I was about to go to bed when I saw my violin. My hands picked it up and I began to play.
I had strung Christmas lights up across the tops of my windows earlier, and their light along with the soft light from several lamps lit up the room in a warm glow.
First, a strong improvisatory movement written by my husband for solo violin…. then a Spanish dance…. and then…. Saint-Saens Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, which I mostly remember from years ago.
I haven’t practiced my violin in many many months – I’ve been playing my baroque violin more often since last spring… but – OH! – it sounded better than ever… more resonant… rich, open… perfectly in tune… I felt strong, grounded, centered in myself… my Alexander Technique directions flowing through me… my hands flew over technical passages with sharp clarity and ease….
the up-bow staccato.
Again and again, I attempted this challenging bowing, and I simply could NOT play it. Not even remotely. Well, ok… REMOTELY! I could play it, but nowhere near up to the appropriate tempo.
I got curious. What was it about this passage that stumped me? What was I doing wrong?
I started experimenting. Maybe I was too tight (loosen up!)… no improvement. Maybe too loose? Tense everything up… nope. Just more stuck that way. Play slower? Sure, easy. But there was no speeding it up. It was STUCK at a slow tempo and I could not speed it up without the bowing becoming totally uncoordinated. Why?? Should I simply have a very clear intention in my mind – hear the passage how I want it – and just trust that my system will take care of it? That was helpful (and necessary), but not specific enough, I soon realized.
I was already taking care of my foundational, primary directions with the Alexander Technique (AT), so my general coordination was already quite good. When we work with AT, we always begin from the general and then go to the specific, meaning: I want to take care of my whole mind-body-self, making sure I am grounded, centered, and free as a whole before approaching specific problems. I had already taken care of this, but the specific problem was not improving with only this indirect approach.
I hit upon the answer as I began to think of creating more LENGTH in my arm. Instead of allowing it to contract into my body as I drew the bow upwards with every tiny little note, I began to aim my arm out away from me, allowing it to lengthen from the inside (not by pushing the arm out to stretch it, but by opening up to let energy somehow ooze out into elongation in an elastic way).
Instantly, the staccato sped up and became well-coordinated. But I achieved the best coordination of all when I STOPPED thinking about the right arm, and began to think about length in my LEFT arm. Amazing. The arms are a pair. They teach and help each other. Everything that happens to one side has an effect on the other.
After I achieved the desired staccato bow-stroke, I stopped and put away my violin for the night. Satisfied with a beautiful sound, phrasing, and technical achievements, I was now also feeling the triumph of having overcome a major hurdle. Sometimes it’s best to stop while you’re ahead, letting the mind-body bask in and absorb the immediate memory of success.
Start with the general.
Then go to the specific.
And don’t assume that the answer lies where you expect.
I wonder when I’ll practice again…. who knows! 🙂