Nikolette LaBonte, a horn player from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, writes about her first experience with Feldenkrais, through a class for NYO-USA led by Aliza Stewart. Follow Nikki's NYO-USA experience on her personal blog, The Musical Experience of a Slightly Forgetful Teenager.
I really enjoy personal space.
It's one of my favorite things. Right next to the quiet game and timeout. It's still better than Julie Andrews' apple strudel and brown paper packages. Like...what? Someone's got her priorities straight enough to take care of children. Not.
So, when my mom explained to me what Feldenkrais was after it was announced as an activity for NYO-USA, I have to say that I wasn't totally gung ho about it.
"Well, it's like...kind of...erm...like touching with regard to...eh like movement....almost like yoga but...not like yoga at all really."
"...wow. You should really write that one down, Mom."
Needless to say, I didn't know what to expect other than the fact that there would be some kind of touching which I would probably not be a fan of. It's okay, I'll try to paint a smile on the best that I possibly could. Unfortunately, I paint facial expressions and body language about as well as I paint in real life. I haven't made it past stick figures in art class.
So, here we are: Day 3 and Feldenkrais is in the morning. I'm in the first group of the day so I can't ask someone else who's walking out of the room what the deal is--not that I have ever done that in school. Not me. We walk in and it's set up in a double layered semi-circle with one chair in the middle.
You know when Rebecca Black describes that dilemma she has about "sittin' in the front seat" or "sittin' in the back seat"? That is a real thing. It's no joke, especially in a classroom. Each seat has extreme repercussions. Sit in the front and you get a good view, appear eager to learn to the instructor, but also appear to be kind of a teacher's pet to those who don't know you and are quick to make judgments. Sit in the back and you seem casual to the other kids and can hold a nice conversation (if you don't have an obnoxious stage whisper) but, you might been seen as uninterested to the faculty member. This is a problem. The struggle is real.
I saw someone I knew and snapped out of my slowly developing panic attack long enough to find a seat next to them in the back row. Luckily, it was just before Aliza Stewart walked out to start the class.
We just started by talking. Talking through why we move when we play, why it's important to move correctly, why some movement can be a hindrance and harsh. Slowly, we moved into exercises on our own. The best way I can describe it is really relaxed stretching. Stretching as if you had an hour before your soccer game instead of the ten minutes I usually had because I was always so late (surprise!).
No touching yet! I was enjoying it, and it seemed to be helping with some of the tension I have built up. What can I say? I'm pretty in-tense. Ha.
So, when she asked for volunteers to individually demonstrate some Feldenkrais applications relating to their instrument, I raised my hand. I didn't think she'd pick me, but I needed to recover from the back row decision I'd made earlier. So, I halfway put my hand up and everyone else's hand was higher than mine. No worries. She would never call on...ME? She's pointing to me? What have I done?
I was freaking out. Several people went before me and the no-touching thing was called off. A violinist who was playing some Bach is all of a sudden stretched and pushed to her limits of motion. And I mean limits. I don't know when she will ever need to play the Bach hunched over, on her tip toes, or while pirouetting around the room but I hope it comes in handy for her because for some reason it really perfected her intonation. The oboist playing Scheherazade could probably be flown on ropes from the top of the concert hall if he needed to. But, at least his sound was rich. The percussionist ripping through the Festival at Baghdad should skip lunch from now on and instead just have a full out picnic while he's playing. It would have been cool to watch if I wasn't next.
She asked me what I was playing and I had decided on the excerpt from Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. I told her I'd like to work on my breath support in general and was wondering if she could help. She talked about what she would normally do in a private lesson to help me but she couldn't hold one of these lessons in the fifteen minutes we had left (I breathed a sigh of relief). But instead we'd do some other exercises through leaning on "the chi".
I didn't know what that was. If I had to guess at that moment, I would have gone all ethereal and said it was your internal concept of your own emotions and mentality. Nope. Wrong. "The chi" is a tangible thing. It's the place below your belly button at the waist line. After hearing this, all I could say was Chi's Louise.
She put her fist smack dab in the middle of the chi and told me to lean on it as I played. Never in my life would I have guessed that I would have allowed this to happen. I was going to lean forward from a place I barely knew had a name until ten seconds ago while playing a hard horn excerpt and internally crying about the situation. This is way harder than you think. It's like repeatedly trust-falling in the middle of a marathon. You have to think that something's got to give, either your legs or your trust-fall partner. But nothing bad happened. Until she asked me to do an un-example by leaning away from her as she pushed and thus resulting in me almost falling straight on my back and needing a chiropractor instead of Feldenkrais. I secretly think the only reason she did it was just for the laughs around the room. But the real funny thing is, when I got over my touching hatred and actually trusted and leaned a bit, my sound opened up. I really am wrong a lot.
I made it out alive. I even stopped to shake her hand on the way out. She'd done her job of explaining the method better than my mom had. With that and the playing improvements, I'd call that a success. Who knows? I might just have to start Feldenkrais-ing on my own.
Next time though, I think I might be sitting in the front row.