by Sarah DelBene
As I reflect on this year’s Andover Educators Conference held at the University of Redlands in Redlands, California, and I am still amazed by the quantity of information packed into a four-day conference. Andover Educators is an organization committed use the somatic technique Body Mapping to retrain musicians in order to have the most free and efficient movement while playing. In their words they are “a not for profit organization of music educators committed to saving, securing, and enhancing musical careers by providing accurate information about the body in movement.”
The theme of this year’s biennial conference was “Building Bridges Through Collaboration.” The wide variety of seminars offered at this conference included Feldenkrais morning movements sessions, the integration of yoga into music-making, presentations on the concept of Core Movement Integration (CMI), and even neuroscience related to finding quantifiable evidence on the physical locations of body maps in the brain. This was in addition to the overall focus on the organization’s presentations related to Body Mapping, and even taking one day to present the core course to Andover Educators, “What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body.” While I will spare you the in-depth details of this plethora of topics, I did walk away with so much useful information that I am working to incorporate into my own music-making. This information can be divided into three broad ideas or categories.
Balance is Dynamic.
A large part of my music education I heard the term “posture,” and was in a search for the perfect one for flute-playing. I eventually ended up tying myself up in knots with tension and misuse that I eventually developed hand and back pain my sophomore year of my undergraduate degree. Over Christmas Break of that year I had to take over a week off from playing because I had pulled all the muscles in my back. I knew something had to change or else I may risk severely injuring myself and put my musical career at risk. This is when I coincidentally found the technique of Body Mapping and took my first course on it with Lea Pearson at the Wildacres Flute Retreat in June 2016. My concept of “posture” was shattered, and the concept of proper body balance took its place.
After being equipped with knowledge and skills to save my future playing career and improve my playing, I continued to self-study body mapping in order to improve my awareness of balance and better movement while playing.
The biggest revelation of all came at the conference last week. With all my time spent relearning human skeletal and muscle structures, I forgot one big concept: balance is not the same of posture, and I was making them the same thing. Posture has the connotation of one position being the best position for playing. In my understanding it was rigid and static, like the posture one assumes on the marching band field. However, music making requires a variety of different small muscle movements, so staying in one static position or posture is counter to the need for movement to make music. After this week, I am starting to view balance as dynamic rather than static, almost like a home base I can always come back to as I move in and out of it while playing.
Somatic Education is a Collaboration.
Somatic education can be defined as “the use of sensory-motor learning to gain greater voluntary control of one’s physiological process.” While this conference is a meeting of Licensed Andover Educators, affiliates, and other guests with a strong passion for the Body Mapping technique, other somatic practices were acknowledged and explored. As part of the conference, there was a Morning Movement Session in which a Feldenkrais instructor led us through an Awareness Through Movement (ATM) session, which encouraged fluid movement and inclusive awareness of such. There was a seminar discussing Core Movement Integration (CMI) which likens back to aspects of the Alexander Technique and provides systematic, structured building blocks to quality movement called “pathways.”
By expanding my awareness of different somatic practices, I realized they all work towards the same goal, but take different paths to get there. Taking a Feldenkrais ATM session, I was able to work on my inclusive awareness (a major principle of Body Mapping) of my whole body and the kinesthetic feeling of quality, fluid movement. Participating in the CMI seminar allowed me to explore different types of movement in relation to picking up, holding, and playing the flute. While I have more experience with Body Mapping and it is my preferred practice, my willingness to be open to and learn from multiple somatic practices has expanded my knowledge bank and has given me more tools to better equip myself with more ways to improve my overall balance and quality of movement. This is true not just in relation to music making but in my everyday life as well.
Embodiment is a Lifelong Journey.
As with music, the journey to embody (or fully express) the tenants of Body Mapping is a lifelong practice, there is always something to be learn. There is always another stone turnover. As previously stated, I spent awhile relearning my own body maps (or understanding of my own anatomical structures in relation to size, shape, location, and function). Furthermore, I used these retrained body maps to teach myself how to properly stand and sit balanced to avoid pain and injury. However, after going to the seminar on CMI, I was blown away by experimenting with types of full body movements I could use while playing. The realization that balance is dynamic and not static blew my mind. I also learned a great deal when I played for Amy Likar, the current president of Andover Educators, in a masterclass. She told me that learning a passage of music is not just about notes, fingerings, rhythm, and sound, but it is also about using your whole-body awareness to live in or embody the quality and type of movement required to achieve the desired musical effect. The masterclass was video recorded, and I had the biggest “lightbulb moment” when I played an ornamented passage from Telemann’s Fantasia for Solo Flute in B minor perfectly. I surprised myself with my ability to move freely however I chose while playing. True to the supportive and generous nature of the Andover Educators, my success was met with overwhelming kindness and applause.
While I have made significant strides since my first encounter with Body Mapping in June 2016, my journey is far from over, and is a process I will continue to explore for the rest of my life. The Andover Educators is an organization committed to their work, and they are driven by a belief in their practice and the relentless desire to help other musicians succeed and find freedom in music-making. Attending this conference broadened my circle of friends in the music community and solidified my desire to be more deeply involved in an organization whose technique altered the course of my music career. I would not be where I am today had it not been for the Body Mapping technique and the loving and patient guidance of my mentors in the organization.
To learn more about Andover Educators, Body Mapping, and to find the licensed educator nearest you, log on to their website bodymap.org.