Violinists are upper body athletes. Hands and arms are in constant motion to produce sonorous tones and beautiful music. Shoulders fall open from the spine like a large library dictionary waiting patiently on its long-legged platform. Arms hanging from these shoulders raise and lower to move fingers up and down an ebony board or through the air with bow in hand. But what about feet? They are important too.
When I was a student at the Longy School of Music in the late nineties/early 2000’s, it was still known for mostly being a community music school attended by amateur and student musicians. The faculty was strong and impressive. Music emanated from every direction. Excited herds of children carried instrument cases as they moved from room to room.* Not long before I entered my performance diploma program there, Longy had upgraded itself with undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Being a young program on the cusp of the new millennium, it seemed like the perfect time to launch a mind-body-spirit department for which matriculating students could earn credits towards their degree. During my time there I studied both the Feldenkrais Method and the Alexander Technique. Both modalities were an important introduction to me for playing the violin with comfort and awareness of mind, body and spirit connectedness.
The idea here is that how you use your whole body impacts areas that are specifically dedicated to playing your instrument. I drew feet on this card because, at least for myself, they tend to be the most neglected part of my body when playing the violin. I am always worried about tripping so I have my home set up to avoid typical hazards such as turned up area rugs, cat toys and other floor debris. I train my public school students to keep cases, bags and music away from our feet. Taking care of your feet is more than just avoiding stubbed toes and falling. Flexibility in one’s feet, capable of responding and reverberating with the rest of your body can contribute to more efficient and comfortable mobility long term. I especially took the concept of the whole body connection to heart when I learned that Itzhak Perlman worked with Moshé Feldenkrais when he was a child.1
You can do something as simple as rolling a small therapy ball around with your foot. Smooth and solid or hollow and spiky, they are great for long plane flights. Used while standing or sitting, rolling a ball with your foot can provide a novel experience when playing your instrument. Because you are standing on an unstable surface, you will find yourself moving your spine, pelvis and ribcage in a topsy-turvy, circular way. It is interesting to experience how this changes your violin hold and the way the bow contacts the string. You may find that your lower back frees up. Likewise, you may discover an issue with your back, neck, shoulders and even your jaw for which you were unawares. I have also used a round inflatable therapy disk and a spooner board. All of these items challenge your balance and provide insight into how you move through life.
Moshé Feldenkrais was a Ukranian-Israeli physicist who developed his Awareness Through Movement method by observing the stages that a new born baby goes through to ultimately learn how to walk. Feldenkrais practitioners teach students by hands-on work called “functional integration” and “awareness through movement” group classes.2 F.M. Alexander was an Australian actor who experienced “chronic laryngitis” which he attributed to misalignment of his spine. Alexander Technique practitioner’s manipulate the spine and neck to bring a student’s body back into alignment.3
*I mention this because this community music program no longer exists. When the school was purchased by Bard College, unfortunately the community division was terminated.