I had a wonderful violin lesson on Monday with Kato Havas where everything I’d learned seemed to come together. The ‘giving’ left hand she speaks of, with the performer thinking in terms of three intervals with the fingers ‘gliding’ into the notes, one finger preparing for the next in perpetuity; and the right arm with it’s two ‘hinges’ (shoulder and elbow) allowing for a constant ‘swinging’ that enabling the trajectory of the music to flow way beyond the confines of the instrument – like a ball leaving a racket. This all seemed to merge into a quote from Lionel Tertis (courtesy of a friend) that ‘…the instrument and bow in your imagination should be non-existent.” The less restricted we are by physical and energetic blocks, the freer the ‘swing’ is; and the more the swinging gathers momentum, the less the instrument seems to get in the way. In yesterday’s lesson my left shoulder opened and my right elbow swung forward properly on the up stroke and the result was that I felt as though I was playing ‘through’ the instrument and not ‘on’ it.
These flowing movements have an underlying energy which comes through the outward projection of our voice. She often gets her pupils to sing whilst playing, but the singing is much more prominent than the playing. With an underlying rhythmical pulse, an active imagination and taking our intentions totally from the composer (rather than any pre-conceived notions) we then have a chance of stepping out of the way and allowing the composer’s voice to come through clearly. ‘Don’t hold Haydn responsible’ she said (after I’d made heavy weather of a phrase) ‘. . . he can take care of himself!’
I’ve often been struck by the projecting power of birdsong. The wren is an example of a tiny bird whose sweet song can be heard from quite a distance on a clear day. This ties in with proponents of martial arts who are able to break objects with the side of their hand without the slightest physical injury. Perhaps the secret to these is the ability to focus energy and the same is true of actors and musicians who project their sounds in large spaces. It’s not the hand that breaks the brick, nor the instrument that fills the hall but an underlying force that these people have harnessed and can outwardly project.
The problem is that the musical instrument itself can prove to be a barrier which stops the energy flowing properly. Until the physical blocks are removed and our movements swing from inside to out, our musicianship and emotion can remain (to some degree) trapped inside and our musicianship can become stifled. That is why ‘practice’ alone can often result in playing ‘on’ the instrument rather than ‘through’ it. The family of stringed instruments have all been designed with one thing in mind: to vibrate freely. Yet how often have players experienced the ‘holding’ or ‘gripping’ of the bow, the ‘shifting’ of the left hand fingers, the ‘pressing down’ of the same fingers to suppress and squeeze these vibrations until they are contained and unable to project outwards? That is why there are musicians who can sound very ‘big’ close up but whose sound disappears at a distance.
If we are able to physically liberate ourselves from our instruments; if we are able to generate momentum through space with flowing elbow and shoulder movements: then we can allow the instrument to vibrate and the music to project. The listener recognises when the music swings – it has a life enhancing effect which everyone delights in – rather than the often heavy feeling of hearing a constricted performance where all the