by Rena Urso
The start of a new year often feels like an opportunity to begin again: tabula rasa. Looking at the blank canvas in front of us, with our unlimited palette of colors and possibilities, we ask ourselves: what new thing can I create?
In that spirit, I’m feeling renewed enthusiasm for what I do as a performing artist, educator, and yogi. Unfortunately, it will be a while until it is possible to gather on stage and perform. We are all missing that fundamental piece of ourselves as musicians. I feel so grateful to be able to collaborate with colleagues and maintain my teaching virtually, which allows me to connect with my brilliant students who inspire me week after week. Continuing to explore ways to contribute to the flute community and our ever-changing music world in a meaningful way has been challenging this past year. I’ve come up with a few special project goals for 2021; recording works for flute and piccolo of significant personal value in my home studio; launching a podcast; and writing a book. These are not resolutions per se, rather creative outlets that will allow me to express and share my artistry in new ways, which further adds to the balance I hope to achieve in my life.
Earlier in my career I wouldn’t have had a surplus of time to embark on new projects such as these, nor would I have ever imagined writing a book! Up until about 6 years ago I was focused on the prize of winning a big orchestral job; something which had been a goal since my teenage years, all the while maintaining an active life as a freelance performer and university professor in California. Much of my time was spent performing in my contracted groups, as well as in many different orchestras from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles and everything in between. Comparing notes with fellow “Freeway Philharmonic” colleagues about the total number of miles we each drove per year was commonplace. This left little time for anything else outside of preparing for the occasional audition. Vacations or down time were things of luxury. Admittedly, part of problem with this overly busy lifestyle was that I continually reinforced the narrative that I was too busy for anything but work. Fast forward to current times and the acceptance of what currently is. A silver lining of this pandemic has been the gift of more quality time with my instruments and the implementation of a regular yoga and meditation practice, which finally allows for time to listen to my inner voice and really hear what I want with greater clarity. You can have this too; it is all perspective.
An important and often overlooked part of self-care is knowing where to look for inspiration and how to keep ourselves active creatively. I tell this very thing to my students all the time. Now, putting my energy into the creation of new projects including the development of a podcast fuels me. Though I see myself first and foremost as a flutist/piccoloist, my career over the years has expanded into also becoming a wellness person – as is evident in this monthly column. Clearly, I enjoy writing, and for anyone who knows me, talking! My Body Mapping/yoga/meditation expertise continues to have a profound impact on my playing as well as my overall health and wellness as a human being. This creates for me a balance; a balance that we should all strive for in our lives. I love being curious and open to all possibilities, and it is precisely this outlook that enables me to keep growing and to learn new things in my practice room.
Our individual paths to personal satisfaction are uniquely our own, and the process of discovering and rediscovering balance - literally and figuratively – is essential. You can be the greatest flute player on the planet, but if the rest of your life is out of whack and isn’t bringing you joy, what good is it? We have to put passion into our art as fully as possible in order to achieve all the things we strive for, and ultimately arrive at whatever level satisfies us. There is much more than simply playing the flute, my friends. A full and balanced life supports an artistic life. Dig deep and define what you want; cast a wider net outside of your normal comfort zone. Allow yourself to become quiet, you may be surprised at what you discover as you watch the seeds of a new idea begin to take shape. The ripple effect of this can be profound.
Meditation is especially helpful – for all things, and also for this specific purpose. With that said, find a comfortable seat. Draw your awareness to your breath, root down through your sit bones, send your head up and over your spine, release your jaw, and begin to notice the space you’re in and the peripheral sounds around you.
Who and/or what inspires me?
What do I want to learn?
How can I create and contribute in a way that is meaningful?
Prioritizing and balancing your life is key; family, friends, daily practice, teaching, self-care, etc. In Body Mapping we teach our students how to embody the difference between imagining our bodies as pieces/parts versus whole body support/whole body balance. This applies here as well, and I would add, is vital, especially now with performing artists making the shift to create new revenue streams and uncover imaginative ways to direct their artistic energy. Exploring innovative ways to collaborate, feed our collective creative souls and express ourselves artistically are central to our overall happiness and fulfillment. It’s all about BALANCE!
Wishing you all joy, peace, and good health in this much welcomed New Year!
Rena Urso is a member of the faculties at California State University Long Beach and California State University Stanislaus, and a Course Coordinator for California State University Summer Arts – home to her popular biennial summer flute course, The Complete 21st Century Flutist at CSU Summer Arts. As a Licensed Body Mapping Educator, she presents Body Mapping workshops and masterclasses all over the world. An active freelance musician in the San Francisco Bay Area, she is a member of the Oakland Symphony, the Oregon Coast Music Festival Orchestra, and Alcyone Ensemble. Additionally, she is a certified yoga and meditation instructor and member of the NFA Performance Health Committee. Rena lives in the Chicago area with her husband John and their dogs Lillie and Po. For more information about Rena and Body Mapping tips, please visit www.renaurso.com.