The Power of Rhythm and Hollywood

Our ideas come from really strange places.

Lord knows some of my students regularly think: "Here she goes again with her weird left-field metaphor!" But sometimes those left-field connections actually turn into magic...

Watch the idea of this teacher (referencing a Hollywood movie) transform this kiddo's life permanently in the video below. What I loved most about this is watching Musharaf ride the wave of rhythm. It was as if it caught him and carried him with his words. 

Music is magical. 

Get your tissues ready... 

British School Boy Musharaf has had a stammer from a very young age. With the help of his teachers, he is eventually able to over come it in time for an English speaking exam. Copyright: Channel 4's "Educating Yorkshire." This video is not monetized.

Quote of the Week

When you're learning something new, remember to be tender (brave) and loving (daring). Not only do we need more of these qualities in the world, but those are the qualities of really effective learning. How? They require that you listen. Listen really closely... 

  "The bravest are the tenderest -- the loving are the daring." - Baynard Taylor

 "The bravest are the tenderest -- the loving are the daring." - Baynard Taylor

Ira Glass on Storytelling & Doing the Work

Sometimes I hate facebook. As an artist, I know that I need  it, especially as my industry is constantly  in flux. It's a love-hate relationship.  But that's another post for another time.

Anyways, I woke up this morning, logged on to the Book of Faces for my daily devotional of social media overwhelm and found this gem of a video below... 

[Source audio is from this very seminal video by current.tv]

I seem to remember having this exact conversation with a couple of my students last week.  When you're a beginning adult cellist, your ears have decades  of experience while your fingers and muscles have weeks  of experience. Doing the work to make that difference even out, even just a little bit, is sooooooooo hard.  

But do it. It's possible to give up on yourself. But it's also possible to successfully push through this. Both can be done. It is  possible to be a success, if it weren't then I wouldn't be teaching, at all.

So don't give up on yourself. Okay? Good. I'm glad we had this talk. ;-)

 

Your Practice Room, The Guest House

Our practice sessions invite us to examine ourselves. This is usually a pretty bossy invitation, as it's not always a choice to attend this self-examination.  

That being said, when we do make the choice to observe ourselves during a practice session, the experience allows us to deeply learn from ourselves. This self-observation has long-term results, but only if we're asking the right questions and holding ourselves open (and literally relaxed!) to allow whatever emotions and obstacles that arrive to continue on their way.   

The things that present themselves in a practice session are merely guests. If we are hospitable and provide boundaries to ourselves and our practice session guests, they will move on when they are no longer our guide.  who knows perhaps they will become good friends too.

The poem by Rumi seen below, is a beautiful picture of this...

 

THE GUEST HOUSE

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi 

translation by Coleman Barks

The Music Instinct: Science and Sound

With the magnificent Steven Wilbur gracing us with his presence this Saturday, March 16th, I thought I'd share this lovely documentary (2 hours long!) on the Science of Sound and Song to prep us all for some math and science... Watch the full thing for FREE below!

The Music Instinct: Science & Sound by Elena Mannes

What stuck out to you? How do you notice your own response to the science of music moving your soul? 

Working With What You've Got (& That's A Lot!)

Let's go all the way back to square one for this one, which is often needed when we're working on posture related cello technique. I believe ALL my students (and in fact anyone) has what it takes to be a beautiful musician and cellist. This may sound hoakey but it's true and it comes out in the very tiny ways I approach my instrument and the ways I want my students to approach their instrument.

My students are capable and resourceful.

When it comes to the cello, they most certainly aren't handicapped, victims, or bullies. They already have what it takes to become the kind of cellist they want to become.

From my experience both playing and teaching the cello, when it comes to inefficient cello technique, there is often a tie to the ever-popular and definitely not innovative "scarcity mindset." 

Pictures Speak a Thousand Words

As with most other methods of communication, body language speaks volumes. This is the reason why I don't just aim to fix someone's bow hold. I aim to improve the way they think about how their body interacts with the cello. Doing this empowers a student to improve their bow hold on their own in the future, without me.

Transient

When I see what some teachers might call a "bad bow hold" I'm also seeing that this student is working with the resources they believe they are currently in possession of.  For example, when I see the bow hold on the left, I don't see a really difficult future-sautille. [Product-oriented] I see that this student is placing their body's momentum behind the bow, instead of towards/inside of the bow. [Process-oriented] This student is not exploiting the strengths they already have!

Don't fight it.

Working against what you have is also a way that scarcity eeks its way into body language. It's almost like saying, "What I've got isn't enough, so I'm going make it work, if it's the last thing I do!"

Transient
 (This is the same two fingers, I just mirrored the photo on the right for comparison. Notice how much farther you can stretch if you allow your body to do what it is meant to do!)

(This is the same two fingers, I just mirrored the photo on the right for comparison. Notice how much farther you can stretch if you allow your body to do what it is meant to do!)

Overlooking strengths and therefore using inefficient cello techniques make it easy to fall prey to a victim mentality, whether a student knows they're doing it or not. Especially as a beginner cellist, it's easy to practice with phrases like "Here goes nothing." or "I'm gonna make this hand/cello do this."

Those are fine and good places to start, but how is your body underlining that kind of mentality on a daily basis? And ultimately, do you want to re-enforce (daily) the idea that you weren't enough or too much to begin with? or that you're too short, too tall, too young/old, too ______, to play the cello? I should hope not.

I'm totally guilty these inefficient mindsets on a lot of levels throughout my personal life and within my approach of the cello. I'm way too familiar with them to ignore the signs. I can spot it anywhere. (Like I can spot a homeschooler a mile away!) and who knows, maybe I'm just unprofessionally projecting myself onto my students... (umm... self-judge much?) Woah. See how it snuck its way back in there?! It's wily. and it dies hard.

A teacher/coach who can help you discover what you already possess and plan the right way to act upon this dynamic potential? I've been lucky and blessed to have several. I would be honored to be considered one of them and share the wealth like they did. 

Because it's not about getting a bigger slice of the pie, it's about making the pie bigger so everyone gets a bigger slice. 

Am I right? or am I right? ;-)

Brain Stuff - Pt. 1: Oliver Sacks on Musicophilia

Most of you know that since I live in Tacoma, I have a wee bit of a commute to my studio in Seattle three days a week. Those 45-60 minutes, traffic allowing, have really begun to be just the thing I need to get me psyched to teach. Or when I'm headed home, this time has become a wonderful opportunity to take a deep breath after a long and thorough teaching day.

Per a friend's suggestion I've begun listening to "To The Best Of Our Knowledge" and boy am I glad I did! The whole show is so beautifully edited and the amount of thought and care put into each interview is really palpable, regardless of the subject of the interview.

Recently TTBOOK did a series on The Creative Brain - I loved every second of it and kept saying to myself "My students have to hear this!" So hear we go... This is the first of several blog posts inspired by the interviews in that series.

[Listen to the TTBOOK interview... Click here.]

Oliver Sacks wrote the book titled "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain." He is professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University, and Columbia's first University Artist. Thanks to the magic of youtube, you can watch some of his story-telling

My favorite part of the interview? He discusses the noticeable changes in the brain after going through one year of the Suzuki Method. This isn't a surprise to me (or any of my students) but it's always nice to feel validated by a neuro-scientist. ;-)

A Real-life Music Story: Mary Sherhart

This week, one of my students was able to catch this story in her car post-cello-lesson and was so moved by it, that she forwarded me to listen to it. You should listen to it too.

Click here to listen to Mary Sherhart's musical story.

From KUOW's website: Music is a matter of life and death. That's something that Mary Sherhart has learned in her life devoted to singing and teaching songs of the Balkan region in Eastern Europe. The Balkan music that came into her life as a teenager is from a part of the world devastated by ethnic warfare. Tensions between Balkan people remain high long after the war. So for Mary, travelling around teaching Balkan music, it's impossible to avoid getting caught up in those tensions.
Mary Sherhart tells KUOW Dave Beck about how she was taken in by members of Seattle's Balkan community in 1970. Her life in music is grounded in a deep sense of gratitude for her Balkan friends and adopted family.

Thanks 94.9 KUOW-Seattle!

My Biggest Predicament

The first cello lesson I taught in Seattle was with a woman in her mid-forties. We'll call her Susan. Susan is a truly petite (4'6,) soft-spoken, mom with a pretty lively daughter. Her profession put her in a pretty consistent context of silence, sensory touch, and listening.

Susan had already been playing cello for a couple years, so had the general technique down. After we warmed up and got comfortable with each other, she played me a couple lines of a solo she had been working on with her previous teacher.

It sounded pretty good. In tune. Correct bowings. Posture straight and somewhat relaxed. I could tell her previous teacher was good at her job.

It was, in the technical sense, perfect. But…

Me: "Susan, Can you play it again for me? There seems to be something missing. Let's see if we can find it together."

Susan: "Sure."

[Played again, almost exactly the same way with the same sound.]

Me: "Wow that was exactly the same. That’s impressive. It's hard to replicate sound like that. But it still sounds like something's missing. Your cello sounds scared of making sound. So let's work on your tone today."

I won't bore you with the details of how to create good tone, that's for another blog post.

What's most important in this story is what happened the following week...


Susan: "I really got a lot out of what we talked about last week. I practiced that tonalization stuff a lot."

Me: "Wonderful! Well, let's start today out by warming up with a C scale while thinking about creating that really good beautiful tone."

We play it together. I began by playing a little quieter than normal so I could hear her. You see, the previous week she was SO quiet I had to change everything I did. I talked softer & played softer, just so I could hear and communicate with her well.

[Remember this was only my 2nd lesson after a several year hiatus of teaching, and even before then it was just for fun and in highschool. Some might even consider this my 2nd lesson to give ever.]

And a few notes into the C major scale I realized, she was right, something really did stick in our previous lesson. I could really hear her! And it sounded gorgeous! So I increased my own volume to encourage even more "oomph" from her cello. It worked. She sounded almost impossibly awesome.

When we finished the 2-octave scale, she looked up at me with tears in her eyes.

after playing a C major scale. tears. in. her. eyes.

You guys! The only time I'd ever cried over scales was when trying to play a 4-octave G-flat major scale. (I still cry over that one.)

Okay back to precious Susan with tears in her eyes.

Me: (Praying to God that I wasn't about to get sued for emotional duress...) "Susan, what's going on? Did I do something wrong?"

Susan: (With tears now running down her cheeks and with the most astonishment one could muster...) "No, no. That sound... It’s so big! & It's coming from me!"

Me: (I was now in tears too…) "Yeah! It is! You made that sound! And it did sound beautiful."

I don't remember clearly what was said next, or how the rest of the lesson went. I don’t even remember which song we were working on, but I do remember thinking a couple of things after our lesson concluded.

First I recognized that Susan has gone her whole life being shorter than almost everyone around her. If there's a power play or stress occurring in her life, she hushes up and listens. And here we were sitting eye to eye. We were the same height while sitting. And I was asking her to speak up. It was easy for her to do because 1) she had all the tools to do it, 2) I wasn't asking HER to speak up, I was asking her CELLO to speak up.

I sensed from her tears and how the lesson went after, that that tearful moment was from living her whole life as the one who is shy, quiet, petite, short, and easy-to-please.

The tears were probably from having her secret-dream come true, and being shocked by it because she didn't outright ask for it.

I mean think about it. You've wanted something your whole life, but you've never felt like it was the time or place to ask for it. Maybe you've never even formed the words with your lips. One day, you're just going along with life and BAM! Someone hands it to you.

I would cry too!

Okay. So the second thing I thought was, "wow. I was so NOT ready to receive that kind of response from just playing through scales. The C major scale nonetheless. I hope I said the right thing and did the right thing."

I've had way too many of moments like these with my students. I don't go seeking them, but I am super sensitive when I experience them. Every time it happens I just cross my fingers that I don’t say or do anything wrong.

So all this brings me to my point. What would the world look like if music teachers knew how to handle moments like these? Could they ever feel empowered to support their students during an emotional break-through or rough spot? The teachers I know do what they can, which is to usually respond in fear. I don't think that's the answer. I even know a teacher who has put “No crying” into their Studio’s Policies.

When I was taking private lessons, I had a few awkward tearful moments with my teachers/professors; usually because I was disappointed in myself, or too hard on myself or just flat out stressed out with life. I remember feeling like my tears were this huge taboo. I would hold them back for almost 30 minutes until the urge was too big and strong to hold back or swallow. The awkwardness of my tears feeling unwelcome made me forget why I was crying in the first place.

Emotion can be a really messy thing for folks in a technical profession.

So…

What do we do for the students who have severe low self-esteem? [I encourage them to see that hard work pays off and the work is worthy of their pride.]

What do we say when you can tell their family problems are hurting their progress? [I'm not a therapist, so the only thing I can speak to is their progress. Ask them to focus? Suggest using the instrument to be a release mechanism? Maybe bring it up with the parent? What if they’re an adult and don’t have a parent?]

What do you do when a student is so shy they can hardly think straight? [I either try to make it as fun as possible or just simply play soothing music. Am I free to ask why they’re so tense?]

How do you respond when a student brings up their love life in the lesson? [Again, I'm not their therapist, so I don't feel comfortable giving advice. Instead I funnel that emotion, be it happiness or sadness, into the songs. But could I do something better and more helpful?]

Learning an instrument from scratch at any age speaks to the WHOLE person, but I'm only trained to speak to the PART of that person... Do you see my predicament?

Yeah. Me too.

Emotion in Musicality

happysad
Most of my lessons have themes; last Monday, Mindy's lesson-theme was emoting. I began by teaching her a wee bit of preliminary music theory (major scales) and then upon her suggestion and questioning, we transitioned into emotions.

She reminded me that at one of our first lessons I explained that her advantage as an adult is she's able to emote through her cello. Most children aren't aware of what it means to mourn, lament, or be elated. But regardless of age, students are able to play "Twinkle, Twinkle" sad or happily: Long/drawn-out or short/clarified.

Emotion can be clearly communicated when presented with no unintended distractions.


Unnecessary sounds could result from poor tone, poor phrasing, pitchy notes, bad technique. Applied to life, this means when I'm trying to convey an important message to a friend I will be more likely to call them up rather than text them so they can hear my inflection and they won't be distracted by other things.

Try this situation on for size:
Say I have an important meeting with a record label. Said record label is interested in signing my band but we have a few questions and want to clarify a few things. If I'm asking the label reps questions when I am tired (poor phrasing), way too emotionally charged (pitchy notes), and slouching while wearing sweat pants (poor technique) they will respond to my questions/statements with those distractions in their minds. But! If arrive time, alert, dressed appropriately, etc. I am in more control of how my questions/statements are received.

Do you see this?! This means when I'm even simply playing scales, my emotions are clearer (to myself and my audience), if I am able to play without presenting unintended distractions. Practicing your emotional clarity will immensely help your practice of performance.

Here's an exercise to try:
Pick a scale or a simple song. Pick an emotion. Roll a die. Now, play that song with that emotion exactly the same way the number of times the die directs. The trick with this is to tune your ears to the distractions you're playing. Don't eliminate them, repeat them with purpose! If you can replicate the distractions, then you'll be in control of the distractions and able to eliminate them when needed in the future! Cool huh?!

Have any other exercises in emoting that work for you? Share with the class!