Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The In's and Out's of the Performer

At my Alexander Technique class last evening, we began an investigation. With upcoming performances to prepare for, I wish to be able to sustain a "good use of self" as I play. David continues to work with "having my awareness be larger and taking in the room."  I prefer to draw inward. In going inward my gaze is averted, and I think my focus on the music is better. What I am finding when I stay "out" is that I am more distracted by the room, eye contact, and reading people's reactions.

The music I play solo tends to be meditative,  and "going inward" appears to support the music. Or is this just my habit? Is this just a way of playing that has become comfortable? David asked me what is my intention as a performer? When I came home and was taking notes on the session, I asked myself what best serves the intention? These questions remain to be examined in depth.

I played Gathered Hearts for my wife, maintaining eye contact for most of the piece with a couple glances in the mirror. So easy to do with her, my favorite person in the whole world, who usually is the first one to listen to any of my musical ideas or pieces. I left her with her novel and then played through Dancin' Free and Gathered Hearts working at keeping my awareness "out" to the room.  At times during my playing,  I reminded myself of the AT directions. My playing was confident and I noticed a certain freedom in exercising this choice.

I moved onto playing Kinnara. I began thinking about playing this for David while maintaining eye contact, and other fantasy thoughts began to materialize. My sense of self was gone. Where was I? My thinking was not in the present moment supporting what I was playing.  I was lost. At this point I took a short break to write these notes in my notebook.

After 10 minutes I returned to playing Kinnara. Part of the issue is that I have not played this piece in a while, but the larger issue is my wandering attention. Is this because the rests are more frequent and longer in this piece? I need to "play the rests" and allow these spaces to hold the mystery of the music.

Going back to David's question about my intention as a performer, I thought of Thich Nhat Hanh. When he meditates, he meditates; when he walks, he walks; and when he talks, he beams! My dharma talk is my music. Can I be with the music - open, joyful, loving, sad, mysterious ...? Is this too big a question to ask myself? I was surprised at how quickly I wrote "No" in my notes. I recall the crafty aphorism "The only limits we have are those we place on ourselves."

Moving back to the guitar, I played Kinnara with "playing the rests" in mind. While there was still some uncertainty in my left hand, I know this can be addressed with practice. I moved onto Lost Balloon and thought of my granddaughter who inspired this piece. I saw the picture of us doing mock singing on a stage in Malaysia and smiled. Again lost in my thinking, I was not present with the music, I was not directing myself. I began again with this piece, played it through, and then brought my evening to completion.

A few more moments of reflection led to my asking again if my wanting to go inward during the AT class is just my habit? A need to clarify or assert myself in some way? Or a subtle manifestation of fear (another habit perhaps)? Am I holding onto what works, but what may not be the best use of my self? Holding on to what may not be best for the music?

                                            Photo by dvs


  1. Patrick, if you have not read Alexander's chapter 'A New Pattern And Working To Principle' (in "The Universal Constant In Living"), there he provides good guidance on this issue.

    "Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual" has much of use to say, especially the chapter 'Uncontrolled emotions and fixed prejudices."

  2. Thanks David,

    Need to pick these up.