In a musicians life, it’s surprisingly easy for your life to turn on its head and in 6 months. You are faced with a different person with changed aspirations and views on life.
That is a short description of the past 6 months for me. From mid January I have sustained an ambiguous music-related, RSI injury thingy that no one can completely define or solve with one treatment or set of stretches. It’s been a journey of huge ups and downs, recoveries and flare-ups that has caused strains on my relationships with my family, friends and faith in almost anything but I’m writing this post because I know that I’ve changed. I might not be certain how or in what ways but I know there’s a lot I will never do again and understand now. I have the faith that I’m on the way out finally. Suddenly I realised that I’m not scared of a flare up anymore or the possibility of letting people down or embarrassing myself in a performance class, having only done (or been able to do) two hours a day of playing. I came to accept what’s happened and see so many positives in it suddenly. I found I could be the most fantastic player in the world with minimal practice and absolutely no knowledge of whether I’ll be fit enough to perform or practice. The depression, pain and doubt were a reminder of how important it was to find a method of playing the cello again. I was determined that it didn’t matter how little I played or how long it took, I knew I had to play because the shit of not playing was killing me.
I don’t want to bore with a history of my injury but in short; it began very suddenly in my left forearm, then the tip of my left index finger, then my neck and back, then my right elbow, then my left elbow, then the outer-joint of my left wrist, then the carpal tunnel area of both wrists and now a mid way between all of them, each area flaring up mildly every few days but not to a disabling degree. It’s clear that I’ve really had it all and It’s been physically crippling for many months. Although physio, life coaching, yoga and acupuncture have been really helpful ways to manage my injury and self, as the last of the crippling pain was going, the Alexander Technique appeared the perfect maintainable plan.
In the early stages of my injury I was completely ready to admit that it was “all my fault” and that “If only I had not done…, I could have won…, been…, played to…, played in…” This blame and guilt surrounded everything whilst I was attempting to recover and caused a nasty bought of depression to set in. My Alexander teacher really helped me through this explaining how, “Don’t feel angry that you’ve noticed an area of repeated tension Hattie, It’s just so fantastic that you’ve been able to identify it. Keep an awareness like this and just notice what your body does, having a focus on the neck and back relationship”. I began to realise that this awareness rather than blame was a way of keeping faith through recovery and an excitement that very soon everything’s going to be fantastic. Without the pain, I would have certainly neglected much thought towards the Alexander technique. I wish I hadn’t got to that desperate stage of pain before I listened to my body and kept an awareness. I have the reassurance that I am now always becoming more aware and have the potential to become a sensitive, organic musician.
I’m finding many aspects of Alexander work difficult. It’s easy to become completely obsessed with its teaching but that goes against everything it stands for; a balanced awareness of the head and neck in order for the arms and hands to complete their role with as little pain or restriction as possible. This idea is great in performance as much of the technical work is under control and the Alexander technique can provide the faith and reassurance that the effort if minimal. I’m still surrounded by this mentality of practice meaning ‘hard work’ and ‘results’. It’s difficult to let go of this judgement and criticising and only have an awareness. My teachers ideas are all based around this idea of awareness also. She can always tell if I’ve practiced something in a critical mindset. She says “Hattie, don’t take it too seriously make it into a game”. My teacher speaks out her observations as she demonstrates certain techniques. She may miss a shift if she’s playing on my cello and so analyses it without being critical “Ok, that was too far. Next time, narrower”. She invariably hits it the second time, explaining to me how you should always have a reason for repeating something and know exactly what went wrong and how it can be corrected. I’ve had my teacher since last September but it’s taken me until now to realise that her methods of practice and performance are admirable and make total sense. Once again, I’m not irritated that it’s taken me until now to realise, I’m glad that I have realised and that I can begin to act on it.
I know I may still have some pain and discomfort with this injury but so much can be achieved through merely having faith and being aware that it takes so much less time and effort to be fantastic and lead a fantastic life. I know I need to keep listening and develop my awareness skills but I KNOW what I need and I’m beginning to know how to get there.