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.

I first met the double bass player Stanislaw Kulhawczuk in an interpretation class in the NTNU Department of Music about 20 years ago. I was 19 and in my first years of study. I didn’t understand everything he was talking about. I immediately understood that there was something different about him and that he had something to teach me. He would only talk to the person on stage, intensively trying to help and not letting the issue go without the musician having managed something.

He is now retired from the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra and from Department of music, NTNU, where he had been teaching since the 1980s. He studied in Warsaw where he graduated with a Master’s degree in 1974, studying with Tadeusz Pelczar. He also had great success with his two jazz bands Old Timers and Paradox (jazz-fusion/avant garde), from 1968-72, with tours and prizes won at several festivals. In 1975, he obtained a position in the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra and moved to Trondheim.

He told me some time after our first meeting, that he was impressed by my musicality and temperament. I also felt that it was very strong, but, I didn’t always manage to communicate it to the audience. I had a lesson with him where he talked about playing from impulse, both the tone and the vibrato, but his words seemed so unfamiliar to me that I didn’t dare to follow up on his path.

When I came back to Trondheim in 2001 after having been abroad for several years, I felt I wanted to explore his teaching further. I have now worked with him since 2002 and as a result of our contact, I have come to understand that a focus on strengthening the use of intuition and freedom of performance is crucial. At the same time as a balanced use of the body and thorough knowledge of style and tradition are equally important.

Subsequent to our initial contact there followed a period of chaos which was very frustrating, and it took some time before I dared to place complete trust in his teaching as well as in reflecting on the knowing I carried with me from before. To really embody and understand his method, I needed to set aside my skepticism and go all in to try and realize his advice. I had to gain an embodied knowing of his musical images and coded words, as well as try to under- stand these concepts in a theoretical and pedagogical sense. Through continuously asking questions, being an active and reflective apprentice, and trying to deepen my own under- standing both as an embodied feeling, but also cognitively, I have gradually incorporated his method in my playing and teaching. I question whether or not I can develop the ”magic” through a better use of affects in the moment of performance, and what kind of freedom in the interpretational moment arise when getting into flow.

Further reading…