The air changes, becoming electrically charged with something. Your bum ceases to wiggle about in your seat. You stop worrying about that WhatsApp message niggling you and quit second-guessing whether you’ve locked your doors. You lean forward, curious. The music invites you to journey somewhere you’ve needed to go. The phrases you hear are your phrases. You inhale and exhale with the performer; their tensions are suddenly yours, too. You can’t put a finger on what exactly, but something just happened. When the music stops the air still rings. You realize you’ve transcended. You’ve changed (even just a smidgen). It’s left you a bit different (even just a smidgen).
But let’s switch over to the person creating that experience, the one MAKING the music.
How do they do it? And how do you get the magic that they possess?
And that, my dear reader, is the million (insert your favourite currency here) burning question.
Allow me to explain how I came to this theory.
Recently I sent a quick email to all my flute students, both the clients I teach on Skype and those who come see me for lessons ‘in person’. Mind you, these are flute teachers, band instructors, concert recitalists and absolute beginners. They are midwives, high flyin’ financial executives, yoga instructors, stay-at-home dads, saxophonists and nano-scientists. I asked one question:
What would feel like a miracle in your flute playing right now?
Caroline from Ireland: At first I thought that this miracle would be to play the perfect piece, technically without mistakes. But after a while, I realised that with regular, focused practice, this can be achieved. No miracle, just hard work required!So the miracle for me would be for me to wake up in the morning and to have acquired soul that allows me to play my pieces in a more relaxed way, with feeling. To me, this is more personality based, and so harder to achieve.
Gillian from Connecticut: Hi Jessica, It sure seems pretty simple but I am not sure how to do it yet. I want to somehow express whatever I am feeling at that moment. I want people to be drawn to my playing and for them to acknowledge that I did something for them.
Carlos from Canada: Cool question. Besides having a more smooth sound overnight? I guess having skills like Miles Davis where he can just play whatever comes to his head whenever he wants and no one questions him. He always sounds like’s he straight from his heart.
Zara from Australia: Really if I can get into the heart and soul of a rhythmically beautiful melodic capacity for expression I’d be very happy.
Anne from Scotland: I’d like to be able to play my grandchildren a C-Beebies theme tune as a surprise because they’d love to see that their nan could do that- they keep asking me to learn something off the telly. Someday I will!
Despite the informality of this little survey, the replies I received could roughly be summarised:
‘A miracle in my flute playing would be that I want to play music from my heart and soul. With feeling. To touch someone with my music’
And so I wanted to help.
Here are seven things I know, for sure
1) First you gotta meet your Heart and Soul
Forget the words ‘Heart’ and ‘Soul’, if it helps. Name this place of Higher Power anything you dang well want: Hut (Heart + Gut), Divinity, God(dess), Higher Self, Guardian Angel, Spirit, The Source, Inner Fire, Intuition, Creativity, Your Home, and Sacred Space are just some of the names people choose. You can call it Fido if that’s better. All that matters is that it’s the medium to help bring you to a state where you’re ‘at peace’ with yourself. Some say it’s where you are the most ‘authentic’ you. You’ll know when you’re there. And you will most definitely want to return.
How do you get in touch with this place?
Some people run marathons or write poetry. Some meditate, play flute, go to temple, or attend prayer circles. Some do yoga, sing Disney songs in the shower, journal daily, or walk in forests. Some see an Oracle, bird watch or sit quietly in a dark room. It’s up to you to figure out an entryway; it only costs only your time.
However you find this internal calm, you have to be able to access it in the way that you would unlock your sportin’ BMW with one of those swish key fobs. That is, automatically, with ease, accessible at any moment, and with the feeling you are always pleased to see it waiting for you in order to sit in its opulence.
2) Meeting your Heart and Soul takes guts. Many.
There’s a reason that people use analogies of having ‘guts’ when being on stage. It truly takes ‘hollowing’ yourself out to explore all those swirly innards waiting to be untangled. Unravelling those internal bits is how you get to know exactly what lies inside you waiting to be expressed musically. You will know what gutsy things need saying when you frequently access your Heart and Soul (see No. 1 above), by sitting with it a while and from listening to its wisdom.
In the words of the American poet May Sarton:
‘It always comes back to the same necessity: go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard.’
3) ‘The way you do anything is the way you do everything.’
In other words, if you have problems playing music from a place of pure guts for your listener, then you probably have trouble opening up in other areas of your life that take parallel shape, too. For example, you might find it hard to express yourself fully or lack the confidence to show people all that is gloriously you, even when you’re feeling sticky and it’s not your best moment. You might notice this at your workplace, with your Beloved, around your in-laws, in your rock-climbing class, or when you attended Stan’s 40th birthday party last week. Problems in expressing yourself from a place of pure Heart and Soul is most likely happening beyond your own flute playing, I would put money on it.
Zara, my wise student in Australia recently commented on this in her own life:
‘For ages I thought it was just something about music that touched on my rawness and sense of inadequacy. But as I pay more attention I can see that these patterns emerge everywhere… the music being just a doorway to my seeing. As I do more yoga each day I’m finding it’s seeping into my awareness more and more how I am in the moments…and how others are, too.’
4) Get an expressive game plan
When I step onto that stage to perform I have a general blueprint of exactly what I want to bring to the moment– bar by bar, note by note. I know exactly the colours I want to create, the stories I want to musically tell, and the mood(s) I wish to transmit. I am the leader of their journey and I hold this space for my audience— this is no different than any good story-teller who holds their audience captivated. Some questions you might ask yourself about your music:
–What do I wish my audience might leave with when I walk off that stage?
–What experiences from my own life can I bring to this bar/ melody/ note/ slur/ rhythmic figure?
–What is the back story of the composer’s life in which I might draw inspiration?
For example, the composer when writing this piece was … in a love triangle/ terminally ill/ losing their eyesight/ living in a country at war / inspired by Robert Dick’s early works/ visiting a foreign country/ in her Impressionist phase…
–If this music were expressed only in colours which one(s) would they be? Textures? Shapes? Images?
5) Be ok with saying ‘adios’ to the game plan
On the other hand, the concerts where I’ve felt I’ve carried my audiences somewhere truly magical have also been ones where I’ve let my Heart and Soul guide me – and here’s the important part—when I followed it, however scary and vulnerable it might make me appear in front of others, and even if it was not in the original plan. Warning: you have to trust that the skills you’ve worked so hard to hone will be directly and fearlessly supported by your Heart and Soul’s wisdom (see no. 6, below).
In the words of the late fiddler Oliver Schroer on performance :
‘I became a channel for something much bigger…on these explorations I may go to strange and distant places, but the fiddle dialect of my playing roots always pokes through in the end’
6) Show up for the hard work + keep sharpening your (many, many) performance tools
There is a reason that we practice perfecting a smooth finger technique, pentatonic scales, trills, diminuendos and fortes, coloured tones, key clicks, vibrato, harmonics, rhythmic accuracy and improvisation: it’s because were refining the tools in our (hopefully, rather large) musical tool chest. Then, when that Divine Inspiration arrives (and it shall, and it shall) we can pull out our best ones to create the music that the Heart and Soul dictates.
In the words of the American novelist Elisabeth Gilbert:
‘Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be. If your job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine, cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed, for just one moment through your efforts, then “Olé!” And if not, do your dance anyhow.’
7) You, and only you, hold the key
a) I can’t expect that my own experiences are going to give you all the answers you need to play from your Heart and Soul. They simply can’t.
b) These tips aren’t a comprehensive formulaic plan or a magic wand to guarantee that music from your Heart and Soul will pour forth like Niagara Falls.
c) This is because only you can truly figure it all out.
d) And don’t believe anyone that will tell you otherwise.
In the words of the French artist Edgar Degas:
‘Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.’
How about you? How do you perform music from your Heart and Soul? Please share in the comments below because I am just very curious indeed.
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