I just returned home from four incredibly full days in Portland, OR at the Andover Educators Biennial Conference. Our AE conferences are a wonderful opportunity to all come together, break bread, share ideas, and learn from one another. I always come away from them feeling refreshed, inspired, grateful, and full of great new information.
Here are a few personal highlights from the 2015 conference:
1. TaKeTiNa with the amazing Mary Kogen. If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you may recall me singing Mary’s praises two years ago at our 2013 AE conference in Ames, IA. I will go into detail below about Mary and my journey with TaKeTiNa this past week. What is TaKeTiNa you ask? Of course, you can click here to learn more about it, but in a nut shell, it’s an amazing lesson in developing and building better internal rhythm. You gather as a group and form a large circle, in the center of which is a percussionist (ours was Jake) and a leader who calls out the syllables and rhythms that you will clap and step to. It begins simply and grows to a sort of poly-rhythmic, call and response chaos where it’s expected that you’ll fall off the train. But then, Mary, being the genius leader she is, brings you back to the basic rhythmic groove. These TaKeTiNa classes have made a huge impact on my internal sense of rhythm and pulse, which I thought was pretty good before I began with it. But, like anything you practice, it keeps improving.
2. Supervised teaching class with Janet Alcorn. Janet is articulate, patient, generous, and an overall brilliant musician. She has such a calming presence, and I learned a great deal listening to and watching her provide feedback. Thank you, Janet.
3. Melissa Malde’s presentation about creating a “What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body” course at the university level. Melissa presented a terrific lecture on rib movement in breathing at our 2013 conference, so I was looking forward to hearing her again. This lecture was especially valuable because several other AE’s shared their ideas on how they’ve constructed their courses. I am optimistic one day I’ll have the good fortune to create one at my school.
4. Amy Likar’s “What Every Musician Needs to Know…” Hour 1, and Kelly Mollnow Wilson’s Hour 5 presentations were both AWESOME! Hands down, the best Hour 1 and Hour 5 I’ve seen to date – and to be fair, I have enjoyed several versions of these two hours in past years, all of which were very informative and helpful. Amy and Kelly each took the delivery of this material up to another level and I left feeling full of ideas to implement in my own presentation.
5. My private Alexander Technique lesson with Jim Brody was one of best AT lessons I’ve had in awhile. Jim is a phenomenal AT instructor, and his help with my use of self will be something I think about in practice, performance, and day to day living for a long time.
Speaking of Jim, let’s talk more about that lesson and more about Mary’s TaKeTiNa classes…
It all began bright and early Saturday morning with Mary’s Ta Ke Ti Na class. Let me just begin by saying that Mary is extraordinary and I want to be her when I grow up. Two years ago in Ames I attended my first class. It was pretty awesome. Not being a fan of the whole get up early and be functional thing, it was a pretty amazing feat in and of itself that I was able to peel myself out of my lumpy dorm room cot and make it to ANYwhere at 8:30 am. But after that first class, I was practically jumping up out of bed and skipping to Mary’s class with glee. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to work with her again this year in Portland.
Side note: I LOVE PORTLAND. I’ll just throw that out there right now. Seriously, I could absolutely live here, in a heart beat.
OK, where was I? Ah yes, my practice room epiphany on Saturday morning…
So there I was, loving Day 2 of TaKeTiNa. One minute I’m totally in the groove and all is well in the world, then the next, chaos sets in, I’m stepping on the wrong foot, and clapping on random beats all by myself. P.S., in real life, i.e. the orchestra, if I were clapping on random beats all by myself (so to speak), I’d be horrified. Not here though. I was able to laugh at myself, and trust that I’d find my way back into the groove.
Just like with Body Mapping.
When tension mysteriously creeps in or when I begin to grip in a way I ordinarily do not, I remain aware, avoid judgment, and trust that I can bring myself back to balance. Once you’ve discovered and continue to rediscover balance, replacing old habits with new, you want to return there. F.M. Alexander said, “When you stop doing the wrong thing, the right thing does itself.” This time around with TaKeTiNa I began to really make the connection between all of it.
After exploring the space between the beats, enjoying all kinds of poly-rhythmic chaos, followed by a brief but grounding few moments of constructive rest, I made my way out to the farmer’s market just outside the music building.
Side Note #2: Friends, the Portland Farmer’s Market is serious business. I can say without reservation, it is hands down, the best farmer’s market I’ve ever been to.
After a delicious, homemade, 10 lb scone, a cup of tea, and quality time with my friends, it was time to hit the practice room.
Lately, my practice has felt pretty similar to that feeling when one hits their head against the wall. Repeatedly. The only good that comes from that is the trust that you have deep within yourself that it won’t last and that it’ll get better.
This morning, things started out a little rough. I was nearly ready to pack up, go for a walk, and try again later. Instead, I decided to trust that it would improve and that I’d figure out what I needed to do to make what I was practicing come together in that moment. I started thinking about some golden words of wisdom from a couple of my AE friends, from another brilliant AT teacher Bob Britton, as well as the instruction I received at my Alexander lesson on two days earlier with Jim. I took a few minutes to allow it to sink in, reminding myself that I trusted I could get past this road block. Then it happened. Like someone flipped a switch. All of the sudden it all came together. The next two hours were two of the most productive and enjoyable hours of practice I’ve had in months.
Later Saturday night, I performed one of the newer gems of the flute duo repertoire with my Alcyone Ensemble partner, Amy Likar. We collaborated with a terrific Portland based pianist, Stephanie Cooke on Yuko Uebayashi’s “Town Light.”
This piece is gorgeous, and flutists, if you don’t already know it I highly recommend you get it and add it to your duo repertoire. Throughout the performance, I kept reminding myself of Jim and Bob’s words of wisdom, and it worked like a charm because our performance couldn’t have gone better. If it were possible to smile as I played Saturday night, I would have.
When my alarm went off Sunday morning, I was sure it was some kind of cruel joke. Between three nights in a row of late-night “round table discussions” at our super kick-ass Air B & B, and Saturday’s post-concert festivities, I was feeling pretty exhausted. Nevertheless, I peeled myself out of bed, and let me tell you, Sunday’s TaKeTiNa class was particularly challenging. It was also exactly what I needed to begin my day and end the conference, and I felt like a new person afterward.
These conferences are so incredibly valuable for about 100 reasons. It’s not just about the wealth of information we learn in master classes, lectures, presentations, workshops, etc. All of that is wonderful. It’s also about the little gems we informally share over a meal or a drink, or the late night roundtable-esque discussions in our PJ’s with our herbal tea (or glass of wine). It’s all about relationships; building new friendships and strengthening friendships we’ve had for years. It’s about the silliness that ensues when you’re so tired you get punchy. It’s about the adventures you take to find the perfect donut/cupcake/cup of coffee/book/shoes/craft beer, etc.
Yesterday, Mary and I had an in-depth discussion about how we might go about applying for an AE grant to fund a joint venture between local craft breweries in the city of our conference and TaKeTiNa — something along the lines of “Tasty Locally Brewed IPA’s and TaKeTiNa; Their Causes and Affects.” It’s still a work in progress, but we’re optimistic!
Unfortunately, just like all things in life we love and lose ourselves in, the time passes far too quickly and before we know it, it’s time to head home. When planning our time in Portland, a group of us decided to hang out one extra day and get outside and enjoy some of the beauty of this great city. There’s simply nothing better after a body mapping conference, where we’ve been thinking and talking about how we use our bodies, than to get outside and move! Despite my otherwise verbose nature, I don’t think it’s possible to put into words the beauty we all had the pleasure of experiencing yesterday.
Here are a few of my favorite photos from our adventures around Portland:
Many years ago, I chose to pursue a life in music because there was absolutely nothing else in the world I could see myself doing that would bring me the same joy. Adding to that the beauty of somatic work, learning how the body works and how to help not only myself but others to play with more freedom and ease, less tension, and how to avoid injury … it’s a pretty awesome thing, to say the least. I can’t help but feel overwhelmed with gratitude for what I get to do for living, and the people with whom I collaborate with each day. Reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, sharing stories and ideas, laughing until we cry, and taking time to smell the roses (literally … I mean, have you been to the Rose Gardens in Portland … O M G!). Coming together and collaborating with like minded artists is a gift to us all; Generously sharing ideas, with a sincere openness to learning as much as we can from one another; Being able to laugh at ourselves and learning from our mistakes – especially when you clap loudly on random beats all by yourself; Trusting that you’ll always sort it out and get yourself back into your groove, in the practice room or in life, and remembering it’s all about longevity, so we need to take our time and enjoy the ride.
Each time I return home after these adventures, I do my best to keep as much of the “zen-ness” of it all for as long as I can. Rich experiences like this are good for the soul and I feel refreshed and ready to embrace the next adventure with a renewed sense of energy.
Thank you to all of my colleagues and friends who organized a great conference, and also for your friendship and wisdom. You’re all rockstars.