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Practice of Jeremy Woolhouse, pianist and Alexander Technique Teacher.

Specialist in working with musicians, RSI, posture re-education, neck, back and chronic pain management. 

Articles on Alexander Technique in life - by Jeremy Woolhouse

Monthly blog articles by Jeremy Woolhouse.  Alexander Technique for daily life, specialised activities, pain relief and managment.

Judgement: The Good, The Bad and The Objective.

Jeremy Woolhouse

From the small act of getting in and out of a chair, to the musician on the stage, there are numerous decisions to be made.  Discernment and Judgement are forces which use observations as a force which can elevate or destroy satisfaction in any act.  This article uses the example of pianistic performance, but aims to speak relevance to all activity.

 

During performance of any skilled activity, there are numerous decisions being made.  These choices are informed by the information available at the time the decision must be made.  The body’s internal feedback systems tell us about the quality of performance.  Our observation of our performance tells us how we are in relation to our desired outcome.  This information is essential.

In a pianist performance, there are nuances of tone, tempo and dynamic, for instance.  The sound one hears whilst playing conveys the indispensable information required to adjust one’s technique to refine the sound produced.  The same information also tells the artist how close to the aesthetic ideal he is, and what musical considerations are required to keep optimum musical intent. 

There is also information about muscle tone, pressure and movement which is incoming to the brain.  This gives the pianist essential information about poise and tension that needs to be moderated in order to maintain ease through the performance.

The later is universal to all activity.  The former is specific to the example of musical performance, but exemplifies the aspect of quality output and desired intention which would apply to all action.


Discernment

All this information is coming in, and decisions need to be made.  Some of them can be made without conscious consideration, others will present themselves to the performer.  The performer might also choose to be particularly mindful about some aspects.  In the management of this information, I would like to highlight one crucial element:

The response to all incoming information can only be applied to the moment of current action.

The decision the pianist makes about a change in dynamic, in phrase direction or in shoulder tension are all only applicable to the note he is now playing.  He can have the intention to carry this on to subsequent notes, but the observations presenting from the current note will inform that note in its turn.  If the pianist decides what he hears is too loud, he makes his next note quieter, and listens again to judge whether more dynamic modifications are required.


Emotional Judgements

This cycle of observation and discernment is essential to refined performance.  There is however, no scope within it for emotional labels.  In the example of the dynamic above, there observation of dynamic of the played note, and decision to change the dynamic of the current note.  (In a pianist’s case, this refers to the note before it is struck - other instruments may have scope to change an already sounding note.)  There is notably absent the judgement of “that is bad”.  One can alsoavoid saying “that was too loud” and in place say; “this note shall be softer.”

Labels of good and bad pass a judgement which is emotional.  Emotional reactions are inevitable.  We do not need to look for them, or generate them in performance.  They will come, and they will pass.  To let an emotional judgement detract from engaging effectively with constructive aspects of performance will suck the satisfaction from it.

Negative judgments bring with them associations which are unpleasant or painful.  Although associated with pleasant experiences, making a positive emotional judgement is also fraught.  It poses the same kind of interference with performance if one is seeking such an emotional response.  For one to enjoy activity, one doesn’t need to impose “this is fun” on to it, nor does one need to ‘search for the joy’ in it.  When one is unconditionally committed to the performance, there is nothing deterring from the natural joy which arises with wholehearted engagement.


Reflection

Such an emersion in the practicing of art (or other activity) requires a certain focus.  One can pay full attention to each note as it is sounded, and infuse it with the intention of the entire performance.  It will not be until the end of the performance that the artist can assess the effectiveness of the decisions made.  This is a privilege of retrospection.

Looking back, one can see each of the outstanding moments and their context in regard to the bigger picture from various perspectives.  One can see where one’s technique succeed or was inadequate, whether the performance was in accord with the artistic ideals, and where one compromised coordination, or positively enhanced it.

The artist has many impressions which can be analysed.  One of the most constructive would be to consider where misdirected attention led to dissatisfaction, and where clarity of thought and intention led to inspired performance.

Emotional responses will inevitably be amongst those which present at the conclusion of a performance.  In a time of reflection, one can consider the origins of such responses.  This information will be most effectively be processed in the same manner as presented above.  The act one is in the performance of, is that of creating a plan for acting and for action.  The pianistic performance might be over, but there is now another performance happening.  The way one frames this and manages can make the ‘post performance blues’ into something which serves to elevate each successive performance.

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