recap: awareness through movement/ feldenkrais workshop with the vardis

Guest Post by Kyra Saltman

By the time I made it to Curtiss Hall for the Chicago Cello Society's ATM event, my shoulders and neck were pinched from carrying my cello case on my back and a headache had begun to form. CTA closures due to construction on the Wells Street Bridge had caused me more trouble than I excepted, and I'd tried to walk from my student's condo near Merchandise Mart to the Fine Arts Building before giving up halfway and taking a cab.

Luckily for me, Hagit Vardi began the event not with a verbal introduction to the Feldenkrais Method but with a practical demonstration. She led us through a series of lessons which illustrated the power of tiny, simple movements to relieve pain and fatigue in our necks and backs, perhaps because she read my mind. After a few minutes my discomfortable had evaporated, replaced by strength and lightness.

Hagit explained that many of the exercises we performed were designed to activated the muscles necessary to perform a certain action with the greatest ease. For instance, we all first tried looking over one shoulder and then performed minuscule leg movements she explained were designed to passively activate the muscles in our lower backs and hips. She then asked us to look over our shoulder again, and most of us found that we could go significantly further than before. These exercises involved only moving our toes or hips a tiny bit and amazingly, it was equally effective to simply imagine moving our toes.

Like most Cello Society events I've attended, there was a relaxed, communal atmosphere and a mix of ages and a range of students, parents, professionals, and amateurs present. I found the reaction of the parents particularly entertaining, since there were several who dutifully brought their children presumably expecting to be relegated to observational roles who were smiling widely and nodding vigorously in appreciation after performing the exercises while their 15 year- olds rolled their eyes at them.

Uri Vardi working with Johannes Gray
The second part of the event was a masterclass taught by Uri Vardi, cello professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Four high school students from the Chicago Youth Symphony performed. Vardi identified aspects of the students' playing which seemed to be a result of habit rather than choice, such as the positioning of the feet, neck, eyes, and mouth. He gave them activities to perform - closing one eye, lifting up a foot, smiling or shaking their heads - which ranged from uncomfortable to humiliating (one student understandably requested the entire audience close their eyes when she was ordered to stick her tongue out) but ultimately caused a discernible change in the students' sound, bow control, and phrasing.

I found it interesting that the masterclass was aimed specifically at teenaged cellists, who typically do not suffer from playing-related injuries that cause many people turn to the Feldenkrais Method. I wondered at first whether the class would have been more beneficial if it was aimed at older cellists - but then realized I had arrived at exactly the wrong point. Learning to use our bodies the way they are meant to be used shouldn't be a reward reserved for those who have suffering through injury and discomfort. Everyone in the room could hear the effect of freedom and flexibility on these young cellists' playing, not as solutions to a problem, but as rewards sufficient unto themselves.

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