by Deborah Buck
As we are all well under way with the beginning of our season, I am determined not to forget how amazing I felt after having spent time away from my technologically dependent life. This past summer, most of my time was spent outside in nature. My conversations and business dealings with colleagues and friends were almost always experienced eye to eye rather than by texting or emailing. I enjoyed daily runs, hikes, and walks on the dirt roads of Vermont, where I heard only the sounds of frogs, birds, gurgling creeks, rain, and yes - bugs! Meals were enjoyed together with others, were home-cooked, and always began with "a moment of silence." My mind and body were free. I FELT GOOD! I noticed that my dreaming was much more vivid. My spirit was refreshed because I had the space and time to reconnect with nature. My life energy came back fully, and because of this, my artistic creativity became immediately accessible. Feeling this way made me practice my violin differently. My musical ideas for phrasing, color, and nuance seemed much easier to explore. Even the process of studying a score seemed clearer and more effective. This environment was food for my artistic spirit.
So, how am I maintaining this centeredness as a musician amidst my normal high-stress and media addicted life away from dirt roads, bare feet, and gorgeous air?
In the spirit of trying to find my own way creating a more focused, more natural musical environment, I have done the following:
• I use a new cell phone case that covers the screen so I cannot see it
• I create a "safe zone" practice environment without distractions
• I keep a note-pad on my stand to collect important thoughts (rather than acting on them in the moment)
• I wear a regular watch and use a real metronome to avoid the cell phone
• I limit my hours online and try to write a daily, hour-by-hour schedule which includes practice, administration time, outside time/exercise, eating well, and meditation/reading.
The above list is what I strive for. I wish that every day could be like this! Here is a more detailed version of how this new approach to practicing plays out:
My Safe-Zone Practice is in my son's room where there are no electronics. I begin with a very slow and meditative drone and scale combination in order to set my intonation compass straight. I bend my knees while I do this, and make it fluid through the body, with or without my eyes closed. I find this actually lowers my blood pressure. On most days I follow this with some sort of Robert Lipsett influenced scale routine or Dounis finger twisters. Sometimes, I do my own glissando-vibrato exercise up and down the fingerboard while using an active bow to pull through the sound. In this exercise, I really try to shift with my bow in order to engage both hands/arms. Sometimes I turn regular old Kreutzer Etudes upside down by starting them Up-bow. My goal in doing all of this is to simply trick my muscle memory, and exercise what is typically the weaker stroke. It is truly amazing to sit in the discomfort of such a task and let one's body find it. Personally, I have spent years trying to get the body out of the way of my music making, so that all my energy is channeled in the most efficient way. Most importantly, I continue to strive to listen and react to the way the violin feels in my hands in order to avoid anxiety and the "must-do-same-routine every day or FAIL" mode. After all of this warming up, I am usually ready to get some work done.
The other bullet points listed above are quickly explained here:
My Administration Time is divided into four sticky notes that sit at the bottom of my computer screen and are labeled as: Home, Lark, Kinhaven, SUNY Purchase/Teaching. I try to accomplish something off of every list but do prioritize based on deadlines. Any email or text that I can answer in under two minutes, I try and do so, immediately.
My Outside Time is just that - I go OUTSIDE no matter what! I get fresh air and move my body through it.
Good food goes hand in hand with good health. I believe you are what you eat - so I try and eat clean whole foods that make me feel good.
Meditation: many times the situation in which I must perform is less than ideal - long travel before a concert, a long teaching day the day before a performance, a lack of practice due to a child in need - you get the point. Meditation has helped me in these situations. I use deep conscience breathing done through Chi-Kung. Nothing quiets my mind and therefore my heart rate more than this does.
All of these daily strategies are simply ways in which I try to bring my creativity to the forefront of who I am as a human being and performing artist. It is far too easy to let my computer or phone eat away at my precious time and energy.
I hope this daily “self-portrait” is useful to you in creating a more natural musical environment where you can reconnect to the essence of what being an artist truly is - ANYWHERE!