Music professor talks about how Rolfing® is benefical to musicians

Musical instrumental training is based on three foundations:

  1. technical training / posture and practice structure
  2. musical expression / emotionality, sensations and their realisation
  3. historical background and analysis of works.

As a main subject teacher for the viola, in my daily teaching work I have often encountered the physical problems that cause frustration or suffering in students. No matter how talented the person, no matter how beautifully an instrument is made to sound, at some point aches and pains or more serious problems begin, which nowadays need to be spoken out loud.

I was lucky enough to study with a teacher who, from her own experience, made a great effort to teach us how use our bodies very consciously. Nevertheless, I realise today that they were very good beginnings, but unfortunately not enough.

During my rehearsal year at the opera, where I was busy with my instrument for up to 9 hours a day, I knew that my body could not cope much longer with this strain. After a very short time I had chronic back pain. Under no circumstances could I let this show, otherwise my probationary year would have been jeopardised and I would have been classified as too weak. After 4 years of service, I also had knee problems and tinnitus. I had to do something urgently.

I am not an isolated case in the music profession. You hear again and again about pinched nerves, paralysed fingers, stiff neck, overplayed hands, dystonia, different forms of nerve failure up to complete paralysis of fingers, lips or whole limbs and so on. Singing careers end too early because of overstretched or overstrained vocal cords and much more.

In the meantime, the educational institutions have come up with alternative offers. Yoga, Feldenkrais, Tai Chi and Qigong, as well as bodywork, have long been introduced into the universities. Nevertheless, the students are so far removed from reality and need to be made aware of it as it is very beneficial for them to attend. However, some students are afraid - it would even harm them.

I am firmly convinced that this comes from an unawareness. The young artists think that these things are just ‘side things’ and play too small of a role in their career building. They prefer to concentrate on small things rather than unknown big systems or simply do not recognise them yet. They only come to it when they get real problems or pain.

As an educator, I realise that none of them should actually start education without having completed the Rolfing® Ten Series. Personally, I have tried several techniques: Yoga, Acupuncture, osteopathy, craniosacral therapy, Dispo kinesis and Take Tina. They prove to be very good ‘small repair approaches’ but not something comprehensive. None has had such a great effect as Rolfing: my body started to regulate itself, new ways were offered, a responsibility towards the body was awakened and above all the psychological perception experienced a great change. I became more alert, stable, calm and confident during a performance.

During the Level 1 courses for the Rolfing training, I already realised that the training for musicians should take a lot of examples from athletes and their movement analysis. Because we practise so many hours a day and play in different ensembles and orchestras, our profession is very similar and can be compared to that of athletes. It is a high-performance sport and extremely stressful.

Many different schools (Carl Flesch, Simon Fischer and many others) have written for the violin or viola, explaining how lessons should be structured, which pieces are suitable for selection, which technique tips have been tried and tested and work well. But in none of the schools, to my knowledge, is there anything about the muscle and tendon connections to achieve a more optimal posture, tonal fullness or flexibility of the fingers. They only recommend exercises for loosening one or the other finger, flexible wrist and the position of the violin/viola on the shoulder. But to my knowledge, no one says why often and even very often something jams and fails, despite all the good advice.

The perception of the body plays no role at all in this. Musicians are glad that in the last 20 years the music conservatories and music schools have been equipped with mirrors in the practice rooms, which was not available before. Musicians have begun to observe themselves from the outside. Suddenly, the technique was also meant for self-analysis and the outside played a decisive aesthetic role, which used to be only from ‘coming from within and intuitive’.

Nevertheless, leading into the body and through conscious ‘anatomical sensations and their connections’ was not yet known: ‘Where does the sound come from, where does the connection come from, what perception could I use to integrate my breathing well’? Of course, we are well aware of the saying, ‘Try to get the sound from your belly, from your back, your rhythm should pulse in your centre’, but they served purely as a visual idea, something that served as a hunch, a feeling for our broader perception. It has helped some to optimise the natural movement patterns, some are still in the dark to this day.

BREATHING is an important subject for string players, which of course plays the main role in singing or wind instrument training. With string instruments, it is even ignored with all the associated apparatus: ribs, belly and abdomen. One can only speak of luck if the student has studied with a conscious teacher or has only had one musical companion. The conscious teachers even often suffer ridicule because it is compared to esotericism, something that still seems very foreign to us. But with the anatomical findings, it could be established as a new standard in education, which I think would prove very useful.

My observations in class are still very recent, as we have only had two Rolfers, in my German state of Saarland, for the last year. It’s outstanding to see that after the first session everyone is standing very stable and upright, as well as having more relaxed shoulders. The students who were currently at the seventh session are clearly more flexible in the implementation of the tasks, notice themselves that ‘the body wants something different’ and show much more flexibility in the limbs. I am not quite sure yet, but I would argue that they even hear-intonate better. They also say they are not so stressed. I see a connection there with the more flowing processes, which suddenly no longer stresses and disturbs the young people, but are quite natural and open up space for them to perceive things differently.

It is very beautiful to observe how body awareness in interaction with their musical partners has a much more integrated effect. It is much easier to sense the movements of others and their body language and to ‘read’ them.

Author: Current Rolfing student (Modular Training 2021-2023), musician and music professor, Jone Kaliunaite - Germany

Photo Credit: Francois Sechet

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