Open Arms

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash
In rehearsal last night, the concertmaster suggested to the strings that they play with a more open bow arm. I don’t know precisely what that phrase means to a string player – if it’s a technical term or more of a kinetic metaphor – but it immediately set my mind spinning.
When I am playing my best, I do feel open. I feel that there’s a lovely big halo of air around me, like the space surrounding me is part of the physical act. I feel spaciousness in my chest and softness in my elbows and I’m grounded through my chair or my feet but everything else is lifted and filled with air and space and ROOM. I have open arms.
This sensation – or the lack of it – stood out to me in my first Dreams and Visions performance last week. I have since listened back to the recording, and honestly things didn’t go all that badly – but I FELT bad in the moment. I started getting a lot of water in the instrument, I got flustered, and I got into my own head about it – and my usual expansive body awareness shrank to a little nub. Thinking back on it, I remember tightness and clumsiness in my fingers and hands. I remember my hands feeling cold while my face felt hot. And I remember tunnel-visioning into the music on the stand, not feeling free to share my work generously lest I lose my zone of safety, which was me and the stand and maybe my mouth and not much else.
Performance anxiety is not a big issue for me – I’m a calm and friendly performer as a rule. I expect that my future performances will return to a more normal zone and I’ll drop back into my big airy oboe space. But I wonder if I could have used an Open Arms metaphor in the moment to find my way back to that space.
This is also a thing I’ve been thinking about with my students recently. They can get SO TIGHT in their bodies around the oboe, as though they are trying not to be seen. We’re leading into Solo and Ensemble contest this month, and I’m coaching PERFORMANCE PRACTICE all the time.
And so much of that practice is body awareness. I don’t have a formal way to talk about it – only a way to SHOW it. And that way is by OPENING my arms, OPENING the space around me, and inviting the audience in. Welcome, friends, to my music!
Open arms.

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