For years now I have regularly been visiting a coach, someone who helps me reflect and who gives sensible advice. One of my music academy tutors once said: ‘We don’t think twice about giving our car a yearly MOT, so why shouldn’t we provide ourselves with some mental maintenance also?’ I completely agree.
Recently we spoke about the emotion-mind-body triangle. He used a different terminology, but I found it helpful to translate it to flute playing this way.
In music we love expressing our feelings, to make a connection. Beethoven once wrote: “Arising in the heart, may it return to the heart”.
Whereas emotion intends to express pure beauty, the mind wishes to improve. The mind likes to compare itself to others and seeks to exceed them. The mind (pointlessly) strives for perfection. It is however important as a motivator.
The body enacts. It executes what it is being told to do. At times it may seem like it isn’t cooperating, yet generally the problem lies in limiting thoughts generated in the mind.
One cannot exist without the other. Let’s look at the execution of a musical score for example. Emotion merely wants expressing, to be translated into music. The mind wishes to play the piece well and strives for perfection. It is also needed to determine how the piece will be performed. Musical choices, the score’s history as well as that of the composer, etc. all come into play. The body performs the technical part. It is interesting to try and find out during the process of practising or performing whether these three are in balance or whether one of them takes the upper hand. From which position are you making music? Playing purely from emotion is wonderful, but impossible without blending in some of the mind and body. We wouldn’t actually hear anything. The mind aspires to a high technical level of perfection. If the mind takes the upper hand, you make music merely with your head. No matter how technically perfect a performance may be, it will always lack true inspiration. Emotion and mind require the body to achieve perfection. Without the body nothing would be happening either. Making music only with the body happens when whilst playing you’re completely preoccupied with other matters, like your shopping list or other things on your to-do list. It would be beneficial to remain in the middle of the triangle. Sometimes you might want to direct your attention (for example during practice) merely to one of these three aspects. However, during a concert all three have to be in balance. Try to play from emotion whilst using the mind to make musical choices and to direct the body to express pure beauty at that moment’s highest technical level possible.
Modern playing techniques are merely an extra tool to express music that begins in emotion, which is then perfected and supported by the mind and executed by the body. Like a painter who has more colors at his disposal to make an even more alluring painting.
From which angle do you make music?
Translation: Elise Bikker