Through various types of writing, including autoethnographic and more poetic texts, I incorporate experiences and thoughts that explain my work in different ways. During the research period, I nicknamed them “procrastination texts”, which I wrote when stuck or inspired. They consist of a wide range of experiences, thoughts, dreams and nightmares. I want the writing to add perspectives to the performer’s lived experience and knowing.
And what is quality? Which performance touches you or me? Do I take risks when I play, do I show who I am in the music, or do I hide behind the instrument?
Diving into the reflection, will it lead me on or nowhere?
I find the best situation for the body: the neck is free, tongue relaxed in the base of my mouth, the body is balancing, I feel the rhythm in the body, not the arms. Then I feel each chord, the tension and colour and affect of each chord. I try to have a slow feeling, not to miss any important details. Then I start building up. From nothing to a huge climax. Coming from a centred energy within me.
It is so clear in my head. It is all linked like pearls on a string.
So why does the string evaporate when I try to write it down? And some pearls seem to hide in the back of my mind.
I have to relax and pretend I’m not looking for them, then they might suddenly pop out from their hiding places so I can capture them.
You build competence over a long time, internalized knowledge based on both theory and bodily experience. You can trust someone with competence, they know what they do.
I find it fascinating to delve into this question – after years of internalizing the maximum amount of knowledge, I feel the need to take inventory of what I know, or think I know, and the validity of this tacit knowledge. And to see if it is possible to develop this doing?
How can I combine everything? I try to look up from my practicing and not forget that I’m a thinking researcher and not just a feeling musician. What am I doing here in my practice universe? I just have to keep working and digging, especially since I keep giving myself unsurmountable obstacles on the way. Before every new challenge, I get a feeling of “why don’t I just give up?” But then I feel the music begin to manifest itself in my body, and something has happened.
At a concert with the harpsichordist Rosén it was obvious.
The harpsichord is limited in its potential timbres, dynamics and colors of sound. The options Rosèn had at his disposal were, for example, timing in shaping the lines of the music. I listened very attentively, which was easy, since he so clearly shaped the music so I could feel the different voices in the music intertwined with each other but were still clear. The music felt multi-dimensional. Particularly his use of timing in ritenuto or when he imperceptively let the music slightly develop in tempo, creating an effect of tension and release. When the music really touched me was when the music almost stopped, held my attention without losing the energy, without disappearing, before letting the music flow on further.
In the orchestra, we get a new pile of music every week. “I feel like a note eater”, says the first violinist. How can I read and learn so many notes in so little time, and still go in depth into the interpretation? What about the orchestras now who learn whole symphonies by heart! They learn the work so thoroughly that they can use all their energy listening to each other and communicate through the music. Thus play more than what is on the score. But for that we need time, and time costs money.
After working a day in the orchestra I’m exhausted, and have lost contact with my body, I, too, become a note-eater machine. I play by the rules. One Version is the right one. So who decides?
“They never play this movement in this tempo in Vienna”, whispers the annoyed cellist next to me. “And to use an upstroke there? We always did a downbow!”
I’ve been looking forward to this concert, been waiting for the day to arrive. Now I’m here. The hall is filled with people and expectations. My seat is in the middle. I smile when I watch them walk on stage, longing for the feeling of being swept away with the music forgetting time and place. They play Schubert. I see them, and I hear them. They play so fast, and brilliantly. They communicate. It’s all so right, and they are so good. But still, I’m not moved, I’m just an educated observer, analyzing. Is something wrong with me? Have I studied music for too long? Have I stopped liking music?
Again, I’m sitting in the dark waiting for another concert to start.
The room is packed, the group is small. The music is shifting and alive. Every tone she sings hits me inside. I have no defense against the overwhelming feelings. Rooms inside of me open up, tears stream down my face uncontrollably, how embarrassing. You’re not supposed to do that in a concert. Luckily the room is dark, no one notices. I want to go up and be a part of it. I am a part of it, a listening body reacting to every note. The musicians don’t even play the right notes all the time. I notice, but I couldn’t care less.
The concert seems like an eternity, and it’s over so soon. I have to get out on my own, to keep the moment with me longer.
I was terrified of doing the wrong thing, of applying the wrong rules to the wrong music, listening to recordings and trying to somehow do as they do. What would happen if someone heard me doing something not according to tradition and taste?! Now I feel I can be both innovative and faithful to the tradition and keep my integrity as an artist, at the same time as contributing to the creation of new works.
Do killer whales eat humans? We swim and laugh. The shadow is closing in on us, and I’m the only one who sees it. I pull the child to safety. The tide is going out. But what about the man further out with a small child? He throws the child into some kind of net, but it is too small and slips back in the water. I suppose it will end well, but my panic is constant. My dad says they don’t eat humans, but he is wrong. It is dangerous. Killer whales eat humans when they can, says Lene Grenager. She knows.
I alternate between confidence and fear, but I try to trust my initial feeling of making sense.
I walk off stage filled with adrenalin. I did carry out what I intended. I generated lots of energy but kept my arms free, and the contact with the body. Maybe I didn’t vary enough, but I felt the audience holding their breath when we took the music down as much as possible. I filled every tone with meaning. I smile, all in the music. Everyone is enjoying
the concert. The little mistakes here and there don’t matter. Or my ponticello line which should grow in strength, I fell out of it because I started questioning how to do it, just there in the middle of it. But no one noticed. And the choice of music, maybe the audience thinks it’s too nice?
I make my living out of playing strange music, sometimes difficult to listen to. But I still wish to move and touch the listener. I want to communicate. Of course I’m happy when someone like what I do, but I’m a professional so I can take it when someone doesn’t. But then, straight after this enjoyable concert experience, I end up next to the two audience members who really feel they need to talk to each other about how shitty the music was: “And so boring, classical and stuff. Yes, they were very clever, but you know….” The words hit me, and burn on further. I thought I was creating good feelings, but they were only waiting for us to stop. Someone nods towards me sitting next to them, they turn around and say: “You see, we came for the next concert really”. I was wrong. Is there a point in trying when I fail so immensely? What do they care? They want Yiddisher klezmer pop music, with a sexy lady singing about important stuff.
Not everyone can like what you do, says my husband.
I know, but how can I save the world with music and emotions if people don’t even listen? What about those who record fishes roaring under water at night?
Or those who think emotion in music are nonsense.
If I touch a few, is that enough?
The world is going down and here we are, playing our flute, while the people who bother to show up get bored. And quartertones are ugly.
It is their right to be bored, I’m just not used to getting it served with the cake and coffee afterwards. Especially since I thought the program was so kind and easy to like, only with a tiny few challenges in-between. But obviously, I don’t understand. And they didn’t want to be challenged. They just want a mirror image of what they already know they like. They don’t know that to develop they need these types of encounters.
I create encounters, and if you are open to them, even though you might get angry or bored, they change the knowledge of your world and give you a new musical horizon. I have to be able to deal with criticism, and I enjoy myself thinking that these two, without knowing or liking it, had an encounter at that concert.
I can’t only play for those who I know enjoy listening to me. Then, what would my mission be? And I honestly believe I can reach beyond their acquired tastes and touch them even though they have no preconceptions about the music.
I explore something on a level not everyone will find interesting. And this is how it has to be. I want to create emotions, but I’m not a missionary. And I can’t play only nice music any more.
I’m at Prussa Cove playing Mozart clarinet quintet together with Pekka Kuusisto. He is presence. It feels like we are discovering Mozart anew, playing it just how it felt right for us, at the moment. The Viennese viola player is a bit sceptical, but even he is wooed into the feeling of togetherness and music making. I love playing the concert, feeling how we communicate and deliver Mozart with big smiles. It is so much fun, I kind of feel the composer himself would have enjoyed the performance.
Half the audience loved it, the other half were shocked at our breach with convention.
I didn’t even feel we were so revolutionary, but maybe we were? Still, this wonderful feeling of musicking, and not being afraid of doing something wrong, just feeling the music.
Step into fear.
Step into sorrow. Keep feeling.
Don’t let it paralyze you. See what it is, and where it is.
Do not let it stop you.
Take the energy and use it.
Use the bad feeling you have in your stomach to express darkness and desperation through the musical moment.
Point your tongue at doubt.
If you let doubt win, you also let all the doubters win. Maybe they are mostly inside your own head. Take charge. You are no better than what you are at this very moment, just do your best, it is the only way forward. Throw yourself into it.
Don’t stop yourself.
I play, concerned with doing it right, but also experiencing the music’s passions with my affects. I activate the repertoire of affects I have in me to color the music for the listener to be touched. Can I give them a physical experience of the music? My body is at times working against me, tensing up before a big shift just because I’m afraid of missing it. And then of course I miss it. I have to trust what I know, and leave my cognitive mind at its observation post. Don’t interfere!
Contemporary music in a nutshell. Freely improvised, with groups formed just a moment ago. A sounding ball in the grand piano hits my attention. Why do I like it, I’m the one talking about using affects? This is more the intellect reacting. My curiousness being touched more than my heart.
A resonating big drum. I can feel the bass through the physical room. The silence of the single repeated note on the piano touches me, grabs hold of me. I like when you hit inside the grand piano.
I like your sound. Thanks
Small squeaks, soft string sounds from inside the piano. A slow bow sliding up the side of the drum, again and again. The sound is almost unhearable. Songs dancing in its own sounds.
She fanes herself with the microphone and makes a sound, like a hummingbird.
The drummer is rubbing a balloon at the same time as he makes it sounds like cats screaming, on the drum. The one harmonic chord in the piano sound funnily unfamiliar, but is still giving a release of tension, for a short while.
I communicate with the other musicians. Try to listen and react and feel the ideas flowing from them and from myself. React to their music. Take initiative, and draw back.
The drummer is blushing of concentration. The singer screams a muffled scream. My shoulder is pounding with its own rhythm.
Everything is allowed, everything is possible. I experiment with sound and timbre, but Tarzan screams together with improvised opera?
The pianist is working so hard. The visual is essential. But some concerts might get a bit long. Improvisation is a language we all relate to and use across the boundaries of our spoken languages. When the singer seems to use words my brain is immediately occupied with trying to understand, to make sense of what is said. Looking for patterns where there is none.
The clouds are passing. My cello is blocking the view, he insists on sitting by the window. Is this about having courage? To dare say what I think, even though others might disagree. Indomitable spirit. To respect my own intuition. What makes sense to me, might also be meaningful to others.
I’m working on something good. I know I keep developing.
It’s about time I throw myself in the sea and see if I can swim. Or at least float.
Do I dare, maybe I have to jump and not think too much about it. I’m a Marmæle you have caught in your net. You need to treat me with dignity and respect, and then let me out again where you found me. Then I will sink into the deepness, still magical. Marmælen sings quartertones in the ocean deep. Next week is the concert.
Even if we try to avoid the body in music, it is still there, and it still influences our experience of music. I can feel her presence as an energy field in and around her. She creates a concentration pulling all energy towards her, as a black hole. The performer is longing for this, the ultimate moment, the ultimate performance, and is waiting for it to happen. As long as I practice all those thousands of hours, internalizing everything, then it might happen. But if I don’t, but only work with making this moment happen all the time? Relinquishing control creates a new type of intuitive control. I lose the moment, but recall the feeling with short messages to myself, constantly redirecting energy and awareness. Trying to calm down my squirrel-like mind and direct my attention.
I am music, I am a body, I sense music and I play with my sense. Mind and body are one. Or, that is what I aim for, an embodied quality of presence.
When I play like this, I am physically more still and concentrated. My body more centered and in balance. I might close my eyes to achieve an even better contact with the feeling of the music. To some this might be considered “uncommunicative” with respect to the audience, but I argue the opposite. Yes, posture, gestures and facial expressions can also serve to convey an expression of the music to the listener – but I believe that better “body use” and concentration on enhancing the state of presence is in itself talking to the audience in a much deeper way. I concentrate on feeling the lines and structures in the music – how they make sense to me – and to let this be obvious to the audience in order to give them an aural and expressive understanding.
My body is a vessel of communication flowing with energy inside and out. Opening the doors of my inside to the outer world. I embody presence, or has presence embodied me?
I have to let go. The more I want to the more I struggle. I must trust my body and let go of control, then again gaining a new type of control.
I balance my body. The center of me keeps a burning feeling inside the tone. It is scary
to relinquish cognitive control and let my mind observe from the gallery, but it feels right. The music I make is honest, and it is me. I know this is quality, and confidence. It is not important what the listener thinks of me and I’m braver, even though the risk of failure looms. Maybe moving out of the comfort zone, and touching upon this risk, creates new room for me and the audience.
I feel good, I enjoy, my person is unimportant. I am weightless.
He sits recumbent in his chair waiting for me to start. Silver gray hair and beard. He is always well dressed and he asks: “How goes?”. I know what he is asking me about, he wants me to say something about how my work has progressed since our last meeting. He approves of how I have been thinking, or he reminds me of something I forgot to focus on.
He sits in the chair with his feet crossed. I concentrate, trying to do it right. I play two notes, maybe three, or maybe two bars, then he interrupts. His engagement is radiating, he is so intent on making me understand. There is always something more to work on. He is sitting at the edge of the chair, feet astride. His entire being is intensity. He explains, again. I feel embarrassed he has to explain it so many times. I ask questions to be sure I haven’t misunderstood. And to keep understanding better. I try to eliminate the parts of my understanding which are not right. I try to understand it with my body – that’s when I manage to get the right feel for what he is talking about. But not only talking. He sings and hums and gesticulates. He uses his own musical images, which I have understood both intellectually and embodied, through working with him over time. If someone were to observe our work, they might think we were speaking a strange language. But they might understand his meaning by just watching him. I find my understanding comes easier by watching him, for example when he shows how I “play with my arms” and that I haven’t activated my body. Or that my feelings are sleeping. I understand immediately, but it isn’t always so easy to realize in action. In my playing, I try to find in myself the intensity and presence he is describing with his entire being. The little nuances I wouldn’t be able to understand in another way. He is very eager, explaining again and again. He tries to alter his words or explanation to trigger my understanding; I ask questions and search my body through my kinesthetic sense. I find a change in my neck, I release tension, what about the arms? Am I sitting balanced, feeling the point of balance? Focus on the body, not the arms, redirect attention to the center of me and open up for the affects which are there. Wake myself up. Is there something physical I need to do? It is easy to lose concentration when he is explaining something at length, but I keep refocusing on the meaning. When
I first worked with him I focused more on feeling the point of balance while playing, less on feeling the contact between the bow and the body (and the string). But then I kept forgetting to remain in this feeling of balance. Then I focus on the energy in tension and release, but I realize I forgot the contact. How can I get all of this to work together, at the same time? He sits back and I try again. It doesn’t take long before he is back at the edge of the chair saying: “Excuse me, excuse me”, to make me stop playing. I have a tendency to keep playing, but he doesn’t want me to slip back into old habits and therefore stops me when he sees it happen. I search inside myself for a new understanding. He gives me well-known code words to trigger my mind and body to work together in the moment. Then I find the sensation: “Yes, now it is almost right!” It feels like an immense appraisal. When I don’t understand, he gets so upset, but when I realize something, he is equally happy. He shakes my hand and congratulates me.
We are in the old symphony orchestra practice room. I’m in front of the grand piano, he is in the corner. The windows open towards the inner part of the building. I resist against what he is saying. I can feel how it works, but I am full of unasked questions. He is not interested in external ambitions, it will take the time it takes, developing my musical potential to its fullest.
I try to feel in my body what he is asking for. I struggle. I try. Maybe I try too hard. Balancing, feeling the rhythm centered in myself. Which physical feeling is he talking about? I try as many as I can. I’m on the first bar of Haydn’s D major concerto, again and again. Actually, the first two notes again and again. I search in my proprioception, in my body, for the right condition. I approach desperation in my vain attempt to understand.
When I think, I’ve got it, something else is not working. I try not to control, to let go. To center all my energy inside. And suddenly I know exactly what I’m searching for. The body is totally free, I play from the center of me and I can play anything. Time feels slow, and I’m totally immersed in the task, inside the music. I feel like I’m sitting inside the tones, and I can vary it endlessly. Dynamic is just an integral part of everything, energy is everything. Everything works, and I can do anything. The feeling exhilarates me, it feels intoxicating.
I want to shout out my joy. This intense feeling of happiness, this is the reason I work with music. This little moment. I can just go on and on – I won’t lose it, I’m in control but still free and flexible. I’m not a person with a body and limbs – I’m just a being. My brain is observing and enjoying.
Everything around me is unimportant. I crawl into the music and talk through it, even though I have made decisions on the interpretation, it feels like I have so many possibili- ties for variation at my disposal in this moment. I can’t remember if my eyes are closed or open, I’m in my own world. I want to laugh, I hear Stanislaw shouting: “Hurrah” next to me. The passages flow easily, there are no technical difficulties in this world, everything is easy. Of course, he is right. This is like something I have almost never experienced, and he is teaching me how to find it every time I play.
Sometimes, particularly in tricky passages, I feel like giving up this new way along with the new pathways in my brain, and just go back to using the old well-worn ones. Just learn this, the old way. Even though I know that introspection and embodiment of the music from the first instant, this learning process is quicker than the other way. But what about when I get nervous? Do I lose it all? I gradually gain more control and can retrieve the feeling when I lose it during a concert. From a cognitive controlled interpretation to an interpretation grounded and centered in the body and the intuition. Consciousness is there as a captain, trusting her employees to do what is needed. She is watching.
I work hard trying to put myself in the state he asks of me. I T ’ S NOT SO EASY AFTER 30 YEARS OF DOING IT DIFFERENTLY. I create new paths into the subconscious, or shape the pre-reflective, using my neuroplasticity. When I don’t pay attention, my mind returns to the old path.
I search for this physical sensation of the body controlling the tone and then get a strong feeling of flow and being present in the moment, a feeling of freedom.
We were on tour for one month, all over Germany in and out of buses and hotels and concert halls. Every day working on the repertoire as if it was our first concert. Then this one concert, in a magnificent hall. Baroque interior, white chairs with velvet “stuffing” seats. We start playing the Souvenir de Florence by Tchaikovsky, as we had done every night, but this night feels different. It feels like we are one big body made up of smaller musicians, and the music becomes whole, united, rather than composed of 16 different voices. An entity of its own.
I never knew if the others had that same elated experience; I think we lacked the words to explain and talk about it. It felt like magic had happened suddenly, and we all floated within it. The next night we played well, but this “out of body” experience didn’t reoccur on that tour.
Developing presence demands much of me. Devotion and trust. I need to redirect my attention and feel the body being in control of the tone. Even with the difficult passages, especially then. Don’t worry about getting the right notes. Start with the body feeling the tones, the body knows where they are and how they sound before I play.
Some things that I always considered tricky are suddenly easy, almost unbelievably so. In Grenager’s solo suite, there are whole passages I couldn’t do no matter how much I practiced – but after 10 minutes (or maybe 30) of searching for the right feeling, the passage is somehow easy, like the body is just doing it.
In concerts the tension and anxiety might shift my perception unnoticeably back to the old way. I’m afraid of not doing right and I tense up. I feel the doubt.
Last week in a concert, I realized a difficult shift was coming up. Help, I haven’t practiced it enough!!! All I can do is to let go, trust my body. Feel grounded, and just sense the tone. Letting go of my mind telling me it’s not going to work, just let it go. And it was fine, no problem.
I can’t realize this all the time, but I’m gradually getting better at using the body. I don’t focus on the instrument, another ‘me’ takes over. A creative me with lots of temperament. It has always been there, I just haven’t let it out. Or I haven’t known how to, or dared. It is the real me, led by my intuition.
The music takes on a different meaning, I never get tired or bored.
In the performing moment, I avoid cognitive speculation – the consciousness is slow and boring, the subconscious or pre-reflection is quick and full of varieties.
I can be too eager when playing, losing the groove in the rhythm, in wanting too much. Then I disembody the rhythm, and I “think with my arms”. In my earlier training, a lot of learning focuses a perception of what your muscles are doing, proprioception. But for me this way of playing limits what I can do, so I try to redirect the attention into centeredness where my consciousness is observing “from the gallery”.
I feel like I began this project as one performer, and I am concluding it as another. I have developed my performing, but I have also developed in ways I wasn’t expecting. Through the research period, I have experimented more and more with musical form, with words, music and performance and their relationship to being a performer. And I have also carried out a performing exploration of my questions both with respect to interpretation and creating presence. This exploration has given me the courage to enter into a closer partnership with composer Lene Grenager to create a work together entitled Ulvedrømmer. The latter is a work that showcases the concepts and practices towards which I have gravitated during these past four years, and at the same time, it points onwards. This collaboration is a conclusion, but a conclusion that opens up new questions and pathways.
Like William Pleeth once said to me in a lesson: “You have to know the cello with all its paths and byways, all its little bends and rivers”. I sat in his living room again, he was walking across the room to the other side to put some eau de cologne behind his ear. He called me pet. “Give me a new fingering, pet”, “and another one”. “Fingerings are like the soul of the music. You can do it”. ”Would you like to see my Stradivarius?” He took me to the adjacent room where the Stradivarius sat in its case – an impressive sight even though it did actually look like a quite normal cello. I was impressed nonetheless. “Let’s play some more.” His grey hair. His celebrity status: the famous teacher of Jaqueline Du Pré and now he is teaching me?! I feel like I have been transported to another world, an unattainable world. He talked to me as if he’d known me forever, like he really believed I could do any- thing. I tried to stretch my abilities towards his wishes and expectations. He calmed me down, talked me up. And all the time taking for granted that I could do it. And I could! It was as if simply being in his presence made me a better version of myself. He made me do magic there in his living room. I remember walking down the stairs after the lesson, he waved goodbye, then closed the door. I walked down the street into the enormous city, not quite knowing what had hit me. Trying to hold on to the feeling. But over the next week the magic gradually evaporated. The last time I played for him I felt utterly depressed afterwards, with the knowledge that this fantastic feeling of “I can do anything” wouldn’t last and I didn’t know who to ask for help in the aftermath. I couldn’t explain what had happened. I didn’t think of asking my own teacher for help with this. I just kept this faint memory of the fact that I could actually do anything, at least in his house, during those hours.
I listen to a concert with a quintet of my student playing Shostakovich piano quintet,
two movements. We have worked on it for four months, and I try in the session before the concert to make them believe in their performing strengths. Not to just read the music, but to listen to what they do and play from their inner voices. To talk to each other through the music. And not to care about us, the audience, and what we think, but to show us the lines of the music and their love for the music.
The small concert hall is packed with people, and my student starts the concert. I know that I’m of course more engaged than the rest of the people in the room, but I can also relax and let the music students bring me into the music. It’s so beautiful, even though there are some small mistakes and some tones are out of tune, it really doesn’t matter. By the time they start the slow movement, the fourth, I’m struggling not to have tears running down my face. They make magic together and I’m so proud and moved!
The same evening I go to a concert with the symphony orchestra. A world-renowned cellist is playing one of my favorite works, Dvorak cello concerto. He looks amazing in his silk shirt and masses of white flowing hair. But the music doesn’t even touch me. I try to feel involved. It’s so perfect, and it sounds just as it does on my CD-recording of him. The audience is ecstatic afterwards. What is wrong with me?
It feels like there is passion and perfection. But the openness and naivety of the student performance is lacking. The pure joy of the music making. I find the symphony orchestra concert empty, not talking to me, in its perfection.
Sometimes all the pieces fit together, but then something falls down and everything is chaos again. To find myself I have to let go of myself. I need to pass through the chaos to find myself. I have to let go of knowledge to find another knowing. My brain doesn’t have to control everything. And then I realize that everything I have learnt from before is still with me, I just find a more efficient way of using it. I never lost it even though it might have felt that way.
I start at one point in the world and walk from there. I cannot sit down and be happy with the knowledge I already have, I need to think further. Through encounters with other people, theories, music and understanding, my project moves in its own directions. Like a rhizome, again creating new connections and results.
I follow the path along which the research project leads me. I document and reflect. I go from a more analytical explicit interpretation to a more embodied performing. I have changed my own perceptions about music and performing.
Every time I break my own boundaries a new encounter can happen. I can never go back to whom I was. Through artistic creation and meeting I’m recreated, relocated.