Dr. Thomson is a dancer, choreographer, and psychologist. When she interviewed for her position and CSU, she met Dr. Jaque. Dr. Jaque comes from an exercise science background and studied physiology in athletes. They connected immediately and soon began research centered on mind-body connection during creative experience. Both Dr. Thomson and Dr. Jaque were kind and open during the interview, leading me to share personal experiences that I wouldn’t normally bring up in an interview–our discussion brought up many personal experiences and I needed to make the connection.
We often focus on creative products, but Dr. Thomson and Dr. Jaque emphasized creative experience and embodiment. As I pondered the value of the embodied creative experience, I was reminded of violin lessons with Dr. Donna Fairbanks, a music professor at Utah Valley University. I studied with Dr. Fairbanks during my first semester at BYU and later during summer breaks. She taught me to savor the experience of playing the violin and to feel the music through my whole body. This morning I remembered a particular lesson that had left me full and confused. At the time, I wrote about it as a pivotal moment in my life:
June 8, 2006: Pivotal Moment 2
A strange thing happened yesterday. I had the most stunning violin lesson I have ever had. “Stunning” is the only word I can think of to adequately describe it. Yes, it was a good lesson: I was well prepared and I played well. But I left simply stunned: disoriented, emotionally drained, touched.
I have yet to know why it was so stunning. Why in the world were emotions so strong in that room? Why did I want to cry in the middle and at the end? Why was I exhausted afterwards?
It started with much technical work. Keeping substance in my sound at all moments by using my upper-arm weight and over-dropping my shoulder. Stream-lining all motions. Keeping weight in my shifts and making them smooth.
Then we worked on technique again: primarily bow arm in Bach. I played the entire Preludio of the 3rd Partita very slowly, keeping upper-arm weight through all string crossings. “It’s incredibly emotionally satisfying to listen to each note and fill each note with substance,” Dr. Fairbanks told me. “It will make you love to practice.” I focused intensely through the whole exercise, falling in love with the sound of my violin and the smooth arm motions.
“Wasn’t that emotionally satisfying?” she asked me when I finally reached the end and concentration was about to wean. “I enjoyed it. That’s what I love about performance.” She looked me straight in the eye. “When we speak, we can hide, but when we perform we can’t. Have you ever attended a performance where you were just anxious for it to be over? That’s because the performer is anxious for it to be over and that anxiety instantly transfers to the listener. You can’t hide when you perform: you’re transparent.” Her eyes were wet, and so were mine. Why?? I have no idea.
“Shall we play some Beethoven?” she asked. I got it out. I played the first 3 lines. “Beautiful,” she told me. “These first 8 notes…you don’t like them. You wanted them to be over with. It was obvious. Forget rhythm…your rhythm is fine. Just enjoy every single note. Cross strings with your upper arm, smooth out shifts and keep the weight in. We have to enjoy every single note, even if it obscures the rhythm. Some notes take more time to enjoy than others. Try it again.” And I played from the beginning, listening and vibrating and projecting every single note. Every time my tone lost substance, or a note was superficial or a shift was rushed, she stopped me and asked me to try it again. Every single bow stroke: beginning, middle, and end, needed to be shaped and loved. Dr. Fairbanks sat listening and watching me intently, calmly and quietly correcting problems.
After making it through the first 2 pages, we stopped. I felt strange: tired, in my own little world. Dr. Fairbanks tried to explain: “You were connecting to the music through your technique. There were these amazing bursts of musical energy that came through because of technique.” I had read before that we shouldn’t separate our technique from our music, but had no idea how to do it or what it meant. I guess I had just experienced doing it: using technique to connect to the musical message of the piece.
It was actually quite a simple lesson. The whole time was spent on technique: I was never told to emote more or to sing more or to open my soul. I was never “inspired” through loud, emotional coaching. Everything came from me, and only me. All energy, all emotion, all feelings: only from deep inside me. Only my spirit. I was simply told to listen to the sound and feel the motions. But I left dazed, almost confused, and about ready to cry. Who knew technique could be so touching?
So, maybe this doesn’t mean much to you, reader. You weren’t me. But I read it and it brings these complex emotions–stomach butterflies clashing with teary eyes, nostalgia, and longing. I want to hold onto the experience. Perhaps that’s why I’m writing this blog post this morning instead of reading all the stuff I need to read and writing all the stuff I need to write. I miss having music be the core of my life. Thanks, Dr.’s Thomson, Jaque, and Fairbanks, for reminding me of my need for embodied creative experience. I will be looking for more ways to bring that back into my life–both through music and through my scholarly work.