In my last post, I wrote about my experience a few weeks ago at the 11th International Congress for the Alexander Technique in Chicago. Much of that week was exhilarating, and much of it was challenging!
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As promised, in the current post I’m going to describe one of the particularly exciting parts of the Congress for me, which was being roped into performing at the “AT’s Got Talent” show mid-week! (Watch the performance video here.)
Several modern dancers approached me a couple days before to see if I would play for them as they improvised to my music. Because I literally hadn’t practiced the violin in more than a month, my default habitual reaction kicked in right away, and I said “NO WAY”!
That knee-jerk reaction was triggered further by the idea of sharing my music (which exposes the innermost recesses of my soul) with large numbers of my colleagues who are openly critical of my choice to teach the Alexander Technique online (I wrote a bit more about this in my last post). It wasn’t easy to imagine playing for people with such a negative and critical outlook towards something I believe in so strongly.
But something unusual for me happened just after I turned down the offer, which I attribute to becoming more courageous and flexible from practicing the Alexander Technique: I realized I could take my time to decide. I could even do the rehearsal with them – just for fun – on the condition that I could still say “no” to the performance afterwards.
So, I ran through Monti’s Czardas (one of a handful of pieces that I always have memorized and “in my fingers”) once before the rehearsal, and enjoyed myself thoroughly when we added the dancers.
I decided to find out if I could still enjoy myself onstage in front of hundreds of Alexander teachers, despite the charged political/emotional environment I was moving through during the week. So…out of curiosity, I changed my “NO” to a “YES”.
I wanted to find out what was possible for me. What would happen?
The night before the performance, I had performance dreams (borderline nightmares, but they weren’t terrifying, just weird!)…. complete with sweaty hands that couldn’t find the notes, forgetting the music, and medieval Crusader soldiers ready to go into battle from the balcony!
The day of the performance, I moved through my day as usual, but instead of going to a workshop in the afternoon, I played through my piece several times in the gorgeous concert hall we’d be playing in that evening.
***TIP: Making the space “your own” before a performance is always helpful!***
I relaxed and had a wonderful time playing in that receptive, resonant space with the beautiful stained glass windows… I liked the sound, and I enjoyed applying my Alexander Technique skills to explore my music-making in new ways I’d never discovered before. This was going to be fun!
Then… I had to WAIT.
I walked by the lake, I hung out with some friends, I meditated and did all of my Alexander Technique practice etudes in the Loyola University chapel – a space as beautifully resonant with Silence as the concert hall. I did TheCycle quite a few times! (TheCycle is a potent Primal Alexander etude created by Mio Morales, which I teach all of my students. You can learn it here >> LINK)
The show was behind schedule… 9:00pm rolled around… finally, it was time to move backstage to wait there. There’s not much I hate more than waiting around before it’s time to play!! But I made good use of my time by practicing my AT skills, and I played through the piece one more time in the unisex bathroom down the hall!
As I sat, waiting backstage with Mio, I made a short little “LIVE” video to share with my friends, exposing my performance anxiety/excitement. Here it is for a little laugh!
It’s a good thing I had done all of that preparation before the concert (AT practice – not violin practice), because I was better able to deal with the unexpected thing that happened next. (Gotta be ready for the unexpected when you’re a performer, for sure!!)
When the presenters suddenly changed the order of the program at a celebrity’s request (apparently she didn’t want to wait any more…HMM!!), everything changed. The problem for me, personally, was that I’m extremely sensitive, and the type of music she was singing was EXTREMELY LOUD, with a booming bass that pushed through my whole body as I waited.
It was an extremely unpleasant experience, and it really threw me off balance.
How was I supposed to play after that?!?! The audience was jumping up and down, screaming with excitement and waving their arms over their heads as the entire building shook with aggressive sound waves.
Our performance would be so completely different… I wondered how a solo violin with dancers could follow that act?!?
More importantly, how could I calm myself down again to undo the shaking in my body coming from outside of me, which was triggering the shaking on the inside of me again, renewing all of the initial performance anxiety I’d been so diligently and successfully taking care of?
It felt like an impossible situation, destined for failure. I decided to quit.
I told my dancer colleagues I was out – I wouldn’t do it. I felt like a caged animal, not wanting to let down my fellow performers, but feeling incapable of going onstage in the mind-body state that was being taken over by unbearably loud dance club music. I paced back and forth and almost left….
But I stayed…just to see what would happen…
Thankfully, there was one more piece before ours. A tango. A beautiful, moving, graceful tango. In the back of the hall, I started to dance. With a friend, we danced. Another violinist walked by, and we play-acted a fencing joust to the tango. We had fun together, and the movement of my body aligned with my environment again. I became centered within, by using every single AT tool available to me in my arsenal.
I took control of myself again, and changed my mind… I would perform.
I was still shaking when my group was announced next. But I moved forward, walked onstage, and did my Constructive AT Thinking, so I could accomplish my goal, fulfill my commitment, and do what I love to do.
I took my time.
I took care of myself.
As I walked across the stage, I practiced everything I preach to my students about remembering Presence, Purpose, and Peace. I used my AT skills, and I decided to forget about the audience so I could take care of myself.
I got out of the way and I let the music flow through me and play itself, connecting itself – through me – to the audience.
My job was simply to keep getting out of the way – in a very conscious, active way.
I just watched the music happen, and I shared this experience with the hall full of listeners… as if it were someone else playing the violin, as the dancers allowed themselves to move…
And it was good.
If I had known before I’d accepted to play that the performances that evening would be judged, I would have declined the offer to play. But I didn’t find out until I had already committed to play, and I didn’t want to let down the dancers.
So, when the judges started to present their judgments (1 to 5), something in me suddenly gathered me up and carried me swiftly out of the hall. I didn’t want to know what their verdict was. To me, REAL music cannot be judged. My music is simply ME.
All in all, it was an electric experience, and I learned quite a lot from it. I’m so glad I took up the challenge and met it with Grace, the best I was able to do in the moment.
It was another reminder – stronger than ever – of the Power we all carry within us, and how that powerful Beauty can be unleashed when we get out of the way and do our Work.
Performance anxiety… Doubt Monsters… they don’t stand a chance when that kind of Light shines them away! 🙂
I’ve posted a video of the performance below. I’m sorry the dancers are not fully visible! I hope you enjoy it! (Note: this post finishes below the video…)
To finish this long post…
The story I’ve shared here illustrates what I teach my students, and it doesn’t matter one bit whether my students and I are in the same room or not.
I teach my students how to love being themselves, and how to stand up and share that Loving Being with others, while overcoming the challenges that face us moment by moment, from within us and without.
I teach my students the principles of the Alexander Technique, and how to apply the principles to themselves.
Hands-on or hands-free teaching is not the point.
The point is how we respond to stimuli. This CAN be taught online just as well as in person (sometimes BETTER), and it IS being taught online. The principles, how to practice them, and how to apply them, has precedence over the specific tools we use to teach them.
Hands and words are secondary, but Presence is primary – and that Presence can be shared and felt across continent, independently of time and space.
Presence can be transmitted with the aid of technology and through a screen.Presence is bigger than that. It’s incredibly powerful and goes beyond the physical.
Change happens IN THE MIND, and the source of its transmission lies deeper than both the mind and the body, while making use of both – with any and all means at our disposal.
We are FAR more powerful than we give ourselves credit for.
I urge my readers to continue wondering about what is possible. Don’t close your mind to possibilities, and don’t be directed by fear. What does Love suggest?
Then, do an experiment to find out. That’s what Alexander did. You can do that, too.
As he said – and I DO believe this – “Anyone can do what I did – if they will only do what I did. But nobody wants the discipline.” Do you?
With Love and blessings,
Curious to learn more about the tools I used to carry me through this performance, which was truly my best one so far – in so many ways? Contact me to find out how I can help you!
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