Today I was interviewed speaking about the Alexander Technique and I also performed a movement of Bach on my violin for a film documentary on equanimity. It was a very rich experience, not only for the actual two hours of filming and recording, but also for the two weeks leading up to it, as I practiced and memorized a Bach Gigue I hadn’t played in decades.
It’s amazing how things work out the way they need to, especially when we trust that they will. The unexpected results of several postponements of the filming were that (1) we were able to secure a better recording space in the end, (2) I was no longer coughing incessantly from my recent bout with pneumonia, and (3) I was able to organize my practice time to allow myself to memorize this piece in time for the filming. Sometimes the best things happen when we allow them to ripen in their own sweet time.
I usually don’t practice the violin much. Normally, I get the violin out a week or two before a performance (or more, depending on how challenging the music and situation will be), and I practice from 1/2 an hour to an hour daily before rehearsals begin. After the performance, it might be several months before the next one, and I often don’t touch the violin again until the week or two before the first rehearsal.
This works for me ONLY because I consider my violin/bow to be my secondary instrument; I’m working on ME (my body-mind-person), my primary instrument, almost all the time, as I go about my daily activities and teach the Alexander Technique. I pay attention to how I am using my mind-body throughout the day, and I give myself frequent reminders to release excess tension and aim myself in positive directions, so that my awareness of my freedom, coordination, and concentration are constantly being exercised.
Because my mind-body works pretty well, when I add on the violin/bow they function almost as extra appendages, and so they work quite well, too. This is why I often tell my students that paying attention to the mind-body-self “counts” as an important part of your instrumental practice, and so when you’re doing that most of the time, you’re actually practicing and improving your music-making abilities most of the time.
Paying attention to the use of your mind-body self “counts” as practice time!!
So, I finally took my violin out about a week and a half ago because I had been too ill from pneumonia to do any work with it before that, and I started practicing the Gigue from Bach’s 2nd Partita in d minor for unaccompanied violin. It wasn’t memorized. I hadn’t performed a new piece (this counted as new for me, even though I’d played it a long time ago in my teens) from memory in many, many years. I don’t know why I didn’t pick something simpler and easier… but after looking through other movements of Bach that I’ve played more recently, I just HAD to play this one. From memory.
So I did. The best part about those weeks was that I actually LOOKED FORWARD to picking up my violin to practice. I fell in love with this piece and had so much fun playing it! I played endless repeats, and delved into every nuance and pattern, loving the dance-like rhythm and the earthy quality of the sound. I didn’t practice in long chunks – maybe half an hour or 45 minutes at the most – sometimes only for 10 minutes – but I ended up picking up the violin several times in a day – just because it was lying there, and because I had the sound of the Gigue playing in my head, longing to be manifested into a reality I could feel and hear.
When I was upset for some reason… time to play the Gigue! And troublesome thoughts were instantly replaced by a smile of joyous concentration on something fascinating, orderly, free, and beautiful.
Today, I came home after the filming and felt the typical let-down after an exhilarating performance is over. “And now what?” I thought. “I don’t have another performance planned for quite some time…I’ll miss playing my violin…”
But this time, I realized how silly that thought was right after I thought it. This time was different. I’d rediscovered an old movement of Bach with my beloved friend (my violin) while recovering from a serious illness. I realized that I hadn’t been practicing “for the filming” nearly as much as I’d been practicing for ME. I’d loved every moment of it, because it was all about my relationship with my violin, the music, and ME. So why only give myself this joy for a week or two before a performance?
“Because I’m too busy! I don’t have time for that!” says my habit.
“Hmm…! I think I’ll get out my violin right now and play the Gigue again. Just for fun,” says ME.
“And… then maybe I’ll start working on the Bach Ciaccona again and work it up to performance level. I still have it in my fingers (it’s one of the pieces I have permanently memorized), but it needs a lot of attention to detail. I’d love to record it someday. Maybe I’ll set a date and aim for that. BUT whether I perform it or record it or not, the best part is going to be enjoying every moment I spend with my violin. For ME.”
One more thing: it’s rare that I perform for free. But I decided to do the documentary for free; I knew it would be good experience and I’ll be happy to have the end result once it’s finished. And, despite the many hours I’ve put into it (and the $10 for parking, haha!), I’ve already gotten far more than my “money’s worth”. This experience was worth every minute of attention I put into it. I’m so glad I took the plunge and said, “yes” to this unusual opportunity, and to my “need” to perform this piece from memory. It will make the next interview and the next performance from memory that much easier.
I think my violin is glad, too…. 🙂
Here’s a link to some of my Bach dance movements, recorded live (no edits) in 2013:
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