Musical performance according to the Rességuier method1
By Alessandra Seggi2
The study of a musical instrument and musical practice in general, lead the individual to a condition of cohesive connection with himself and his own feelings. This happens particularly in those moments in which we clearly feel all our perceptions as occurring in the now and here. These “states of grace” make us feel one with our instrument: everything is functional, coherent, perfectly integrated inside us. And we say: “I’ve played very well today!”. Nevertheless, we know that this magic recipe is not always easy to apply: something is missing, it is difficult to recreate this ideal condition wilfully and to make it repeatable.
Thinking over these “magic” moments, we realise that they are the result of a very efficient state of presence. Our technical abilities are always the same, but it feels as if time stopped and widened its boundaries. Our attention and listening skills are enhanced and this enables a special contact with the instrument in a natural and immediate presence. The instrumentalist is in a state of full awareness and this produces a perfectly integrated coherence inside of him at that exact moment. In other words, the player becomes aware of a quality of presence that is continuously renewed in time and space.
In musical practice, we first need to abandon all habitual patterns and standard protocols in order to act this way, letting ourselves flow with the present through an internal psycho-physical readjustment.
Often, we rely on these patterns and protocols because of the sense of security that they give us in return. Playing according to these standards keeps us from unexpected events and allows us to build a consistent musical routine.
In order to exorcise fear we sometimes appeal to rituals that, for the only reason of being repetitive, give us comfort before the performance. Some of us wear special clothes, others prefer to visualize something relaxing before the concert, or recur to medication to control the stress, etc.
All these subterfuges make us fragile because in those moments we stop being ourselves, we lose our ‘awareness of the present’ and begin to act in a mechanical way that proceeds by force of habit. This means that we adopt a re-active state of being, within which we feel capable of acting only in response to external stimuli. It is not an internal force but something that gives us authorization from the outside.
However, how often have we found ourselves in similar situations before an important concert?
Naturally, we also know the opposite feeling, the ‘state of grace’ that sometimes accompanies us. In those rare cases, a unique state of mind manifests and we remain vigilant, following the flow of sounds and musical thoughts with effortless and constantly refreshing coherence. The performance takes place with simplicity, in a surprisingly easy and consequential way.
Can we install this quality of presence consciously?
As we know, willpower will not be sufficient in order to allow a variation of state in terms of consciousness. A number of causes may invalidate even the most resolute intentions, helping reason elude all attempts to optimize the performance. In this sense, the Rességuier Method emphasizes the body and its own inner sensitivity. A readjustment of the tissue intrinsic tone takes place bringing the awareness of the moment and awaking the ‘sensitive body’ to the existing sensory stimuli. It is not an external phenomenon but rather a tissue revitalisation process that begins in the inside. Consequently, the individual will experience a physical vitality and a postural attitude that will manifest in a constant way, and the intervention of thought will not be required in order to keep it through time.
The ability to awaken the sensitive body should be stimulated since the beginning of musical studies. An empathic relationship will be the principal and most efficient way to achieve it. In fact, there is a continuous relationship between teacher and student that oscillates between excessive involvement and evasive impersonality.
Both parts of the relationship experience a constantly changing emotional state, although not always are aware of it. The teacher’s actions are measured by the reality of the moment. His and his student’s feelings go with the flowing current of the present and this affects the possibility to anticipate any definite proposal. Teacher and student are involved in a transformation process woven with their common experiences.
In order to be with the other it is necessary to abandon the certainties of an established protocol and face him/her in an authentic and reciprocal encounter. The other’s presence is meant as a living and constantly updated presence. Therefore, the fact of being in front of someone is far from being uneventful: both individuals will be marked by each other’s presence and emotions.
“This is the emotion of the encounter: perturbation, astonishment and surprise are the result of an interest aroused by the other’s appearance”; 3 considering the singularities and unsettlement that this contact imposes. The present will be the only one to draw the real scene: a present that constantly asks us to be “here” and “now”, leaving out our projections, prejudices, and pre-oriented ideas.
All this suggests that the primary goals of an educational process should consider the quality of the teacher-student relationship as one of its fundamental elements. Such a relationship moves through time, taking care of both participants’ development.
Both protagonists will nurture their sentiments of existence. Each of them will confirm an individual uniqueness and original presence according to their own experience of time. “Then, if educating means to grow in the Other the passion and the ability to shape oneself (self-training), the development of an ethical orientation addressed to the awareness of existence and the incorporation of the techniques directed to activate this self-shaping process will be necessary.”4
Furthermore, being here and now implies a presence of the self that can be regarded as awareness of one’s sensitive body, capable of receiving every internal and external sensory stimuli. In presence of this limpid and self-refreshing quality of attention, all habitual patterns will remain neutralised.
When such a state of attention is cultivated, we find ourselves acting consciously. This allows efficacy and creativity to flow free and activates the whole body’s functions instantly. This condition represents our point of departure and not a goal to achieve. We will act (or play music) freeing a real and coherent efficiency.
RM is made of a structured set of practices pointed to establish a first-person relationship through which communication is improved considering every individual as absolutely unique.5
The relationship we are discussing is an empathic relation in which emotions are comprehended by each other not as content but as a present feeling.
It is “an internal and unison feeling”, as Edith Stein writes, capable of creating a relationship in which emotions are mutually and implicitly understood.
In an empathic relationship, the usual approach to what is external to us is reversed. The other’s emotions are received in a personal way, and this activates a subjective transformation. “Empathy is the emotional acquisition of someone else’s sensory reality. It becomes evident to myself that I am the other too.”6 Thus, empathy and individual inner perception work in parallel, allowing an open look to oneself, to the other, and to everything around them. In RM this relationship is of great importance, as Jean Paul Rességuier himself states:
“every health or education professional is, at first place, a professional in the field of relations”7. The quality of this relation is shown in the ability to establish a bound capable of raising an involvement and, at the same time, a non-engagement. This generates a feedback that reaffirms both protagonists as unique.
Physical contact is often an essential and integral part of the music teaching process, especially when teaching how to play an instrument. However, we sometimes do not feel our teacher’s presence during the lessons: he is there but it is as if he were not there, judging and driving his attention to “how it should be done” and not how and what he is actually hearing in that moment.
On the other hand, as teachers we are frequently unaware of following, during the lesson, an automatic protocol built on our experience. When activated, this unconscious mental habit ends up sending us away from the real situation.
Prejudice impairs our ability to listen freely and without conditions and can force us into labelling our students as “gifted” or “not gifted”. We most probably know these mechanisms, either because we suffered them as students or because we activated them (maybe unconsciously) as teachers.
Certainly, all this will result in dissatisfaction, and will project us in the search of a goal to achieve with sacrifice and effort.
Experiences with musicians
The experiences described here were carried out in 2010 at the Cagliari Conservatoire with professional musicians, colleague teachers, and students of the Functional Body Techniques Course of the biennial Educational Training Course for teachers. This course, taught by the present writer, is about the application of RM to musical performance.
The professional musicians involved in this activity were proposed performing a piece (roughly 2’ long) with their instruments in front of an audience composed by their colleagues. After the performance, a brief treatment was applied to each player (10’ to 15’). At the end of this experience, the musicians were asked to play the piece again in the presence of the same audience. The members of the audience were asked to complete a form comparing and describing both performances.
Then, there was a second activity in which a professional duo took part. Respect of the previous one (with the students) there were two changes: the duet played concert pieces and the treatment was applied to both musicians at the same time.
|Questionnaire and summary of the answers|
|Questions about the instrumental performance||1st performance||2nd performance|
|1) How would you define player X’s sound?||Hard, closed, uneasy, thud, not enough vibration, precise, fixed, a bit swallowed, elusive, mechanic, aggressive.||Smooth, open, mellow, bright, elastic, clean, vibrated, less aggressive, more beautiful|
|2) Did you perceive tone and energy in the sound?||Yes, sometimes applied to the movement rather than the sound. A little artificial, excessive pressure.||More control, more softness and naturalness in the sound.|
|3) If you listen with your eyes shut, how would you define his sound?||Withheld, slightly flat, insecure.||Outspread, more dynamics, defined, secure.|
|4) Was the sound attack accurate?||It wasn’t always accurate or clean||More precise.|
|5) How would you describe the relationship between X and his instrument during the performance?||Exhausting, fearful.||stable, symbiotic, synchronized, in contact with the instrument.|
|6) Was there cohesiveness between X and his instrument?||A bit blocked, not much cohesion||Yes, more than during the first performance.|
|7) Can you describe the player’s body posture?||Rigid, unbalanced, closed, tense, fixed.||Relaxed, uninhibited, upright, secure, well sustained.|
|8) Did you perceive tone in the player’s body?||Not very tonic, more rigidity than tone.||More tone, more energy.|
|9) Did X adopt a stable position during the performance?||Not always, firm but not sustained.||More stable and comfortable|
|10) How was the relationship between the player’s posture and the space around him?||Not always comfortable, he took too much space.||Took less space, more ease, not too immersed in the space around.|
|11) Was there physical cohesion during the performance? If so, how did you notice?||Yes, because of the posture and the correspondence between body energy and sound.||More cohesion, detected by the posture. More correspondence between body energy and sound energy, better sound quality.|
|12) Did you detect variations in the muscular tone of the player during the performance?||Depending on the slow/fast velocity of the piece. There was tension.||More constant and strong throughout the performance, more stable and settled.|
|13) If so, at what point?||Depending on the speed of the piece.||More homogeneous throughout the piece.|
|14) Which behaviours have you observed that make you believe this?||Variations in the posture, movement of the shoulders.||Relaxed shoulders, the body and the instrument were synchronized.|
|15) Did you get the impression that the player was employing self-control strategies in order to control the energy during the performance of the piece?||Sometimes.||While preparing to a change of speed.|
|16) If so, when?||During speed changes, at the beginning of the piece.||While preparing to a change of speed.|
|17) Which behaviours have you observed that make you believe this?||Stiff shoulders, changes in the posture.||Half-closed eyes, movement on the instrument before the first note.|
|18) Did you get the impression that the player was evaluating himself (in a positive or negative way) during the performance?||Sometimes.||No, because he kept distance from what was around, feeling at ease.|
|19) If so, which behaviours have you observed that make you believe this?||Face expression.||No.|
|20) If you have perceived negative self-evaluation behaviours during the performance: have you noticed changes after this?||No. / Sometimes.||No.|
|21) If you have perceived positive self-evaluation behaviours during the performance: have you noticed changes after this?||The performance got more stable gradually.||No.|
|22) How was the player’s facial expression?||Sometimes he looked relaxed, sometimes worried, alert, tense.||Concentrated, relaxed, present.|
|23) How was the player’s look?||Concentrated, worried.||Concentrated and expressive, stable. Concentrated on the music, disregarding the outside, self-centred.|
|24) Could you detect moments of tension in the player’s expression?||Sometimes.||No.|
|25) Could you detect moments of tension regarding other physical elements?||Between the movements of the piece.||The body follows the music naturally.|
|26) More…||Movements were slower and more controlled. Even though he made some mistakes, the player didn’t seem conditioned by them.|
Through listening and observation some evident effects were registered as produced by the treatment. In addition to the improved concentration and attention skills, a transparency in the communicational act was observed. This presupposes a physical and mental awareness of the player during the musical act.
In fact, during musical practice the performer transfers, sometimes unconsciously, a musical idea on a gestural plane. Thus, he makes legible the relations established within this idea. Such acts are the direct cause of both the expressive and sound quality of the acoustic result as a whole.
This way, a performance is the result of an interaction between a plane of thought (what we aim to get) and a flexible system of gestural programming (able to get it). Thanks to this reciprocity, the musician is able to make adjustments in real time concerning his specific expressive intentionality, choosing how and when to control his own performance
When a musician plays he uses his body to interact constantly with his instrument, operating simultaneously in a dimension of production and reception. Moreover, in a musical performance there are two types of gestures: production gestures, devoted to produce the sound, and complementary gestures that involve the whole body and accompany the music. Although they may appear less necessary than those dealing with sound production, these movements are equally functional to the sound results. These movements are: the musicians posture, his facial gestures and expression, and all the small gestures that apparently do not produce any sound result. Thanks to these physical manifestations it is possible to analyze, with observable indicators, the expressive content that is actually present in a live performance.
Through the analysis of these indicators we have noticed a global improvement of the musical quality in the second performance. This improvement was shown in all the aspects pointed out in the test and has involved all the performers. Overall, the sound quality changed noticeably in the attack note, vibrato, and phrasing throughout the piece. The sound was softer, bright, mellow, clean, energetic, natural, with greater dynamic range. The relationship with the instrument has been more symbiotic, in direct contact, and more coherent. The posture and muscle tone experienced changes compared with the first performance. Particularly, the posture was more stable, comfortable, secure, and sustained during the second performance.
The interpretation was characterized by a state of constant presence that produced a more fluent and homogeneous concatenation of the different musical episodes. For this reason, no self-evaluation acts were detected. The musician was concentrated on listening to himself and not to what surrounded him. The performance was more relaxed, secure and present. The movements were slower and better controlled, and if some notes were played inaccurately, the musician did not seem conditioned at all. He kept a constant level of efficiency throughout the performance of the piece.
Generally speaking, an improvement of the instrumental skills was observed. The ability to translate an exclusively musical thought into a proper physical gesture was potentially made more effective.
This experience has shown an enhancement of the musical performance, producing a general state of wellness. The artists felt that they had more control on their own abilities. They experienced an energy release that allowed them to access new and unsuspected physical and mental modalities.
A return of the individual to himself took place creating a deep and intimate contact, still not closing up. All this lead to the creation of a state of presence according to the actual situation and, at the same time, ready to meet with the others. This new modality has revived the curiosity and desire to discover new aspects of the tradition of playing in public.
As Ms. Sclavi states: “Amazement and similar emotions, when taken seriously, lead us to reflect on the unexpected changes of scenario. These emotions force us to make explicit our deepest expectations, the implicit assumptions that we took for granted.”8
Playing music has become a new way of listening to ourselves, more intimate, where the instrument has been transformed into a natural extension of the player and the sound has become the element that gives voice to this new mode of expression. As Varela says: “In the moments of breakdown, in other words, when we are NOT aware of our micro-world, through reflection and analysis we become as beginners trying to perform with confidence the task of the moment”.9
The application of RM has allowed an improvement of the quality of presence in the musical performance as the musicians developed a greater and more aware autonomy to monitor the body in real time, adjusting all eventual imbalances from moment to moment, even during the performance. These affirmations open a path that the performer can follow in order to develop his potentiality and self-determination in a free and conscious way.
As mentioned, the enhanced ability to translate a musical thought into a physical gesture could be the basis of a new instrumental pedagogy in which musical abilities, synthesized in one idea, find inside the individual the most appropriate gesture. Through this translation process, the Rességuier Method seems to simplify the direct experience of playing supporting the abstract idea that motivates it. This is, incorporating to instrumental didactics a new modality that fully values the individual musicality linked to a first person presence of the self and cohesive with the actual situation. A sort of mirroring, of intimate resonance that allows a state of presence in constant communication between the individual, his own instrument, and the music.
VVAA, Neurofenomenologia. La scienza della mente e la sfida dell’esperienza cosciente, a cura di M. Cappuccio, Bruno Mondadori, Milan, 2006
VVAA, Il sapere dei sentimenti. Fenomenologia e senso dell’esperienza, a cura di V. Iori, Franco Angeli, Milano, 2009
Boella L., Sentire l’altro. Conoscere e praticare l’empatia, Raffaello Cortina, Milano, 2006
Boella L.,Buttarelli A., Per amore di altro. L’empatia a partire da Edith Stein, Raffaello Cortina, Milano, 2000
Clarke E., Processi cognitivi nell’esecuzione musicale, in Enciclopedia della Musica, Il sapere musicale, Einaudi, Torino, 2002
Delalande F., Le condotte musicali, tr. it. Clueb, Bologna, 1993
Giannelli M.T., Comunicare in modo etico, Raffaello Cortina, Milano, 2006
Iavarone M.L., Educare al benessere, Bruno Mondadori, Milano 2008
Mortari L., Aver cura di sé, Bruno Mondadori, Milano 2009
Mortari L., A scuola di libertà, Raffaello Cortina, Milano 2008
Mortari L., Ricercare e riflettere. La formazione del docente professionista, Carocci, Roma 2009
Schön D., Akiva-Kabiri L., Vecchi T., Psicologia della musica, Carocci, Roma, 2007
Sclavi M., L’arte di ascoltare e mondi possibili. Come si esce dalle cornici di cui siamo parte, Bruno Mondadori, Milano, 2003
Stein E., Il problema dell’empatia, Edizioni Studium, Roma 2003
Sloboda J.A., Doti musicali e innatismo. In Enciclopedia della Musica, Il sapere musicale, Einaudi, Torino, 2002
Varela F.J., Un know-how per l’etica, tr. It. Laterza, Roma, 1992
Articles and musical videos can be found here:
1 The Rességuier Method aims to the practical optimization of the attitude that individuals adopt both during a professional or artistic performance and in the relationship with other individuals. This method was created by Jean Paul Rességuier, French kinesiotherapist and osteopathy, Mézières Method, Chinese medicine and philosophy research worker. In 1985, J. P. Rességuier established the basis of Integrated Rehabilitation (known today as RM) and began to teach his method in Europe and South America. Nowadays, the RM finds its application in a number of fields, among which gynaecology, rehab, psycho-social education. The latter includes the specific application of this method to musical performance.
2 Alessandra Seggi teaches Musical Pedagogy at the Cagliari National Conservatoire. She has attended the “Praticien de la Réhabilitation Intégré selon la Méthode Rességuier” training course and since 2007 she works with musicians applying the RM to musical performance.
3 Boella, 2006, p.31.
4 Mortari, 2009, pg 13
5 The method’s main feature can be described as the relationship teacher-student that, based on constant attention, leads to a self-updating effect. This attitude of the teacher can be learnt at the training courses. The RM devices are: support (through which the teacher keeps the state of attention during the present situation), verbal contact (that allows us to monitor with specific questions the physical changes and perceptual dynamics and awakens a state of awareness on every part of the body and the instrument), manual contact (used as well during the Petite gymnastique, a series of exercises centred on the dynamic vertical axis – thorax and abdomen – that intensifies this relationship and leads to a multi-sensory perception and involves the patient in his entirety.
6 Boella, Buttarelli, 2000, pg71
7 Rességuier, www.institutresseguier.com
8 Sclavi, 2003, pg 136
9 Varela, 1992, pg. 22
Translated by Andrés Locatelli