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What Musicians Can Learn From A Room Full Of Bodyworkers

I am several hours into my journey back home to Ohio from San Diego, where I was fortunate enough to take a BodyReading 3-day workshop with Tom Myers, the creator/author of Anatomy Trains. There were 42 students in the class and all work with humans and their bodies as physical therapists, chiropractors, Pilates teachers, yoga teachers, massage therapists, Alexander technique teachers, acupuncturists, Body Mapping teachers, and even a strength and conditioning coach for Navy Seals! The main idea of the class is to learn to look at bodies in a different way. Using external bony landmarks, it is possible to see the influence of different lines of fascial pull by looking at rotations and shifts of body parts relative to others. In order to do this, bodies must be visible. We were told ahead of time to bring shorts and a sports bra for certain times during the workshop, and nobody was expected to disrobe beyond their level of comfort. As the workshop progressed, students took a turn standing up in front of the entire  class or a smaller group, allowing others to look closely at their bodies. Here are a couple of the  comments I received: “Her pelvis is shifted slightly to her left and rotated to her right, and her left scapula is sitting slightly higher and more forward.” Since it was a room full of bodyworkers, we were used to looking at people’s bodies and having people look at our bodies. Stay with me here… I know this is not the kind of stuff musicians are typically doing.

Processing Feedback
One of the biggest take-aways for me from the entire class is how class members processed the feedback they were given. Nobody standing up in front of the class took anything personally.  Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and there was a lot of variety. Very fit people, less fit people. Tall people, short people. It is no small thing to stand up in front of a room of strangers, basically in your underwear, and have them evaluating you. I admit that I wasn’t the only one who started sweating when it was my turn under the lights. However, there was no drama, no tears, and much laughter. It would be easy to take the comments from fellow class members as criticism, but everybody took the comments as information. Most people were curious about what others noticed about their body and eager to participate.

Contrast this with a room full of musicians. In our culture, we are taught to be error detectors. Think about it—we don’t get a point for every note we get right on a dictation exam in aural skills class. We lose points for what we get wrong. As teachers, when we ask students to evaluate their own performance, very often we get a long laundry list of everything the student didn’t like before we ever hear about anything the student did like. Too often, musicians are given feedback and we treat it like judgement, rather than just information. Judgement goes along with some kind of emotional response, while information is neutral. Somehow, when we are told that we have a rhythmic problem, wrong notes, or trouble with articulating cleanly, we turn that into “I’m a terrible musician.” In my opinion, telling musicians to just toughen up isn’t the answer to this problem. Rather, the answer lies in teaching our students how to process the feedback without adding on the negative emotional layer.

In my weekend course, we also were required to make 3 positive comments to the person being evaluated before we started in on the long list of things that we were seeing. It is important to validate the person standing there at the very beginning of the process. This is also something we could make could use of as musicians—starting off with the positives.

Stuff Happens
The second big take-away was that almost every human who stood up in this class had at some point, or still have, injuries. The scars are visible on their bodies. In my case, a fellow class member said “Can you tell us about your scar” and I had to say “Which one?” I think it’s fair to assume that bodyworkers go into that line of work because they are interested in how the body works and when things happen, they do the necessary physical, mental, and emotional work to recover. Nobody said anything like this: “I’m a terrible massage therapist because I had a herniated disc in my back.” In some cases, people come to bodywork as a career because their own recovery process was life changing and they feel drawn to help others.  

Contrast this with musicians – there’s a huge negative stigma around injury in our world. We don’t talk about it, we hide it and, too often, don’t get the care we need until the little thing has become a HUGE thing and we cannot play anymore. We are not terrible musicians if we have an injury.  We’re just humans with things that happen that need to be addressed. I’ve written about this idea before, but let me say again that part of the way we solve this problem is by being transparent about the issues.

Push or Pull
The third big take-away is about the idea of “Push or Pull.” As bodyworkers, those are the two tools we have when doing hands-on work with a client. In the relationship between client and practitioner, there is also push and pull. Sometimes you’re the leader, but sometimes you’re the follower. It’s a relationship, a dance between the two humans involved. Music is push and pull. Think about variation in tempo, mood, tone color. Sturm und Drang. Think about how we work together with other musicians in chamber music or in full orchestra. It’s a relationship between the humans making the music AND a relationship between the musicians and the audience. Push and pull exists in the relationship between flute teacher and students. Again, it’s a dance for the two humans that are involved. As teachers, can we let our students lead and follow?  It’s still push and pull, but don’t always have to be in charge.

The last part of the class was about resilience. What does that mean in the times we are living in? What conditions need to be established in order to facilitate resilience, and what actions can we take to help build resilience in ourselves and for our clients? Resilience is a big thing in the music business. There are a lot of great musicians out there and you aren’t going to win every competition and audition that you take. The first three take-aways that I’ve talked about can all contribute to developing this resilience as musicians. Taking feedback as information, dealing with physical and emotional issues sooner rather than later, and working to maintain relationships with the humans in our lives, sometimes pulling and sometimes pushing, sometimes letting ourselves be pushed or pulled, can all help musicians attain and sustain the habits necessary to become resilient.

P.S.  It’s also important for mental health to hang out with dear friends, travel, learn some new stuff and run in San Diego in shorts and a tank top, even if it’s 55 degrees and raining, when it’s 12 degrees with wind chill of -15 in Cleveland!

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