Bow drama

The Sock and buskin, tragedy and comedy masks from Greek mythology, Thespis of Icaria, Melpomene the muse of tragedy and Thalia the muse of comedy, the yin yang energy of Buddhism, the balance of two opposites. All were inspiration for this card. Drama in personal relationships is usually considered to be something to be avoided or worked through. However, at certain times, and perhaps short term, we look forward to this exciting energy. Usually associated with actors and theater, drama also exists in music. The Buddhist icon taijitu encourages balance of active, extraverted energies with meditative, introverted energies.

Several years ago a very young and rather dedicated student of mine attended a symphony concert I performed in that included the Tchaikovsky violin concerto performed by Sirena Huang. Being that this student was very early in her violin studies, I was hoping that she would be wowed by the level of ability of our guest artist. She definitely was and she was particularly impressed by what she called Huang’s “bow drama.” I loved this term and have used it many times since then to inspire students to use more bow and consider how the way in which they move affects how their sound will travel in the air and space around them.

As a section violinist, there is an unspoken rule that one should not move more than the concert master so that visually as well as aurally, the violin section can move as one piece. However, for solo and chamber music playing, the field is wide open in terms of movement. When practicing on my own, I try to literally feel where I am moving my sound in space. We have a visceral experience with sound. We feel sound as much as we hear it.

The belly of the violin produces air-resonance power activated by an aerodynamic bow. The violin itself doesn’t produce much sound without the use of the bow. The violin bow vibrates the string producing the powerful V shaped Helmholtz resonance.1 Violinists work towards achieving this powerful resonance in their never-ending practice sessions. Engaging one’s imagination, deeply connecting to the emotions evoked in the music, and forming an intimate connection with one’s violin can bring us closer to this ultimate experience of resonant power and flow.

But let’s keep this simple – back to my Suzuki book 1 violin student. How would you mime your music? What would the music look like if you couldn’t hear it? Think of Wawa Snipe who was the ASL signer for Super Bowl LV. Can you include some of these motions in your bow strokes? We violinists are always trying to simplify our motions to allow us to move faster, conserve energy, and avoid “extraneous noise.” However, we don’t want to lose the excitement of the music both for the performer and the listener. Once again, it is important to maintain a balance. Practice both the yang, exciting dramatic bowing and the yin minimalist, energy-economizing way of playing. You can make decisions during practice sessions about the type of energy for which the music is calling. Keep in mind that in the moment, during a performance, you will want to be flexible and spontaneous.

In my life lately, I have been studying introverted and extroverted personality types. I tend to fall some place in the middle and have both extroverted and introverted friends and family. I have also recently recognized that I am an HSP (highly sensitive person) which isn’t necessarily related to being introverted but requires frequent time-out’s to maintain a yin yang balance. Maintaining balanced energies is something that each individual must work out on one’s own. To maintain an equilibrium, it is helpful to practice both energies no matter where you fall on the introvert extrovert spectrum. Drama is more pleasurable, comfortable and exciting when experienced from a sense of balance. Meditate on what you love in your life and express it with movement in the space around you.

1. Hadi T. Nia, Ankita D. Jain, Yuming Liu, Mohammad-Reza Alam, Roman Barnas and Nicholas C. Makris. ‘The evolution of air resonance power efficiency in the violin and its ancestors’ (2015). (Accessed February 21, 2021).

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