Claire Silvester

Blog 3: On the subject of hurt, and a disembodied left hand...

January 16, 2014 00:37

Frequently this week when I’m playing I’m feeling angry, resentful, frustrated, disappointed, and sad. Overwhelmingly sad, despondent even, as if the darkest parts of me are being torn wide open – tears and everything. My typical method of dealing with an onslaught of negative emotion is to shut down, stop talking and retreat. I agreed to write this blog because Adam believes it could be of use to others, and I think that could be true… honestly I’m undecided yet as to whether it is also helpful for me, but I’m ready to explore what happens if I push my energy outwards and communicate.

To make this clear; Adam has been the most incredibly supportive and patient teacher while all of this is happening. If it were not for his commitment to travel this journey right with me, wherever it goes, I would have probably given up again at the point of emotional pain...

This tide of emotion has been erratically increasing over the past couple of weeks and I’m starting to wonder whether it will ever be done. I want to believe that I’m purging the remains of the toxic history I have with violin, soon it will pass and everything will be better for it, but I’m not entirely convinced yet. It doesn’t feel like the emotions come from me (at least not consciously) more like they engulf my entire being and cascade outwards through my solar plexus – this all has a physical somatic-body feeling – it’s difficult to describe. When I’m not playing I mostly return to usual mood, occasionally the feelings linger. I’m currently not anywhere close to comfortable with this loss of control. More than anything I guess I’m scared that something is permanently broken inside my mind, that I’ll never be able to connect to playing with the complete joy I once did. I’ve been applying every self-dialoguing technique I know to this, along with meditation and a whole host of other approaches - I believe I need to find acceptance with what is, but I have literally no idea how at present. It hurts and I just want it to stop…

The weirdest thing about all of this is that when I am at my most emotionally fractious I do my best playing (this was not the case last time around) and so I‘m still genuinely drawn to practice even though it results in tears - I haven’t gone a day without playing for a while now.

Fortunately a few days respite arrived in the form of my much loved lifelong friend from our hometown, who came to stay and teach violin on exchange at my youth project. We share more similar life experiences with each other than anyone else in our lives and we’ve always been close. We both work for youth charities providing to young people in disadvantaged areas, we both gave up our instruments in early adulthood for similar reasons, we played together extensively as children and in youth, we’ve always been an integral part of each other lives. We’ve both moved back towards our music in the last twelve months. She hasn’t visited Keighley for a few years so it was fun to have her be involved in my life here, much has changed since her last stay. The project participants adored her workshops, I love the times we work together, she is a top quality youth worker and string teacher, and I’m proud of how she relates to the young people she works with – positive times had all round. We also decided to take some duet coaching with Adam - and spent eighteen minutes and twenty four seconds working on four notes… we’d both forgotten working in a focussed fashion could be like that, and it was fun to remember how precisely we should pay attention to sculpting our sound. When she is there I have the ability to laugh at mistakes, I wish I could do this more alone. My most favourite result of this visit is the facebook message she sent yesterday from back home to let me know she’d done an hour’s practice, I’m really excited that she is reconnecting with her study also, it seems only right that we share this part of our musical journey too.

The mechanics of playing the violin are improving I think, my bow arm seems to respond to my thoughts more willingly than previously, and the dense/zig-zag bowing conundrum (bars 7 – 9 in the Gigue) is mostly resolved. This is good.
Since last lesson I’ve been working on a mini-study based around bar 24 of the Gigue. It separates out all of the tricky parts in this bar (shift into second position, using the left elbow to steer my fingers onto the string/note and left hand finger spacing) so I can concentrate on the feel of each component individually. I really like studies based in my music, practical application just makes much more sense to me. During lesson Adam was talking about the elbow steering in terms of collapse and release and showing me how to draw my own attention to the inner-upper part of my left arm by providing my own tactile cues – using the whole of the left arm to create muscle/motor (kinesthetic) memory.

Eureka moment :)
The extra explanation that happens as a result of learning by Skype is massively working in my favour, I’ve never been able to just ‘do’ things, I have to understand it inside out first before I can allow it to happen…
This week’s epiphany is that I’ve never properly considered the role of my left arm while playing. Well, maybe only in skeletal terms; I know that my fingers should move from the base knuckle joint, my wrist needs to be straight, what angle my elbow needs to be at in different positions and that it should rotate left to right depending on string, that my shoulder should not be raised etc. but I’ve certainly never contemplated the role of the muscles in my left arm before. My perception of kinesthetic memory for intonation was comprised entirely from the hand; position of finger-tip, proprioceptors in finger joints, thumb position. I knew I needed to move my elbow around but my awareness pretty much ceased at the wrist. Reconnecting an entire limb to my playing has been immensely liberating (Hi left arm, how are you?) It feels like the kinesthetic memory movements are being built upon so much more substance and my left hand feels much less like a disembodied, floating liability against intonation, and position shifts, and string crossings. Even more remarkably I had no idea my hand felt this way until it stopped… funny how that occurs…

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