by Rena Urso
We’re in Costa Rica this week, grateful for the hospitality and warmth of Costa Rican people and this very special place. The phrase commonly expressed here is pura vida which translates to pure life. I briefly considered traveling without an instrument but decided to bring my beautiful new Keefe piccolo. It’s nice to take vacations without having our instrument(s) sitting in the hotel safe not being played, but this time was different. I’ve had plenty of time off over the past several months, and in addition to being in the process of breaking in my new piccolo, the thought of practicing in this paradise was the inspiration I’ve been craving.
Our room here at the resort has floor to ceiling sliding mirrors which when I slide them over, create an ideal practice space with good acoustics. More importantly, these giant mirrors help me keep an eye on what I’m doing as I am playing. The sound is completely different in this space versus my usual practice spaces at home and being able to literally have a 360-degree view of myself while playing has been insightful. Combine that with a spectacular view and this has really been an unexpected gift to hear and see things in a new light.
Some of this month’s column might sound familiar as these are common themes I have written about previously. This week has given me an abundance of time for reflection though, and since I am finding great value in this exploration, I thought perhaps you might as well. It’s good to change things up from time to time. It brings a welcomed new perspective, expands our awareness, invites curiosity, and creates a golden opportunity for a clean slate. It’s the breath of fresh air we didn’t realize we needed.
I’ve been fortunate to be able to practice yoga with the yoga teacher here, Hillary. The first day I arrived at Hillary’s class it was just the two of us, so we decided to roll out our mats and practice together. There we were, on top of one of the rooftops next to the beach, surrounded by trees and the chorus of various birds, as well as the super loud music coming from the resort pool area. I wondered if I would be able to find stillness in meditation with all the extraneous sounds or even be able to practice in the incredible heat. Then something magical happened, I settled into the space, turned my focus inward, and rooted myself in the present moment with my breath. Before I knew it, the cacophony from the subwoofer pool party below dissipated and an hour had flown by!
Imagine how this awareness, ease, and introspection can positively impact our overall Use of Self and our deeper connections to music making? Imagine the benefits of finding stillness in less-than-optimal conditions.
When we stick to our usual practice routines we sometimes stop noticing and listening. Even a slightly muted awareness can be an invitation for unwanted tension and poor habits to set in. A simple change of scenery can help break up habitual patterns and welcome in something new. There are many ways we can do this without hopping on a plane to a magical place like Costa Rica … although I highly recommend adding it to your list of places to visit!
One quick and easy way to invite change is to take your instruments, music stand, and supplies and set up shop elsewhere. The different view and acoustical change will be a pleasant surprise and will help you to experience your daily practice in a new way. While you’re at it, modify your daily warmups/technical studies/etudes, etc., and replace them with something new or that you haven’t played in ages. If you’re feeling inventive, take a moment to consider what specific areas of your playing needs your attention and craft your very own warm-ups and technical studies suited to your exact needs.
If you have a meditation or yoga practice, roll out your mat in a different place in your home. Or try out a new teacher, explore a new class format, studio, or online class. Experiencing a yoga class with a new teacher is fun and refreshing. When we attend the same classes with the same teachers, as much as we love them, we become familiar with their style. The experience in Costa Rica made me listen more carefully and enjoy the unknown of what was to come next. I also gained some great ideas for my own teaching and made a new friend!
Take a walk somewhere new. Simply turning the other way when you walk out the door can feel like a brand-new walk. This is an assignment I give to my Body Mapping students at CSULB each semester, encouraging them to go for a walk and tap into all their senses, which also helps them to expand their inclusive awareness. In some of my previous columns I have written about how my husband John and I travel; we love to roam around towns without a map, letting the road take us.
Taking a deeper dive with my meditation, yoga, and creative piccolo practice this week has been like a battery recharge; I’ve been springing out of bed every morning, excited to roll out my mat and greet the day. It’s as if I curated my very own mini yoga and piccolo practice retreat. It wasn’t something I had to work at or think too much about, it naturally unfolded in front of me
What changes might you explore? Let me know what you discover!
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. Rena is also a teaching artist at the International Piccolo Flute Academy. 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 three dogs: Lillie, Po, and Girl. She is available for personal or group Zoom Body Mapping sessions. For more information about Rena and Body Mapping tips, please visit www.renaurso.com.