First, Tune the Musician--
Radical Listening in Musical Improvisation
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
by: Aarti Rana

Section: Performers

Interview with David Kaetz, GCFP.

SA: David, can you tell me a little about how you first had the idea for leading  workshops?

DK: I’ve been a musician since I was a kid, and I’ve always had something of an issue with the idea that music is what’s on the paper on the stand in front of you. It seems to me that music is intrinsic to who we are as people. And yet somehow many people, as they grow up, lose access to music - occasionally by way of the darker side of “music education.” It occurred to me that if we were taught to walk and talk the way we’re sometimes taught music, we would not be able to walk without a map or talk without a script. Just as people with a sense of curiosity can walk without a map when they encounter a new landscape, likewise, can we not meet a new landscape musically, without instructions? Of course, study and practice are essential, but they are intended to liberate you, not to freeze you in dependence and the fear of errors.

Awareness through Movement®” suggests another way of working with the musical self. As learners, we proceed from one mistake to the other, and we learn from our mistakes, just as we learn to walk and talk by making one mistake after another. This is jazz: you fall lovingly from one mistake into the other, and you do that ever more gracefully, in good company, and soon you are in the flow.

I have been teaching music and improvisation since long before I was a Feldenkrais® teacher. But the Feldenkrais Method® takes us very close to the core of improvisation – how do we find the next harmonious move? We have to be present and listen. The method offers a context, and a set of tools, to refine this ability – in fact, a splendid set of metaphors for working with creativity in general.

SA: How do you do Feldenkrais work with musicians?

DK: When [the] Feldenkrais [Method] is mentioned with regard to musicians, it’s often considered a way of unwrinkling them: of addressing their wrist problems, helping with their breathing, or dealing with professional difficulties that come with repetitive movements. And all this is true, but it’s not the end of the story.

CN: So working with their bodies instead of their music?

DK: Yes. With experience in the field, it becomes apparent that the music that comes out of a well-tuned musician is a different music. Just as the music that comes out of a well-tuned instrument is a different music.  It would be funny for a fiddler to tune only two strings on a fiddle and then try to play. Yet often musicians play without tuning themselves. That’s the poetic premise of the workshop: that the musician is where the music first comes from, so the musician needs to tune up first.

"First there is ATM--Awareness through Movement--and then there is MTA--Music through Awareness.
So what does a “musical” ATM class look like?

DK: First there is ATM – Awareness through Movement - and then there is MTA – Music through Awareness. We go back and forth from the mat to the instruments, the voice, and small group exercises, all the while building this quality of listening. The same quality of listening you get when you lie on the floor and you look for the harmony between the arm and the turning of the head. You’re listening to stress or harmony, to how things go together, to relatedness. How does the movement of the leg affect the breath? How do these things go together? Musicians are used to listening to apparently disparate things and finding how they work together.    

It’s precisely this harmony that we’re looking for in ourselves: when a movement gets more harmonious, more and more integrated, until the entire self is felt to be somehow part of that movement. You could even say that we are composing ourselves. To compose, at its Latin root, means to put together. We’re looking at the spontaneous composition of music as we’re putting ourselves together.

Picture of ATM provided by the IFF Archives of the Feldenkrais Method. Picture of guitar by zirconicusso
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