Embodied Music by Aliza Stewart

As I gather my professional equipment and personal belongings to drive to Vermont, I visualize what my work will look like in the context of the Yellow Barn and Marlboro music festivals. I imagine the scenery, the campuses, the rooms I will be working in, and the musicians who will come to learn something new about themselves. These musicians will come with ideas about sounds they want to make and discover the appropriate, effortless movements necessary to make them. They will learn to identify habitual, unnecessary movements in order to leave them behind, making room for the spontaneous flow all musicians dream about.

The responsibility I feel is great, since the musicians will often have to play immediately following their sessions with me, either in rehearsals or in concerts. In every lesson I give, I will have to be at my best, just as when playing a concert or performing myself.

The challenge lies in how to help my students rediscover the early, pre-verbal rhythm, timing and lines of movement that accompany us all into this world and allow us to respond sensitively to sound, especially organized sound. How do I make the idea of “embodied music” real for each performer?

A while ago I came across a documentary called “When the Moment Sings” by John Collins & Jon-Roar Bjorkvold, which describes and compares the everyday movements of people living in certain parts of Africa with those of people living in certain parts of Europe. It is an old movie and sometimes belabors the point, but the essence of the film is still inspiring to me. Song and rhythm, from the beginning of life, accompany everything that the African people in the film do together. The rhythm is internalized and present whether they are walking with 20 kilos on their heads, shifting their weight beautifully from one leg to the other, farming, cooking, building or dancing. The music informs their movements and their movements inform the music in a continuous feedback loop. It is “embodied music” indeed and that is where I found the inspiration for this name. As you can imagine, the Europeans pictured in the film, hurrying to the subway, do not fare so well in comparison!

But as babies, we all had the same capacity as the African children pictured in the film. All babies love to be rocked, to move rhythmically to music, and all are delighted when they learn to negotiate gravity and find effortless mobility. They learn it all by themselves! Later, certain aspects of culture and socialization, various circumstances, can overrule our innate tendencies so that we stop listening to our internal music. Fortunately, the rhythm and life we had access to as children is all still there just under the surface.

As musicians, we cannot afford to stop listening. If we do not discover again these innate rhythms and movements when we play, we will not get the results we want or we will continue using the kind of movement that leads to injury and pain.

It is my passion to discover more and more ways to help people sense the embodiment of music.

As a Feldenkrais Method® trainer, I have a lot of knowledge about movement and its imperative importance in life. I also have many tools to bring to bear in facilitating significant change for people in the way they live and move and feel and play. But when a person comes in the door or a group of people lie on the floor for a class, the particular organization of life that is unique to this person and to this group demands from me a new organization of my knowledge and tools. It is exactly this creative reassembling of tools to respond anew to each unique situation that makes the Feldenkrais Method so effective. Continuous learning on my part cannot be compromised. There is no turning away from learning if I want to be present with a new person and take the time to identify the change that will be most meaningful to her or his life.

As I am packing, I am humbly gathering the gifts I have to be able to do this.