thanks. If you didn’t do it yet, please do so before you start the lessons.
If you know more people who like to join, this is still possible through my website. If you missed the newsletter last week, you can still read it here. There is a collection of past newsletters at my website available too.
Please be welcome to join the Zoom session next Wednesday 11.00 AM (Dutch time) if you want… Just to meet or to ask some questions. Would be nice to meet up. You can watch Zoom sessions back on the login page where the video lessons are, as well.
About the Xmas holiday
It would be best if you could continue with the 10 min per day during the holiday, so your learning process will not have an interruption. But if you prefer to take a break, this is fine too, just please let me know, no problem! Our zoom sessions will continue tot take place, also on Wednesday December 28th and January 4th, and after that. Some people already informed me, that usually Wednesday mornings are not possible for them as they have to work, but in the holidays they are free and able to join! So this can be a nice chance to meet up if you are too busy otherwise. Looking forward!
Teaching Alexander Technique in Canterbury
Last Friday, as part of my PhD study at Canterbury Christ Church University, I was giving some Alexander Technique workshops to music students at the university. Not only violinists, also piano, flute, double bass, organ and saxophone students joined.
For me, it was interesting to see that in fact with all musicians we could work on the same things. I will list 3 of them here, just in case they will be helpful for you as well:
- Not letting the instrument pull you down
When taking up the instrument, or starting to sit behind a piano, many musicians tend to shrink a bit, somehow. It very much helps to think directions (that are happening outside your body), preferably oppositions. You can think for example your head going upwards towards the ceiling and at the same time dropping your weight through the ground. This will help you maintaining your length in a natural and balanced way. It helped with all the musicians last Friday and their sound became nicer too 🙂
- Imagining two eyes on your back, looking out
As musicians, we often are so focussed on everything that happens in front of us: The music, the conductor, our colleagues. the result is, that the weight of our head ends up too much at the front, not balancing on the spine anymore. This causes a lot of tension in the neck and shoulder area. With the students ast Friday, we therefore imagined that we had two eyes on our upper back, looking backwards. This helped so much! Especially with the pianists, but also very much with the violin, flute and saxophone. The sound is opening up, the tension is disappearing (because of a better balance) and the playing seems technically easier.
- The panoramic view
When we are stressed, our view is literally narrowing, you get a kind of ‘tunnel vision’, over focussing on the music or on the thing you do. You can actively counter this, by reminding yourself that you also can see the walls of the room you are in (not sharp, but you see them). You are ‘broadening’ your view in a lively way, inviting the things you see to fall onto the back of your head in stead of looking out and ‘grabbing’ something with your eyes. When horse riders use their eyes in this way, their horses will walk better, they call it ‘soft eyes’. Really fascinating. When musicians use their eyes in this way, their sound improves a lot, just try it! It worked with all students last Friday :-).
I would encourage you all to experiment with this. If you have questions about it, please send me an email or join the Zoom sessions on Wednesdays.
On this picture above, you see my PhD supervisor professor Robert Rawson and me. Last Saturday, we performed Messiah together at the beautiful Canterbury Cathedral. I was leading the second violins in his baroque orchestra ‘The Harmonious Society of Tickle-Finger Gentlemen’. The concert was sold out and I loved to play there. We also spoke about this experiment, of course, and we are both very thankful that so many of you are participating, the experiment is going very well.
When I had diner with some colleague violinists of the orchestra, we discussed the different ways they had been taught how to balance their instrument. It again struck me again, how many baroque teachers just tell their conservatory students ‘go home and try it yourself’ without any clear suggestions. It’s like everyone at the table has had to invent this themselves. There was also one former student from Nicolette Moonen (who often joins our Zoom sessions on Wednesday!), at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and he told me he really felt supported in this process by her! He was an exception.
During my visit in Canterbury, I stayed at the place of an Alexander Technique teacher colleague. Her name is Rosella Buono, originally from Italy. She is a very experienced teacher and has been offering Alexander Technique retreats in her home country for over 25 years, in a beautiful old monastery near Assisi, in Italy. She came up with the proposal to organize a ‘balancing the violin’ week for participants in this experiment, if you like, in Italy in the summer of 2024. What do you all think?
It could be a nice follow up and a chance to meet live in a beautiful place. It’s not too expensive to rent this monastery. Well, anyway, it’s still far away, but I wanted to already share the idea with you. I feel excited about it. Rosella would love to teach Alexander Technique lessons next to me (she is a wonderful teacher!), so we could have two Alexander Technique teachers and of course specific violin workshops / lessons by me. With the participants who already are an AT teacher themselves we could exchange lessons with each other. If you would be interested to join, please send me an email so I can make a list of interested people (not obliging you to anything).
Then I had to hurry home, as on Sunday I performed live in a Dutch television program! We performed the aria ‘Deggio Morire, o Stelle, from Handels opera Siroe, with counter tenor Cameron Shahbazi. I was invited by violinist Cecilia Bernardini (who also is taking part in this experiment at the moment and who you perhaps saw in some of the last Zoom sessions!), who lead the group. It was so nice to play together.
During the performance I was practicing the same things I had been working on with the students in Canterbury: Thinking opposite directions, not letting my violin pull me down, keeping a panoramic vision while reading the music, two eyes in my back watching the audience that was behind us… It helped so much! I also feel it helps to stay calm, as a live television show can be exciting, of course. Especially as we only rehearsed for the first time together that afternoon before the show. It went fine and it was such a pleasure to play together with Cecilia. Thanks for the invitation! If we will receive a link to the performance later on, I will share it here with all of you.
Eighth Zoom session
Last Wednesday we had an eighth zoom session with some participants of this experiment. It was lovely. If you want to watch it: I recorded the session and there is a link to it in the login page under the video lessons. It took almost 2 hours again, we could keep talking!
We spoke with Isabelle about some choices on the place of the violin on the collar bone and about flexibility of the joints. Nadi added a very nice principle from yoga, that a flexible body needs a flexible mind. The way you communicate with your own body is so important. She discovered that with the glissandi exercise she tensed he dumb on the way down, and that is why she was not reaching the lowest position while keeping her thumb in the third position. It was very interesting. We also spoke about how to plan your movements and how to practice: First make a plan (think) and then perform it (act), and not trying those two things at the same time. I see this work with swim training very well, too.
Nicolette added that kindness also is an important part of Feldenkrais, the way you talk to yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s not helpful. Good Yoga courses have the same approach. We spoke about it that some people have such a ‘stuck’ idea that people can be ‘to old’ to learn something. Such nonsense! And some teachers who tell their students they are too ‘old’ to start musical study for example… absolutely rubbish.
Nadi told us that this was very important for her to hear, coming from a teacher (Nicolette), as she always fought the systems she was getting offered when she grew up in Chile. She convinced her parents when she was 10 years old to do home schooling in stead of school, until 18 years old. She told her parents she could learn the things herself with the books of her sister and she learnt it in her own way and passed the final exam easily. She started the violin quite late (14 years old), started the conservatory therefore a bit later than average students as well (21 years old), and her teacher always said she was very old. But she just continued and became really successful in music, having a performing career now. She refused to listen to the people who told her those things. She just trusted herself and she understood about learning already from a very long age on. Nadi said: The education system is more about what the teacher wants, in stead of what the students need. Teachers want the students to copy them.
All participants in the Zoom session were really touched by Nadi’s story. I recommend everyone to watch this session back, it is wonderful. Also her story how she found the baroque violin and how she developed her baroque playing. Just fantastic.
Some encouraging remarks for lesson 8
For those who are there already: In lesson 8 we are working on playing double stops while keeping the support of the instrument with the thumb. The reason I do this, is that there is more resistance on the string using two fingers, so especially the shifting back is a bit more advanced for the balance of the violin. Also, it’s a nice test to see if your hand can stay soft and relaxed, and to see if the vibrato still is working while playing double stops.
Just in case you don’t understand my exercise, it looks on paper like this:
13,24 (shift) 13,24,13 (shift, keep thumb at the same place), 24, 13.
First you do this on the highest two strings, then the middle two strings, then the lowest two strings (also for viola).
Please take your time
It is important that everyone in this experiment enjoys the curiosity we have, and take part in a joyful and playful way. In that way, we learn the best. Don’t try too much to ‘do it right’…and don’t hurry. If you need more time, just let me know, keep me informed, and we take a bit longer. No problem!
Best regards, please let me know if you have questions,