February 24, 2011
I remember a teacher telling me that I needed to be more of a warrior. How I was practicing and approaching performing just wasn’t cutting it. I needed to be more courageous and fearless. This is an area I’ve taken on for myself quite seriously, and I think I’m improving. Having role models and supportive mentors helps, but at the end of the day I have found it’s something that takes personal time and commitment, as well as patience to get to that cool warrior status as a performer.
What is a warrior? Wikipedia defines a warrior as “a person experienced in or capable of engaging in combat or warfare.” According to the Random House Dictionary, the term warrior has two meanings. The first literal use refers to “someone engaged or experienced in warfare.” The second figurative use refers to “a person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness, as in politics or athletics.”
I think the important part of this definition is being “capable” of doing something that takes a lot of guts, and this requires the said vigor and courage as well. And, we could easily add music at the end of the above definition, after politics or athletics. For sure music-making asks us, requires us, to be warriors.
I’ve been reading Don Greene’s “Performance Success”, and his website is also chock-full of warrior training exercises. One exercise, or suggestion, that I like the most is “constructing your boundary”, which “shields you from anything that is task-irrelevant…keeping your focus within your area of control.” Examples of boundaries include a musician from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra who uses a ring of fire as her boundary, another musician based in LA surrounds himself with a group of lions, all facing out, and another one uses a moat filled with alligators to give a sense of security while performing. I think my favorite is a singer in NY who uses the image of a clear plastic eggshell, and then right before she goes onstage she zips herself up inside it.
The most useful exercise so far for me has been “Centering Down”. Here I’ll simplify the steps involved, and it’s worth to read the book yourself to get the full picture. The seven steps are:
1) Form your clear intention (ex: I will now play Schubert Variation no. 5 well)
2) Pick your focus point (below your eye level, a specific location)
3) Close your eyes, focus on your breathing
4) Scan for excess tension and release it (think about what “Key Muscles” you tend to tense up–for example for me I focus on the Neck, Shoulders and Throat)
5) Find your center (deep in your belly)
6) Repeat your process cues (this is different for everyone, but as a wind player I like “keep the air flowing”)
7) Direct your energy (this is a GO FOR IT feeling, direct energy out like laser beam and focus on making clear intention a reality)
Fantastic! Being a warrior performer is within our grasp, and worth the time invested. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts and other strategies you’ve used to towards becoming a fearless, courageous, and more warrior-like performer.
Laura Lentz ©2011
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February 19, 2011
I was talking yesterday with someone who studied at Oberlin with the members of Eighth Blackbird, and he was recalling some ways that they were innovative right from the beginning: memorizing their music, wearing clothes that weren’t formal but not informal either and using a splash of color on each of their outfits that unified them together, and of course their intensity combined with astounding musicianship also made them stand out. I have yet to see them live but have watched numerous videos online and I’m really taken with them!
I also am impressed by a summer music initiative they take part in each year in Blonay, Switzerland, headed up by composer Joel Hoffman. They invite other composers and some top instrumentalists and the whole thing is a composer/performer exchange for almost two weeks, performing new works, and establishing a fantastic collaborative spirit there that will surely continue past the festival.
I love the idea that as performers and teachers we can land up in a place like this (I’m thrilled that I’ll be attending as a performer this summer), which in my mind is an exciting alternative to traditional masterclasses. It challenges performers to dig deeper into their resources.
There are other chamber groups doing similarly terrific work, like 5th House Ensemble in Chicago and the International Contemporary Ensemble in NY. Look at New Gallery Concert Series–performing in art galleries, bringing in composers to write music based on the artwork and then the chamber ensemble goes at it, with the art work right there bringing performers, composers and artists together in one setting.
I see these groups pushing us in new directions, not only as listeners, but raising expectations, changing expectations as performers. They are also redefining the music profession by creating new opportunities for themselves and colleagues. In many ways these groups are engaging audiences in new ways, employing new strategies and ideas to reach and connect with their audiences and communities.
I’ll be interviewing some of the founders of some of these groups in the next months, including Claire Chase of ICE, Melissa Snoza of 5HE, Jonathan Kuuskoski of NewMuse (and author on our blog), Sarah Bob of the New Gallery Concert Series, and Hilary Abigana of the Fourth Wall. Stay tuned…
Laura Lentz ©2011
February 18, 2011
A few summers back I was fortunate enough to take part in a Project Zero symposium in Amsterdam, called Gateways to Understanding. It looked at teaching and learning and the research done by Howard Gardner and his associates. We discussed “habits of mind”, and looked at their application to the arts as well.
I was reminded of the relevance and importance of these habits of mind because I’m presently reading Eric Booth’s “The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible: Becoming a Virtuoso Educator”, in which he devotes an entire chapter to this topic, called “The Habits of Mind of Musical Learning.” Booth lists the 16 habits of mind that were identified by Gardner and specifically put forward by educators Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick as the basis of their teaching-and-learning system. A “good” learner has this full repertoire of mental habits at the ready to apply in the encounter with the new, as Booth explains, and he says that they open a big opportunity for us as teachers as well.
Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
Gathering data through all senses
Listening with understanding and empathy
Creating, imagining, innovating
Wonderment and awe
Thinking about thinking (metacognition)
Taking responsible risks
Striving for accuracy
Questioning and posing problems
Applying past knowledge to new situations
Remaining open to continuous learning
Booth asks us to imagine that as a teaching goal, we work towards developing habits of mind in our students. How would our teaching be different? He suggests five specific habits of mind to raise to a high priority in our teaching, which aims to make our students as passionate as we are about the arts.
1) Attention–full, open, active. Persist and fully open one’s attention to listening. Full attention is a habit we need to develop, Booth writes, and one that serves us well throughout life.
2) Inquiry. Asking right questions determine where we go and how far we get.
3) Playful attitude. Encourage trying things out, experiment.
4) Flexible empathy. Willingness and eagerness to switch the ways we connect to a piece.
5) Reflection. Music is an inherently reflective medium, yet we live in an antireflective culture.
Booth adds that these five habits of mind will take any listener deeper into the joy of music, and spill over to a richer, fuller life in general.
If we are able to teach our students these habits, their ability to evolve as independent learners, and more inquisitive learners becomes more likely. Their skills in problem solving with an more open mind and heart will only help them succeed more as they continue on in their musical life into the future.
Laura Lentz ©2011