Last Saturday, I enjoyed coaching an ensemble as part of an adult chamber music workshop at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music Preparatory Division. Here’s one of the things we worked on.
As soon as the group began playing, I noticed that everyone’s attention was completely focused on the sheet music in front of her. I pointed this out, and suggested that each of them experiment with paying a bit more attention to the space around her – particularly the space in the opposite direction, behind her. And above all, to the fact that the center point in each person’s world is within. To play for oneself AND for the world at the same time.
The most practically obvious reason this is helpful to remember is the following. Usually, when we are focusing on an object in front of us, we are making it the “centerpoint” of our attention. We are unconsciously making that object more important than ourselves and everything else in the world, when ultimately the sheet music (or whatever) is NOT more important than anything else (what about the people in other countries who are starving or suffering from extreme violence, for instance?).
What we really want is to be able to balance the inward with the outward, and to coordinate all things in our experience. It’s never a good idea to make something outside of you more important than you – it literally pulls you off-balance, both your thinking and your body. Just watch what happens when you get sucked into the computer-screen after awhile. (How about right now? Do you find your head and torso moving closer to the screen so that your head is no longer aligned directly above your spine? Do you feel any resultant tension in your head, neck, and/or shoulders? Or maybe in your arms?)
Throwing your head off-balance means that your system needs to create a lot of extra tension in your body – just in order to keep yourself from falling over! The process is unconscious, of course, but your body is exerting a lot of unnecessary effort in this way. When you’re playing your instrument, that’s valuable energy and brainpower that isn’t contributing to the task at hand.
So next time you’re playing (or singing) with sheet music (or an audience or a conductor, etc.) in front of you, remember that your primary focus ought to ALWAYS be within you, in balance with the space in all directions around you. Your being is more important than your doing. Let your activity flow from your center, and you will be able to do everything you do with more ease. No doubt about it.
Try it out next time you’re practicing and let me know how it goes!
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