How to study Monteverdi’s operatic roles

Are you Arianna or Apollo? Orfeo or Euridice? Penelope or Ulisse? Nero or Poppea? Or are you fighting a Combattimento, writing a Lettera Amorosa, or dancing a Ballo?

Now you don’t have to go to Hell and back, to learn a baroque role. Here, to celebrate Monteverdi’s anniversary year, is a guide to studying his dramatic roles.

At the end of September 2017, OPERA OMNIA will present the premiere of Andrew Lawrence-King’s remake of Monteverdi’s lost masterpiece, Arianna (1608), performed by the young professionals and advanced students of the International Baroque Opera Project at Moscow State Theatre ‘Natalya Sats’. Read more about the project here. You can also read about WHY we are remaking Monteverdi’s Arianna.

This post was written to guide singing actors in that production, but is equally relevant to any of Monteverdi’s surviving music-dramas, including the three ‘operas’ [Monteverdi did not use the O-word] Orfeo, Ulisse Poppea as well as Combattimeno, the Balli and other works in genere rappresentativo [in show-style, i.e. meant for acting, not just singing].

 

 

Whilst our modern ideals of theatre might send us on a deep psychological investigation of the character of the role to be played, in this article I suggest an alternative, historically informed approach.

When, as modern HIP performers, we take on the role of Arianna or Apollo, there are two stages to our work. The first step is to acquire the skill-set of Francesco Rasi (the tenor who sang the roles of Orfeo in 1607 and Apollo & Bacco in 1608) or Virginia Andreini Ramponi, known as La Florinda (the commedia dell’arte actress who triumphed in the role of Arianna in 1608, surpassing all the court singers); the second task is for you-as-Rasi or you-as-La-Florinda to play your character role.

The first of these two stages – acquiring the skill-set of the best historical performers – is by far the more challenging. After all, it was hardly a stretch for Rasi (great singer, somewhat self-obsessed) to play Orfeo or for La Florinda (prima donna, fond of lamenting) to represent Arianna!

 

 

When the first ‘operas’ were performed, circa 1600, there was no such thing as an Opera Singer. Since the genre itself was new and experimental, there was no previously existing system for educating performers for new demands. Rather, the participants in these first fully-sung baroque music-dramas brought skill sets from other, related disciplines. Court and chapel singers (Euridice was played in 1607 by a ‘little priest’ castrato) had a high level of general musicianship, sight-reading and ensemble skills. Many of them were competent composers and skilled instumentalists. As courtiers, they would have been trained in Rhetoric and courtly Etiquette, and would know how to stand, move, gesture and how to comport themselves in courtly situations: in the presence of a Prince, in a duel, at a dance, on horseback etc. Much of what we would today consider to be historical stage-craft would have been understood in the period as everyday courtly behaviour.

A modern singer of baroque opera would do well to study Historical Dance, Historical Fencing, and for that matter horse-riding. For an introduction to courtly posture and gesture, i.e. the beginnings of period acting, Start HereCaccini sets out the priorities for singing c1600 as Text and Rhythm – read more from Caccini. Close study of the libretto is essential: the sung text includes many hints for movement, costume and characterisation, as well as a detailed map of ever-changing emotions – affetti. In this repertoire, the performer’s concentration is best kept ‘in the moment’, on the particularly word you are singing right now, on the affetto of this instant, ready for swift and bold changes from one affetto to its contrary, as Cavalieri recommends for the earliest surviving seicento music-drama, Anima e Corpo (1600), read more about how to Act with the Hand, Act with the Heart.

La Florinda’s success in Arianna (1608), surpassing all the star singers, reminds us of the basic meaning of the word recitare – it means ‘to act’. Musica recitativa is acted music, i.e. music-drama. Singers would do well to think less about the voce, and more about How to Act in this historical style. 

It is not your job, as performer, to create a big structure of emotions, drama or music for the whole work: trust the librettist and composer to have done their work in this area. Your job is to realise the text and music from moment to moment, structured by the slow, steady pulse of baroque rhythm – Tactus. This blog has many posts about 17th-century rhythm: here is a small selection. Rhythm – what really counts? introduces the concept of Tactus; the theory of Proportions is the secret to Getting back to Monteverdi’s Time and for a practical approach there is this Hands-on guide to Tactus

This post presents a step-by-step guide on how to study your role. If you go through these 10 exercises, you will be well on the path towards acquiring that 17th-century skill-set, your approach will be utterly historical and securely practical, and after at least 10 repetitions of each phrase, linking together text, music and gesture, the task of memorisation will also be well begun, if not yet completed.

Have fun – approach these exercises and your study in general in a spirit of enthusiastic but relaxed concentration. Learning a big role is not ‘a mountain to climb’, it’s a journey to experience and enjoy. And your first performance is not ‘the end of the road’, it’s just one more step on the path, a place from where there is a good view of the distance you have already covered, as well as of the endless road ahead.

 

 

HOW TO PREPARE

 

1. Hold the music in your left hand

An easy one to start with, but it’s a game-changer! Acquiring this habit will allow you to make gestures with your right hand, one of the most important principles of historical acting.

 

2. Take up the contrapposto posture

If you do all your practice standing in period posture, that posture will gradually become ‘normal’ for you, and you will feel relaxed and look good in it, on stage.

 

  1. Stand diagonally, rather than square-on to your audience
  2. With your weight all on one foot (doesn’t matter which one)
  3. Bend the other (unweighted) leg, and let it show.
  4. Relax at the hips, so that your whole body forms an elegant curve.
  5. Your right hand is somewhat raised/extended
  6. Your left hand relaxed by the body (or holding your music!)
  7. Look out into the audience.
  8. Relax.

 

 

The toga is optional!

At first, you might find it difficult to maintain this posture. Don’t get tense, just switch your weight from one foot to the other, moving through the hips.  Relax, and let your weight fall through the supporting leg into the floor.

But don’t move too often, and – in this style – you don’t walk and talk at the same time.

 

If your singing teacher has taught you to centre and relax, dropping the weight down into your feet, super! Do this, but allowing the weight to fall from that centre through ONE leg.

 

Don’t bounce up and down. If your singer teacher has taught you to bend your knees before high notes, don’t let this be seen by anyone, ever!

Don’t stand square-on to your audience, knees bent in the sumo-wrestler position of certain famous modern coloratura sopranos. That’s not baroque! Rather, look at and imitate period paintings. Be as beautiful as a picture!

 

TEXT

3. Speak the text, dramatically, like a great actor in a 1,000-seater hall.

3a. Paying close attention to Good/Bad syllables (this is period terminology for accented/unaccented syllables or notes: Caccini calls them Long/Short as in poetic analysis)
3b. And single/double consonants
3c. And the meaning of each individual word

You should be utterly comfortable with the text, ready to go on stage and act it in a spoken play. The anonymous 17th-century guide for a theatre’s artistic director, Il Corago (c1636) emphasises that singers should model their singing on the speech of a fine actor.

4. Speak the text again, waving your hand expressively on each Good syllable

 

 

On the final Bad syllable, just let your hand return to the body, relaxed.

 

 

5. Still speaking like a great actor, try to bring your spoken version close to the pitch-contours and rhythms of the music

 

In his preface to the first secular ‘opera’, Euridice (1600), Jacopo Peri explains that recitative is structured by the rhythm of the bass-line, and by the pitches of spoken declamation. Agazzari (1607) confirms that it is the continuo bass that ‘supports and guides the whole ensemble of instruments and voices’.

RHYTHM

Check #1 (music in your left hand) and #2 (baroque posture) again!

6. Sing the music, beating TACTUS

With the palm outwards, move your hand down and up, about 1 second down, 1 second up. Keep the movement steady, smooth, relaxed but with calm inner strength. Think of a big, slow-moving pendulum. Or the hand of God, turning the wheels of the cosmos.

 

  • In C-time, this represents minims: down for one minim, up for the next.
  • In 3/2 time – tripla, this represents three minims: down for three, up for the next three.
  • In 3/1 time – sesquialtera, the complete movement represents three semibreves: down for two, up for the next one. The complete movement occupies the same total duration of time, but the movement is now unequal, down for two, up for one. You might need to practise changing from C to 3/1 and back again.

According to Zacconi (1592), Tactus is “even, solid, stable, firm… clear, secure, without fear and without any kind of wobbling” [equale, saldo, stabile, e fermo … chiaro, sicuro, senza paura, & senza veruna titubatione]

 

If you have trouble maintaining a steady beat, you can easily make yourself a Tactus-pendulum. Take a long string and tie something heavy to one end, to make a simple pendulum. You need 1 metre to make a 1-second beat (Mersenne, 1636).

 

 

CONNECTING TEXT & RHYTHM

 

Whilst dramatic music is guided by Tactus, as the historical concept of rhythm, there was no conductor in early ‘opera’ (Il Corago specifically rules out beating time in recitative), and of course actors cannot beat Tactus on stage (nor even in a courtly performance in genere rappresentativo, as Monteverdi indicates for the Lettera amorosa]. So the next exercise asks you to feel the Tactus internally, whilst you use your hand in a new way, linked to the Text.

7. Sing the music, waving your hand on the Good syllables, not on the Bad

This is the same as #4, but singing, rather than speaking. Many singers find that their good speaking habits get overwhelmed by bad singer habits, as soon as they start to sing. So…

7a. Check that you do not wave your hand on any Bad syllable.

7b. Check that your hand is already relaxed on the last (Bad) syllable

7c. And sing this last note short, just as you would speak it.

The next exercise refines this, by taking into account the length of the composed notes. Some singers reduce the contrast between long and short notes: such laziness makes the performance boring. Don’t do that! A most useful reminder in this style is “Long notes long, short notes short”, within the steady pulse of the Tactus.

8. Sing the music, waving your hand slow/quick according to the length of Good syllables

If the note is long, move your hand slowly at the beginning, so that you have plenty of movement in reserve for the end of the note. You’ll find that doing this exercise changes the way you sing long notes – that’s the whole idea of the exercise!

8a. Apply the Long Note Kit to Good syllables on Long Notes

THE LONG-NOTE KIT

 

  • Start the note slowly and straight.
  • Wait as long as possible.
  • Crescendo towards the end of the note
  • At the very end, relax the crescendo and allow vibrato to happen

Plaine note (with messa da voce),
Waived note (with messa da voice and late-arriving vibrato)
Roger North (1695)
cited in Greta Moens-Hanen
“Das Vibrato in der Musick des Barock”

For a fine demonstration of baroque vibrato, listen to Whitney Houston And I will always love you

 

9. Alternating Tactus and Good/Bad hand-movements, alternating speaking and singing, bring the sung version as close to speech as possible, structured by Tactus.

In this exercise, as you change between various options (speech/song; Tactus/word-accents) the aim is to unify all these into a version that is ‘between speech and song’ [Peri & Caccini], with exciting contrasts of word-accents (the essential ingredient of good poetry) and steady Tactus (the essential ingredient of 17th-century music).

ACTION

Check #1 (music in the left hand) & #2 (baroque posture) again!

10. Perform the whole  speech, thinking of the meaning of the word, each time you wave your hand on a Good syllable.

Do this several times speaking, before you try to combine gesture with singing. The gestures you want are text-based, speech-based: quite different from typical gestures of modern singers.

One of the simplest, but most powerful gestures is simply to point (typically with the whole hand, rather than a single finger) at whatever you mention in your speech. See Baroque Gesture: what’s the Point? 

 

 

And the ut pictura principle encourages you to create a mental image of whatever you are talking about, so that your gestures are directed towards imaginary objects in your vision, as well as to real objects, dialogue partners etc, on stage with you.

 

But as Cavalieri reminds us, 17th-century Action is not only hand-gestures – it’s also movements of the whole body, the way you walk, and especially facial expressions and Energia from the eyes.

 

Two things you don’t have to worry about: ornaments (many sources, including Cavalieri & Monteverdi, warn against ornamenting in this style); your own emotions. The concept of ‘moving the Passions’ – muovere gli affetti – is concerned with changing the audience’s emotions: not yours. Some performers like to work ‘hot’, being very involved themselves in the emotions of the moment, others prefer to stay ‘cool’, keeping control of their own feelings so as to be better able to influence the audience: most people find a good balance between those two extremes. But in this style, we are not interested in the performer’s emotions, we are trying to sway the audience’s feelings. That’s what matters.

So now you are ready to perform, playing the role of Rasi playing the role of Bacco… or playing the role of La Florinda playing the role of Arianna.

And as Dorilla (Arianna’s irrepressibly positive maid-servant) would say:

ET VIVETE LIETI! 

(Don’t worry, be happy!)

 

 

Alessandro Turchi ‘Bacchus & Ariadne’ (c1630). Historical Action is more than just Baroque Gesture.

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The Power of Tactus: A hands-on approach

Hand of God supernova

 

Tactus is the slow, steady beat that guides Early Music, shown by a down-up movement of the hand, approximately one second each way. In previous posts, I’ve introduced the concept Rhythm – what really counts?, explored the philosophical background Quality Time: how does it feel?and summarised the implications for Historically Informed Performance Tempus Putationis: getting back to Monteverdi’s Time

 

In this article the focus is on the Tactus Hand itself, on the practicalities of embodying a mystic concept that links everyday music-making with the divine power of the cosmos. And we should not underestimate that power, since, for renaissance and baroque musicians, the Tactus Hand was the Hand of God made visible in microcosm.

 

Hand as cosmos

 

Tactus in the 1980s

 

Since the 1980s, as co-director of ensemble Tragicomedia and in my own teaching and directing, I have frequently used a simple arm-waving exercise to give participants a practical experience of Tactus. I emphasise the significance of a two-way motion with a sense of ‘swing’, as opposed to the hammering effect of a one-way beat. I recommend using the entire arm, a long pendulum for a slow swing. And already in those days, I noticed that this kind of Tactus work brought to the group a special atmosphere of calm and concentration. After just a minute or so of beating Tactus, the room seems quieter, each of us  more aware of small sounds and as a group, better able to find a united sense of rhythm and timing.

 

In my own playing, I notice that keeping my mind on the Tactus allows me to stay calm, even in demanding fast passage-work. No matter how fast my fingers need to move, my inner focus is on that slow swing: even the fast bits still feel slow and steady. Working with singers, I encourage them to feel the embodied power of the Tactus, to realise that they could hold the entire ensemble in their own hands, and to feel (like a physical weight) the responsibility that this entails.  The Tactus-movement can’t be a trivial flip of the wrist, it needs the gravity of a long, weighty pendulum.

 

Foucault pendulum 1851

 

George Houle’s most useful survey of Metre in Music: 1600-1800 was published in 1987, though I didn’t come across it until many years later. Houle wondered what a tactus-directed ensemble would sound like: my work ever since has been devoted to answering that question.

 

Since the 1990s, with my own ensemble, The Harp Consort, we continue to apply Tactus to many different repertoires, to Spanish dances in Luz y Norte, to German high baroque in Italian Concerto, to the medieval Ludus Danielis and the first South American opera, La púpura de la rosa, to folk-music from Guernsey, Les Travailleurs de la Mer, to Purcell’s theatrical and chamber music in Musick’s Hand-Maid, to medieval popular songs Les Miracles de Notre Dame and Latin-American religious music, Missa Mexicana. In these and many other projects, Tactus is the organising principle that unites the whole ensemble in music, dance and improvisation.

Tactus in the 2010s

 

In this current decade, with my renewed focus on early opera, Tactus has been a key concept in the award-winning Text, Rhythm, Action! program of international research, experiment, training and performance. I’ve re-opened the investigation of Tactus in the context of the Historical Science of Time itself, and applied the latest research findings to my work on Baroque Gesture and Historical Action. Fascinating connections have emerged: the 18th-century love of fermata and cadenza seems to match the contemporaneous fashion for striking Attitudes on the theatrical stage.

 

(c) The Holburne Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

David Garrick as Richard III in 1759

 

Some findings would seem glaringly obvious, but have previously escaped attention. Monteverdi, Shakespeare and their contemporaries circa 1600 did not share our present-day intuitive understanding of Absolute Time: that idea was introduced in Newton’s Principia (1687). The seicento concept of Time was Aristotelian, depending on movement to define ‘before’ and ‘after’. In music, that movement is embodied in the Tactus Hand.

 

 

What is Time

 

Gradually, I’ve been able to reach a more refined understanding of Tactus as Time, Tactus as Movement, with the goal of applying all that pre-Newtonian philosophy to down-to-earth practicalities. How do we move our hands to create Tactus, and what does it mean?

 

For Italian music around the year 1600, the Tactus hand is indeed like a pendulum, swinging for about one second each way (i.e. two seconds for the complete there-and-back-again). The complete (reciprocal) movement corresponds to a semibreve, so each individual (one-way) beat corresponds to a minim, at approximately minim = 60. Of course, in Monteverdi’s day, although there were clocks that ticked approximate seconds accurate to about 15 minutes per day, clocks were not capable of defining those seconds accurately. So Tactus Time is only as accurate as you can humanly make it.

 

The precise Quantity of Time therefore can’t be defined: rather Tactus relies on each musician to remember how it feels, to recall the Quality of Time.  So try these tests: can you remember the sound of a ticking clock? How fast does it tick (according to your memory)? Can you recall the speed of some particular piece of music that you’ve often performed with the same team? How accurately can you estimate a one-second pulse? If you hear a church clock strike noon, how good is your estimate of 1215?

 

Of course, nowadays, you can check your estimates against Absolute Time (well, at least against a digital stopwatch!). But the point of these experiments is to get used to the idea that

 

You are trying to feel the right Time

 

This is very different from the modern musical practice of performers choosing their own time. Seicento tempo is not a matter of personal choice!. You would not get much sympathy if you turned up late for rehearsal, saying “Although most people take it faster, in my interpretation, it is not yet 10 o’clock.” Toby Belch, in Shakespeare’s As you like it (1603) makes a similar connection between good time-keeping in everyday life (‘to go to bed betimes’) and keeping time in music. In reply to Malvolio’s accusation that he shows no respect of time, he retorts that ‘we did keep time, sir, in our catches’ (witty part-songs).

 

Keep Time

 

Your estimate of time will naturally be influenced by your surroundings and your own state of mind: if you are in a hectic mood, you might err on the fast side; if you are feeling particularly relaxed, you might err on the slow side. If you play a piece of music in a generous acoustic, you might play it slower; in a dry acoustic, you might play it faster to get the same feeling.

 

The precise Quantity cannot be defined – you are trying to find the right Quality

 

Fixing Tactus at the order of magnitude of one second (for C time in Italian seicento: in other repertoires, there are significant pulse-rates somewhat faster at approx 80 beats per minute or somewhat slower at around 45 bpm) does not imply a ‘metronomic’ performance. There is room inside that slow, steady minim beat for the subtle difference between Good and Bad syllables (in crotchets) or the dance-like swing of French inegalite (in quavers). There are also symmetries on longer time-scales, and good musicians will be sensitive to these too. Nevertheless, Tactus provides a particular time-scale, a calibration that synchronises musical notation with real-world time, with physical movement, and with the human body. That time-scale is approximately one second, corresponding to a pendulum-length of approximately one metre, which is approximately the length of an outstretched arm (measured to the centre of the body).

 

Narrowing down the historical sense of musical time to an order of magnitude might not seem like much progress towards the question of “what is the historical tempo for Monteverdi’s Orfeo?”. But even this very approximate measure can help unify an ensemble, by ensuring that everyone is feeling the same beat (as opposed to some counting in crotchets, others counting in minims). There has been some discussion along the lines that if a slow Tactus beat is good, then feeling a super-slow pulse (say 30, or even just 15 beats per minute) might be even better. But whilst there is evidence for very slow pulse in some medieval music, around the year 1600 ensemble unity was definitely organised on the Tactus time-scale at around 60 bpm.

 

Establishing an approximate calibration of real-world time to the speed of a minim in common time is also a vital first step towards understanding seicento Proportions. Whether or not a certain interpretation of the relationship between common and triple time is plausible, depends crucially on the starting tempo in common time. Somewhat illogically, current debate on Proportions recognises that historical notation was intended to fix the speed of triple metres (even if we do not yet have a consensus agreement about how to understand that notation), but resists the idea that the speed of common time was also fixed (as precisely as humanly possible). But Roger Mathew Grant’s Beating Time and Measuring Music shows how the entire system of Proportional notation depends crucially on common-time Tactus. The various Proportions are linked, like cog-wheels in a 17th-century clock, and calibrated to real-world time by setting common-time Tactus at the rate of one minim = one second (as precisely as humanly possible).

 

Galileo Pendulum

 

 

The pendulum effect, discovered by Galileo in the late 16-century but not built into a clock until 1656, was used to measure musical time by means of Loulié’s chronomètre (1696) and as late as 1840, in Bunting’s transcriptions of ancient Irish harp-music. With students from the Historical Harp Society of Ireland, we tried playing to a pendulum beat at Scoil na gClairseach: the experience is nothing like playing to a metronome click. Try it for yourself, and you’ll immediately appreciate the differences.

 

The movement of a pendulum, pausing momentarily at the end of each swing, leaves musicians a certain margin for subtle choice of where to ‘place’ the beat. To use the vocabulary of jazz, you can be ‘on the front of the beat’ or ‘laid back’. In this sense, a pendulum feels more ‘human’, less ‘mechanical’. However, the pendulum does not allow those subtle choices to pile up cumulatively: it checks any general tendency to rush or drag. Meanwhile, the strong but gentle movement of a pendulum has the same mesmeric effect of inducing relaxed concentration that we notice with the Tactus hand itself.

 

Down & Up

 

Re-reading seicento treatises reminded me that the Tactus movement is always described as down-up. So when using the Tactus hand as a rehearsal exercise, or in performances of Cavalieri’s (1600) Anima e Corpo at the Theatre Natalya Sats in Moscow, we abandoned the side-to-side swing in favour of the historical, vertical movement. This creates a subtle distinction between the two directions of movement, with Down having added significance, and facilitates awareness of the complete Tactus cycle, from Down to Down.

 

From my studies of historical swordsmanship, modern Feldenkrais Method and ancient Tai Chi, I can now appreciate that the sensation of ‘soft strength’ appropriate to beating musical time can be found by connecting the Tactus Hand down through the whole body. This requires a body-posture that maintains structural integrity with minimal tension. We can see such postures in period paintings and sculptures: a good posture for Tactus is also the starting point for Baroque Gesture, and for historically informed instrumental playing.

 

My training as a Hypnotist provides an explanation for the special sense of relaxation and concentration that focus on the Tactus can evoke. Following the lead of Milton H. Erickson (the father of modern hypnotism) and of Joe Griffin (theorist of the Origin of Dreams), it is now recognised that any experience of calm concentration can induce a particular state of mind. We can call this an Altered State of Consciousness, we can call it Flow or being in the Zone, we can call it Mindfulness or Meditatation: the labels don’t really matter. This phenomenon of heightened awareness is the key to optimal performance not only in music, but also in many other creative and sporting activities.

 

The Flow Zone mashup 2015

 

Preparing for the first performance in Russia of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers, we encountered many instances of slow triple-metre, notated as 3 Sesquialtera semibreves in the time of the 2 common-time minims. This can be a tricky Proportional change, but Tactus helps us manage it, especially with a vertical motion of the hand. The duration of the complete cycle from Down to Down continues unchanged: the only adjustment is that Down now lasts longer than Up.

 

Sesquialtera: Down – Up becomes Down – 2 – Up

 

In Spanish baroque music, the same adjustment happens even more frequently, whenever we find the cross-rhythm of Hemiola amongst a regular metre of Tripla. A well-known modern example is I wanna live in America: two units of Tripla, I wanna / live in A- / (Down Up) have the same duration as one unit of Hemiola me-ri-ca (Down – 2- Up).

 

One way to negotiate such shifts is to de-emphasise the Up stroke so that it simply doesn’t matter whether it is equal (Down Up) or unequal (Down – 2- Up). Instead, the focus is on preserving the equality of measure in the complete cycle, a consistent time between Down strokes. This focus on the complete Tactus-cycle, on the common-time semibreve rather than on the minim of each stroke, is mentioned in some period treatises, and works well for us in practice.

 

Divided Choirs

Towards the end of last year, working with multiple Tactus-beaters for polychoral music, I suddenly noticed a small detail of Tactus-beating that had previously escaped my attention. In the three-choir piece illustrated on the frontispiece of Praetorius’  Theatrum Instrumentorum, the Tactus Hands are shown palm outwards.

 

Praetorius Theatrum Instrumentorum

 

I immediately searched through other period images and consulted with colleagues. Though no-one else had noticed it before either, it became apparent that Tactus-beating was usually, perhaps always, palm-outwards. (Do let me know if you find evidence to the contrary, or if you would like to add to the mountain of evidence in favour of palm-out).

 

Rhythm

 

The historical movement of the Tactus Hand, down-up with the palm outwards, feels different, and subtly alters the relationship between the two strokes. And the connections to Baroque Gesture are highly significant. The starting position of Tactus (hand high, palm outwards) corresponds to the orator’s preparatory gesture, commanding the audience to be silent and listen. The powerful Down movement of the Tactus stroke corresponds to a gesture of authority, quelling and directing subordinates.

 

Silentium postulo

 

The period philosophy of the Music of the Spheres connects the perfect movement of the cosmos with the harmonious nature of the human body and with practical music-making. Similarly, heavenly Time directed by the Hand of God is reflected in the microcosm of the Human hand beating Tactus and in the perfection (to the limits of human ability) of musical rhythm. That rhythm is found by dividing the slow Tactus beat in various Proportions, just as the movement of the stars and planets are derived from the Primum Mobile. This concept is beautifully described in Dante’s Paradiso, Canto XXVII. Here is the classic Longfellow translation:

 

The nature of the universe, which holds
the center still and moves all else around it,
begins here as if from its turning-post.

This heaven has no other where than this:
the mind of God, in which are kindled both
the love that turns it and the force it rains.

No other heaven measures this sphere’s motion,
but it serves as the measure for the rest,
even as half and fifth determine ten;

and now it can be evident to you
how time has roots within this vessel and,
within the other vessels, has its leaves.

 

Primum Mobile

 

The Tactus Hand embodies the divine Hand of God; maintaining Tactus symbolises the turning of the cosmos; the movements of the Tactus Hand embody earthly authority and command listeners’ attention. However, the authority of Tactus is not located in the whims and fancies of an individual Tactus-beater: Tactus-beating is utterly different from modern conducting. The responsibility of a Tactus-beater is to recall and preserve the perfection of heavenly time, not to make personal choices. So it is that multiple Tactus-beaters can collaborate simultaneously, as Praetorius showed.

 

No-one is trying to make a personal interpretation of Time: everyone is trying to unite in finding the right time.

 

Some musicians feel a deep sense of responsibility to arrive at rehearsal on time. This is part of the respect we owe to the beauty and ineffable nature of Music itself. If you can understand such respect, then you might begin to understand the sense of high duty and precise timeliness that renaissance musicians felt about rhythm.

 

Dowland Above all things original

 

Music and other arts offer us earth-born creatures a glimpse of a world beyond the everyday. In period philosophy, the Tactus Hand allows musicians to touch the stars. We all know that Early Music was directed not by conductors, but by Tactus beaters. So why not try the Power of Tactus for yourself! I’m sure you’ll have a Good Time.

 

Hand touching the stars

 

 

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http://www.TheHarpConsort.com [the ensemble, early harps & Early Music]

http://www.IlCorago.com [the production company & Historical Action]

http://www.TheFlow.Zone [Flow for optimal creativity, The Zone for elite performance]

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago. From 2011 to 2015 he was Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions. He is now preparing a translation of Bonifacio’s (1616) Art of Gesture and a book on The Theatre of Dreams: The Science of Historical Action.

 

Look Bach on 2015

ALK & Peri

 

Bach’s Prelude & Sarabande performed on baroque triple harp, against the background of a year of research, training and performance; publications, research findings; operas and concerts around the world.

Thanks to all co-researchers and musicians, friends, colleagues, participants and audiences!

 

 

Looking forward to seeing you in 2016!

 

Peri Euridice Preface vale

 

Please join me on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our websites:

http://www.TheHarpConsort.com [the ensemble, early harps & Early Music]

http://www.IlCorago.com [the production company & Historical Action]

http://www.TheFlow.Zone [Flow for optimal creativity, The Zone for elite performance]

 

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago. From 2011 to 2015 he was Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions. He is now preparing a translation of Bonifacio’s (1616) Art of Gesture and a book on The Theatre of Dreams: The Science of Historical Action.

 

 

Start Here: How to study Baroque Gesture & Historical Action

We must not break forth at once into speech, but should allow ourselves a few moments for reflection… In this preliminary delay there are certain pauses, as the actors call them, which are not unbecoming. We may stroke our head, look at our hand, wring the fingers, pretend to summon all our energies for the effort.

Quintilian

Homer describes Ulysses as having stood for a while with eyes fixed on the ground and staff held motionless, before he poured forth his whirlwind of eloquence. And these recommendations for how to start a speech (or an aria, or an instrumental solo, or for that matter, a corporate or academic presentation) come from Quintilian Institutio Oratoria (c95 AD) complete text here, in English translation.

So should we start by reading all 12 volumes of Quintilian (in the original Latin, of course)? Well, you could do worse, but there are perhaps quicker ways to get started. Read on…

In 2010, when I began to investigate baroque gesture seriously, in preparation for a production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo (see the documentary film here and below), I started as any academic researcher might do, by reading key primary and secondary sources: Bonifaccio’s L’Arte dei Cenni (The Art of Gesture, 1616) here; John Bulwer’s 1644 Chironomia here; and that magnificent pioneering study, Dene Barnett’s (1987) The Art of Gesture: The Practices and Principles of 18th-century Acting. [Available on-line in 5 parts here, but charges may apply. Thank you to Brian Robins for informing me of this link]

Of course, this was not at all the way to start! Well, yes and no. These three books, along with Quintilian and other such publications are indispensable sources of historical information of what to do with your hands. But those hand-movements depend (physically) on whole-body structure and mental/spiritual connections, and they depend (rhetorically) on the text. And Baroque Gesture is only one element (and perhaps not the most significant) of the discipline of Historical Action.

Baroque Gesture requires holistic study

Attentionem poscit and art

 

Physically, gestural practices circa 1600 were enabled by the general embodied habitus of Early Modern performers. In an age before motor-cars and lifts, they walked and took the stairs, they rode horses. They were fit and more connected to their bodies than many of us today. They had better balance, they were more ‘centred’. Courtiers spent many hours every day dancing and practising swordsmanship.

 

 

 

Music Dance Swordsmanship

 

So any modern study of baroque gesture requires a grounding in academic knowledge and practical experience of period posture, early dance and historical swordsmanship. Speaking for myself, an academic appreciation can be more quickly acquired than an embodied understanding. It takes years of daily practice to assimilate ‘new’, healthy and historical ways of standing and moving. Experience with early dance is a great help, and sword-school is enormous fun. Although it is from another culture, I have found Tai Chi very helpful too in improving balance, establishing a sense of “centre” and facilitating mind/body/spirit connections.

Suit the Action to the Word

Thomas_Betterton_Hamlet_c1661

 

This is the advice for would-be Players in Shakespeare’s c1600 Hamlet. Baroque Gesture is only one element of Historical Action, which includes positioning on the stage (and even stage design), full-body acting, facial expressions etc.

For a list of possible gestures, see Bonifacio’s chapter headings, which examine the whole body from head to toe, not omitting ‘gestures of the genitals’. I’m currently working on a translation and commentary, to be published in 2016.

For an overview of all the various disciplines pertaining to Historical Action, see the opening chapter of that anonymous c1630 guide for a theatre’s artistic director, Il Corago, edited here.

By far the greatest influence is exercised by the glance. For it is by this that we express supplication, threats, flattery, sorrow, joy, pride or submission. It is on this that our audience hang, on this that they rivet their attention and their gaze, even before we begin to speak. It is this that inspires the hearer with affection or dislike, this that conveys a world of meaning and is often more eloquent than all our words.

Quintilian

Mona_Lisa

And all this Action is dependent on the Text. It is not a modern “production” that has its own values, nor is it some kind of ancient hand-ballet, however visually pleasing that might be when done well. Action flows from the Text. Not only is the choice and timing of each gesture dictated by the play-text or opera-libretto, but the actor’s motivation, the mental and spiritual energy that empowers the physical movement, comes from the meaning and emotional force of the particular word being pronounced in that very moment.

This demands intense concentration on the text, not only in rehearsal, but right in the moment of performance. It should not be necessary to point out that performers (singers and their instrumental colleagues) need to understand the meaning and deeper significance of every word that is spoken or sung. But that understanding needs to be accessed in real time. It is not enough to have the translation written into the score, or buried somewhere in one’s memory. The complete implications of every word need to be fully present, in the exact moment that you pronounce it.

‘Staying with the text’ like this can function as a Mindfulness exercise, keeping the performer ‘in the moment’ and focussed, creating a special state of consciousness that enables relaxed concentration and flow. From this optimised mind-set, a great performance can emerge.

 

Of the various elements that go to form the expression, the eyes are the most important, since they, more than anything else, reveal the temper of the mind, and without actual movement will twinkle with merriment or be clouded with grief. And further, nature has given them tears to serve as interpreters of our feelings, tears that will break forth sorrow or stream for very joy. But, when the eyes move, they become intent, indifferent, proud, fierce, mild, or angry; and they will assume all these characters according as the [text] may demand.

Quintilian

eyes - mourinho

 

Most challenging of all, all of these elements – posture, movement, gesture, full-body acting and facial expressions, deep appreciation of the text – have to function simultaneously and in co-ordination. This does not come quickly or easily: one has to acquire the skill-set and musculature over years of study, hone the application to a particular text over hours of rehearsal, then give it that essential lift of spontaneity (for example, by choosing spontaneously from several well-rehearsed options, or by adding little touches of ‘ornamentation’ to the performance). Finally, you have to concentrate all this preparation into the one tiny instant of execution.

So Baroque Gesture is not something that we can master in a 90-minute workshop or condense into a short blog-post. It is a life-long study, that (for any true artist) will never be ‘perfected’. There is always something new to learn, something to understand more deeply, something to execute better in performance.

But there are some first steps that will get you started quickly. More quickly than me! So, whilst you are putting in the time to internalise the collected wisdom of Quintilian, Bulwer & Bonifacio, to memorise the complete works of Shakespeare and/or to translate all the ‘opera’ libretti from Anima e Corpo (1600) to Poppea (1643),  to learn all of Negri’s courtly dances, and to become a rapier-master according to Capo Ferro, here are some quick and easy short-cuts, literally from the ground up.

 

Start here

 

 

1. Historical Stance

Whenever you stand to sing/speak, practising at home, in the rehearsal room or on stage, adopt a historical stance. You can also practise this whilst waiting for a bus, an airport security check, or to pay for your coffee. Renaissance courtiers had to stand like this all day, so it became second nature to them. The aim is to minimise body tension, whilst still looking cool: ideal for standing around at court, waiting for your opportunity to shine. The technical term for this is contrapposto, an elegantly assymmetrical stance:

Stand diagonally-on to your audience.

With your weight on one leg.

The other (unweighted) leg is your ‘ornamental leg’. It is elegantly bent. Let the audience see how good it looks.

Relax, and let the weight fall through the weighted leg into the floor.

When you need to shift position, just change the weight into the other leg.

Contrapposto

There is much more, as you can read in any history of art study of the contrapposto, but this is a good start. Practise it whenever you have half a chance!

 

2. Hands

Hold your script, or your musical score, in your LEFT hand. Now your right hand is free to gesture. This simple trick allows you to integrate gesture with your artistic preparation right from the beginning and throughout the rehearsal period, even into non-memorised performance. Let your RIGHT hand assume the default historical shape, as illustrated by Barnett.

 

056 Barnett 1

Imagine your right hand is holding a tennis ball. Relax, so that you are not using any more strength than is needed for that tennis ball’s weight.

Bring your middle and ring fingers together.

Let your index finger open outwards, and bring your little finger inwards a little.

If you turn this hand-shape over, it becomes an elegantly curved pointing gesture.

 

057 Barnett 2

 

Try it!

 

3. Eyes

This is what I call the Ut Pictura (like a picture) technique. As you study your text, create a detailed imaginary vision of precisely what everything looks like, with period iconography as a guide to keep your vision historically focussed. As you deliver the text, look at what you are talking about. Let your eyes and face show how you feel about what you ‘see’.

 

Alessandro Turchi 'Bacchus & Ariadne' (c1630). Historical Action is more than just Baroque Gesture.

You will quickly notice how often baroque texts employ detailed visual imagery and such pointing words as “Look”, “Here”, “Now” etc. The more specific, detailed and precise your imagined vision, the more specific and interesting your eye-movements will be for the audience.

 

Further Study

No, these three first steps will not make you a master of Baroque Gesture. But they will create the conditions in which you can study and practise further. See my upcoming posts on what you might do next. And meanwhile, you have plenty of reading to do, in between those dance and swordsmanship classes!

 

Part 2 of this series, Modus Agendi, or How to Act is here.

 

Bulwer & Bonifaccio

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our websites:

www.TheHarpConsort.com  [the ensemble, early harps & Early Music]

http://www.IlCorago.com   [the production company & Historical Action]

http://www.TheFlow.Zone  [Flow for optimal creativity, The Zone for elite performance]

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago. From 2011 to 2015 he was Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions. He is now preparing a translation of Bonifacio’s (1616) Art of Gesture and a book on The Theatre of Dreams: The Science of Historical Action.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Opera & The Beginning of Baroque

This is a slide-show introduction, based on lecture given to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Theatre Natalya Satz, Moscow (the original home of Peter and the Wolf), following the 45th performance of the theatre’s award-winning production of Anima & Corpo. Nevertheless, this post draws on the latest research findings, and there may be some surprises, even for seasoned baroque fans!

 

Emilio de Cavalieri's 'Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo' (1600) is indeed the 'first opera'. Jacopo Peri, whose 'Euridice' was performed later the same year, acknowledges Cavalieri's role as originator of the style. (Earlier music-dramas by these two composers, notably Peri's 'Dafne', have not survived.) So why would Cavalieri and his contemporaries seek to develop a new theatrical genre of fully-sung plays?

Emilio de Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo (1600) is indeed the ‘first opera’. Jacopo Peri, whose Euridice was performed later the same year, acknowledges Cavalieri’s role as originator of the style. (Earlier music-dramas by these two composers, notably Peri’s Dafne, have not survived.) So why would Cavalieri and his contemporaries seek to develop a new theatrical genre of fully-sung plays?

What are the three secrets of great performance

17th-century writers were still re-telling a story going back via Quintilian and Cicero to Demosthenes (4th cent. BC). The question was posed:

 

What are the three secrets of great performance?

Action Action Action

 

Demosthenes’ first answer was “Action!”. And his second answer was “Action!”, And his third answer was also “Action”.

Greek Drama

Meanwhile, in the decades before the year 1600, philosophers of performance were impressed by the emotional power of the ancient Greek and Roman dramas, which (they believed) had been fully sung. So Cavalieri and his colleagues wanted Action in their music, and Music in their dramas: fully-sung music-drama was the epitome of their beliefs in the power of performance.

The modern label 'first opera' encourages us to consider all that came after Cavalieri. But to understand his work, we need to view it in its own historical context. And we should be cautious: even though this is sophisticated, dramatically powerful, fully-sung music-theatre, Cavalieri did not call it 'opera'. It is a 'Rappresentatione', a 'show'. It is not 'primitive', but it certainly is different from our modern expectations.

The modern label ‘first opera’ encourages us to consider all that came after Cavalieri. But to understand his work, we need to view it in its own historical context. And we should be cautious: even though this is sophisticated, dramatically powerful, fully-sung music-theatre, Cavalieri did not call it ‘opera’. It is a Rappresentatione, a ‘show’. It is not ‘primitive’, but it certainly is different from our modern expectations.

Tardis

Not ‘primitive’ but DIFFERENT…

… might well be our motto, as we climb into our time-machine in order to explore Planet Earth, circa 1600.

 

Architecture and Art

This was an age of impressive architecture: as assistant to Michelangelo, Cavalieri’s father Tommaso was closely involved with the building of St Peter’s Rome. Painting became ever more dramatic, culminating in the chiaroscuro of Caravaggio. Even religious subjects were depicted with theatrical bravura: Tommaso de Cavalieri was the model for Adam in Michelangelo’s frescos for the Sistine Chapel.

Exploration and Science

The exploration of the Americas continued, charted by sophisticated world maps. Galileo trained his telescope on the moons of Jupiter, and also experimented with gravity at the tower of Pisa.

Music Dance Swordsmanship

Italian ladies and gentleman at court would spend much of their time making music in madrigal groups or consorts of viols. Several hours each day would be spent learning and performing new social dances. And a couple more hours daily were devoted to practising swordsmanship, with the fashionable rapier, well over 1 metre long, with a needle point and razor-sharp edges.

Circa 1600

There was plenty of new music. Cavalieri’s opera was quickly followed by Caccini’s Le nuove musiche (1601/2), the first collection of songs with continuo-bass  accompaniment, which includes the famous Amarilli, mia bella. In 1607, Monteverdi’s ‘story in music’ Orfeo was performed: Aggazzari’s treatise from that year, Del sonare sopra’ l basso explains how many different kinds of instrument could improvise accompaniments from the same continuo-bass notation. In 1610, Monteverdi’s magnificent Vespers mixed old-style polyphony with the new techniques of continuo-song; Capo Ferro’s survey of rapier swordsmanship is from the same year. In England, this was the age of Shakespeare’s plays (full of music, of course) and Dowland’s melancholic lute-music.

Dowland

In 1609 Dowland also translated into English an influential book on singing, Ornithoparcus’ Micrologus, in which he emphasises the particular importance of rhythm.

 

 

 

Instruments

Violin family

Violin-family instruments from the late 16th century are still regarded today as the finest ever made. Praetorius’ 1619 diagram shows violin, viola, cello and related instruments, together with a surviving cello by Amati. Nowadays, these wonderful instruments have been altered, by changing the angle of the fingerboard to increase the string tension. But around 1600, violins were held in a relaxed way on the shoulder, were strung more lightly, and were not encumbered by chin-rests, tuning screws and shoulder rests. With its original set-up, the instrument is not as loud as a modern violin, but is more direct and responsive. If a modern violin is like a big, luxurious limousine, then a baroque violin is like a sports-car: lighter, more manoeuvrable, and (I would say), more fun to drive!

Shawms and Dulcians

The early-17th-century predecessor of the oboe was the Shawm, which was made in various sizes from soprano to bass. The double-reed is surrounded by a wooden ‘pirouette’ to support the player’s lips. The Dulcian is the ancestor of the bassoon, and also came in various sizes from bass to soprano. Whereas nowadays we consider oboes to be the high register and bassoons the low register of a single ‘family’ of instruments, in Cavalieri’s time they were two distinct consorts, each with a complete range from treble to bass.

Cornetts and Sackbuts

Baroque trombones, known in English as Sackbuts, have a narrower bore than their modern descendants. Like baroque strings, they are not as loud as modern instruments, but more precise and flexible in their sound. Praetorius shows the trombone family from bass to alto. The upper register of this consort is represented by the Cornetto, made from wood, with leather wrapped around it. It has a wooden mouth-piece similar to a trumpet’s, and finger-holes in the tube similar to a flute. The sound is somewhere in-between a trumpet and a flute, and was considered in this period to be the closest to the sound of the human voice. That gives us a clue to the sound-world of circa-1600 singing: not as loud as modern opera singers, but clear, precise and very flexible.

Trumpets and Drums

Trumpets and drums were originally military instruments, and are still today associated with royalty. Baroque trumpets have no valves; the different pitches, including extreme high notes, are created with sophisticated lip-technique.

 

Divided Choirs

 

We can recognise the descendants of these early baroque consorts in the various sections of a modern orchestra. But around 1600, large groups of instruments were not formed into a single ensemble, but were rather distributed around the available space in groups of 4 to 7. Each group was considered to be a ‘choir’, that might mix instruments and voices, or might be homogenous, e.g. contrasting a string ‘choir’ with a wind ‘choir’.

 

Continuo

 

Continuo

You can view and download for free a full-size version of this poster here.

 

The most important instrumental section in the first operas has no equivalent in a modern orchestra. The Continuo section brings together a variety of instruments with the common purpose of providing harmonic support and rhythmic direction, guiding the entire company of instruments and voices. Like the rhythm section of a jazz-band, Continuo-players define the rhythmic structure, respond to the various soloists and add decorative touches of their own. Agazzari’s 1607 treatise Del Sonare sopra’l  basso here explains how each type of instrument contributes to the Continuo.

renaissance organ

The organo di legno, or chamber Organ, has wooden pipes, and plays sustained harmonies in the low register, to support the voices and melodic instruments.

Harpsichord

The Harpsichord has metal strings; when you press a key, a wooden jack rises past the string, so that a small plectrum (shaped from a bird-quill) can pluck the string upwards. As you release the key, the jack descends and a piece of felt is lowered onto the string to stop the sound. The sound is not as loud as a modern piano, but is clear and rhythmically precise. In this style, the Harpsichord also plays simple harmonies in the low register, defining the essential harmonic and rhythmic foundation.

Regal

 

The Regal, or reed-organ, has metal pipes; when air enters the pipe, a metal tongue vibrates against a metal half-tube, and this vibration is amplified by the metal resonator. The sound is strong and rather nasal. If the wooden Organ suits scenes of heaven, or pastoral idylls on earth, then the Regal is ‘the organ from Hell’!

Theorbo

The most essential instrument in an early Italian continuo-section is the Theorbo, also known as Chitarrone. This is the double-bass instrument of the lute family, with two necks. The strings on the first neck run over a fingerboard, and produce a strong melodic bass, with chords in the tenor/alto register. The second neck is much longer, and these strings have no fingerboard; they give another octave of sub-bass notes, that provide a powerful rhythmic impulse and a long sustain that supports the harmonic arpeggio of the upper strings.

Arpa doppia

Around 1600, the harp doubled in size in order to create a strong sub-bass register comparable to the Theorbo’s. The Italian arpa doppia (double harp) has multiple rows of strings, arranged like the black and white notes of a keyboard, so that all harmonies and chromatic changes are available, just as on the harpsichord or organ.

The harp also has a full soprano register, so that it plays a unique role in the continuo section, defining fundamental structure alongside keyboards and theorbo, and also providing decorative touches in the higher register.

Baroque guitar

The baroque guitar has a plucking technique for solo repertoire, but in the Continuo section it usually provides rhythmic energy and decorative colour by strumming.

Read more about Agazzari’s categories of fundamental and decorative instruments here.

Theorbo + Organ

 

The combination of harpsichord and cello is typical of 18th-century music. In the early 17th-century, the usual pair is theorbo and organ.

 

Realising the Continuo

All the different instruments of the Continuo section play from the same bass-line, which may (or may not) have additional information about the harmonies indicated by figures above or below each note. But whilst they read from the same part, each player improvises the harmonies and any decorative touches according to the role and capabilities of each instrument: this is referred to as ‘realising’ the continuo.

 

No conducting!

No Conducting

One prominent figure in modern opera, the conductor who moulds the rhythm and guides the orchestra with his hand or baton, was not seen in the 17th century. Early Music was not conducted. The role of guiding the rhythm belonged to the Continuo section, as Agazzari tells us.

Of course, there would be someone to coordinate the rehearsals and make whatever decisions were needed. This job was done by Il Corago, who was usually the Artistic Director of the entire production, responsible not only for musical coordination, but also for guiding the actors, dancers, scene-builders, lighting technicians (sophisticated lighting effects were obtained from massed candles), and stuntmen (acrobats and sword-fighters). Cavalieri himself was a Corago, with a working knowledge of all of these disciplines, so that he could co-ordinate the contributions of each specialist.

When there was a large musical ensemble, it would be spatially divided into several groups, each of which would have a time-beater to synchronise the rhythm within the group and between one group and the others. The frontispiece of Praetorius’ Theatre of Instruments shows this practice in action, with a large ensemble divided into three ‘choirs’ of instruments and voices. Each choir has its own time-beater, and the three time-beaters watch each other to synchronise the beat.

Priorities

Modern Topics

Today, discussions about Early Music often focus on the question of Vibrato. Period diagrams show the typical shape of long notes: a ‘plain note’ begins softly and then swells out (there is no vibrato); a ‘waved note’ similarly begins softly, and adds vibrato as the sound swells out.

Another topic of modern debate is the question of pitch. Around 1600, in the south of Italy, the pitch was lower than today’s standard of A440; in the north it was higher. In central Italy, it was somewhere in between. Bruce Haynes’ The Story of A here tells the History of Performing Pitch in great detail.

Subtle choices of precisely how to tune each note of a keyboard instrument or harp are studied as Temperament. Whereas on the modern piano, Eb and D# sound the same and are played from the same key, in historical Temperaments these are two subtly different pitches. Some keyboards have double keys for the black notes, baroque harps have extra strings, in order to facilitate this fine distinction. The typical Temperament circa 1600 is known as Quarter-Comma Meantone: it produces beautifully pure major thirds, making consonances sweeter and dissonances sharper.

These are the hot topics amongst many of todays’ Early Music practitioners. But what were the priorities for musicians and singers performing Anima & Corpo in the year 1600? The original print is here, and Caccini’s Le Nuove Musiche tells us how to approach it:

The Interpretation of Early Music

Music is Text + Rhythm, and sound last of all.

“And not the other way around”, Caccini emphasises.

Text and Rhythm

These historical priorities guided my international research program into Text, Rhythm, Action! over the last five years, reported here, and I apply them in all my practical work, training musicians and directing performances for audiences today.

Text

Text

Period sources insist on the importance of communicating the text to the audience, so for the production at Theatre Natalya Satz, we wanted to speak to the audience directly in their own Russian language. Great care was taken to synchronise the translation with the ‘word-painting’ of Cavalieri’s music, in which every single word is individually set to music. Poet Alexey Parin worked together with specialist musicians Ivan Velikanov, Katerina Antonenko and myself, to preserve the close links between text and music.

Word Painting

At the beginning of the drama, the first notes are immediately repeated – not because a series of repeated Fs makes a wonderful melody, but in order to repeat the word for emphasis, just as a fine orator would do: “Time… Time”.

In this period, the term Aria has a different meaning; it signifies any repeated structure in words, rhythm, harmony or melody. The metric patterning of the verses Hoggi vien fore, Doman si more, Hoggi n’appare, Doman dispare [Today Life comes forth, tomorrow it dies; today it appears, tomorrow it disappears] is matched by similar patterns in the melodic contours, rhythms and harmonies of Cavalieri’s music. This, in early-17th-century terms, is another Aria, just like the repetition of the single word Tempo, along with its carefully set music.

If the text refers to Heaven above, ciel soprano, the singer will pitch his voice high. If the text mentions a party, festa, the music swings into fast triple-time. Just as an actor in a spoken play will raise his voice to indicate a question, so Cavalieri sets questions on rising pitches.

Text and music are so closely linked that many musical features are not Cavalieri’s compositorial choices, but rather his sensitive responses to the demands of the poetry. Similarly, many performance practices are not the performers’ artistic inspiration, but rather their sensitive responses to the demands of the text and the historical expectations of this musical style.

Treatises

Many explanatory texts survive to inform us of those historical expectations, including a Preface with Cavalieri’s own indications how to perform this kind of music-drama, Agazzari’s treatise on Continuo already mentioned, and the anonymous c1630 guide for a music-theatre’s artistic director, Il Corago.

Rhythm

Rhythm

Although there were no conductors in this period, musicians, whether soloists,or in duet, trio and larger ensembles, would beat time with their hand, palm downwards, down for about one second, up for one second. This slow, steady beat was known as the Tactus. Read more about Tactus here.

What is music

Music itself was understood to be the Music of the Spheres – mysteriously produced by the perfect motion of the stars and planets; the harmonious nature of the human body; and – last of all – actual sounds sung and played on earth. So musical rhythm represents that perfect heavenly movement, rhythm is life itself.

 

Proportions

Just as clockwork produces various speeds of rotation from one fundamental movement, so 17th-century musicians perceived the different orbits of the planets to be meshed together and turned by the hand of God. This philosophy is imitated in musical Proportions, by which the constant slow Tactus beat is divided into 2, 3 or 6, to create duple, tripla and sestupla metres. A Proportion of 3:2 creates Sesquialtera metre.

What is Time

Time, like Music, was celestial and embodied, measured by the cosmos and the human pulse, better than by clocks. The sun shows the time of day and fixes the moment of noon, the stars show the changes of the seasons. Our pulse measures shorter time-spans, of the order of seconds.

Galileo Pendulum

 

Galileo discovered the pendulum effect in 1582, observing a chandelier in Pisa cathedral, but the first pendulum clock was not built until 1656. So Galileo’s observations were timed against his own pulse – there was no more accurate clock.

Galileo Inclined Plane

For his experiments on gravity in 1607, Galileo had to time a ball rolling down an inclined plane to an accuracy of fractions of a second. This was far beyond the capabilities of any period clock, and required finer gradations than a pulse-beat. The solution was found in the precision of musical rhythm – if a minim is about one second, then semi-quavers define an eighth of a second.

You can try for yourself an on-line simulation of Galileo’s experiment, precision-timed by lute-music, here.

Newton and Aristotle

For most of us, our intuitive understanding of Time is based on Newton’s model of Absolute Time: Time itself continues ever-onward, independent of other variables. We we can measure the accuracy of a clock, or the daily changes in the precise time of solar noon, against the fixed scale of Newton’s Time. But Newton published in 1687, and it was many decades before his concepts gained general acceptance. In the year 1600, the accepted model of Time was Aristotle’s:

Time is a number of change/movement, in respect of before and after.

Without an Absolute scale to measure by, without the assurance that Time would march independently onwards, “change/movement” was required to create a “before and after” that would allow Time to be numbered. So musical Time, i.e. rhythm, was not only indicated by the hand-movement of the Tactus, it required such movement (at least as a concept) in order to exist at all. The movement of the cosmos, driven by the hand of God, not only measured time, but created it. Just as the heart-beat sustains life, so the steadiness of the musical Tactus was necessary for human health and indeed, for the preservation of the entire universe.

Read more about the philosophy of Time and musical Rhythm here.

Action!

Plato Kronos Kairos

The first character to appear in the first opera is Old Father Time, and his first words (repeated) are Il Tempo. Time is a crucial topic in this drama, understood within Platonic philosophy. The fleeting present moment is a moving image of Eternity, the point of contact between human life and infinite destiny, between earthly actions and the eternal struggle of Good and Evil.

There are two Greek words that we translate as ‘Time’ or in Italian, tempo. Chronological time, clock time, is Greek kronos, whereas kairos signifies the moment of opportunity. For a swordsman, kairos is the crucial instant of time when you must defend yourself to save your life, or when you might safely attack your opponent.

The Art of the Sword

 

Monteverdi wrote a one-act opera entitled Combattimento, a music-drama of sword-fighting. Opera-singer Julie d’Aubigny, known as La Maupin, was the best duellist of her age. Many dancing-masters were also fencing instructors, and the anonymous sword-master of Bologna declared that swordsmen needed the same precision timing as singers!

Capo Ferro’s 1610 Gran Simulacrum teaches the Art of the Sword, as applied to the long, needle-point, razor-sharp Italian rapier. If your opponent points his sword at your heart, you turn your (right) sword-hand palm-up and leftwards, so that your sword crosses his and protects you. His likely response is to dip his sword-point underneath your blade, and threaten your right shoulder instead. Now you will have to turn your sword-hand palm down and rightwards, pushing his sword aside so that you can lunge forwards and strike with the point of your sword.

Act with the hand, act with the heart!

Act with the heart, act with the hand

 

As we are told in the first scene of Anima & Corpo, historical acting linked emotional force to expressive hand-gestures. All the Action is founded on the poetic text, of course, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet instructs the Players:

Suit the Action to the Word

Bulwer Gestures

 

John Bulwer’s Chironomia (1644) shows gestures for Attention, for stylish Action, and for Antitheses (opposites): ‘on one hand…. on the other hand…’. Another way to Distinguish Contraries rotates the right hand palm-up and leftwards, then palm-down and out to the right.

To be or not to be

 

We could imagine such gestures being performed in Shakespeare’s most famous line from Hamlet:

To be or not to be, that’s the question

First we Distinguish Contraries  (to be, or not to be), and then we direct the audience’s Attention (the question). So To be (right hand palm-up and leftwards), or not to be (palm-down and out to the right), that’s (with index finger raised and the hand sent forwards, step forward to command the audience’s attention) the question.

If you try it for yourself, this sequence of movements might seem familiar to you: it is very similar to the sequence that we studied as a sword-drill, opposing to the left, turning the hand to close the line on the right, and then lunging forwards to strike.

Sword talk

Both Hamlet and Anima & Corpo are full of the language of sword-play. In Cavalieri’s masterpiece, the Guardian Angel would traditionally carry a sword, and the composer provides suitably martial music with G major harmonies and battle rhythms – the same harmonies and rhythms encountered a quarter-century later in Monteverdi’s Combattimento.

Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Cavalieri’s Anima & Corpo explores timeless questions of life and death by means of a fashionable vocabulary of sword-action. The English Play and the Italian Rappresentatione are each monuments of cultural achievement and artistic innovation: certainly not ‘primitive’, but endlessly fascinating and thought-provokingly different.

Anima e Corpo Golden Mask

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our websites www.TheHarpConsort.com

www.IlCorago.com and www.TheFlow.Zone

 

Text, Rhythm, Action! Research, Training & Performance

In the field of Early Opera, do you think it might be good to integrate academic research with continuing professional development,  advanced training and international-level performance?

Read more…

Jacopo Peri

PERFORMANCE PRIORITIES

Amongst all the myriad details of performance that have fascinated actors, musicians and audiences over the ages, in the 17th century, the age of Shakespeare, Dowland & Purcell, of Monteverdi and the first Italian operas, what were the highest priorities?
Caccini (1601) defines Music as:

Text and Rhythm, with Sound last of all. And not the other way around!

Text, Rhythm and Sound

Bulwer (1644), via Quintilian and Cicero, cites Demosthenes’ three points of Eloquence:

Action! Action! Action!

Demosthenes Cicero Quintilian

These historical priorities guided Andrew Lawrence-King’s 5-year investigation of Text, Rhythm, Action! at the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions and with Il Corago, the production company for historical staging. You can download a full illustrated report from the Il Corago website, here.

In this post, scroll down for Research, Training, Performance, Publications  & (lots of) Links.

A UNIQUE INTERNATIONAL PROGRAM OF RESEARCH, TRAINING & PERFORMANCE

With a unique combination of academic rigour, unified focus, practitioner expertise and international scope, this program applied historical research to the development of new training methods for modern performers in some 2 dozen award-winning staged productions of Early Modern music-dramas and Historical Action worldwide.

AWARDS & PUBLICATIONS

Lawrence-King’s musical direction of the ‘first opera’, Cavalieri’s Anima & Corpo, won Russia’s highest theatrical award, the Golden Mask. During the period of this investigation, he also received the U.S. Grammy, Australian Helpmann and two Spanish Premios de la Música for collaborations with Jordi Savall.

Two documentary-films, a mini-documentary and many video clips have already been released. Research insights are debated on the TRA blog here at http://www.AndrewLawrenceKing.com. Now Professor Lawrence-King has begun to write up his findings formally in book chapters, articles for academic journals and in several forthcoming books.

Golden Mask

RESEARCH

Our initial Question was almost naïve: how can baroque gesture be convincing for modern audiences? This opened up two paths, which both led back to the dramatic Text via investigations of Rhythm (in poetry, music and movement) and of Embodiment (posture, gesture, mind/body interactions). Whereas the romantic tradition glorifies performers’ genius, 17th-century philosophy respects the poetic text (which, nevertheless, is realised with improvised creativity) and privileges the audience.

 

 

Musical Rhythm is understood within period concepts of Time itself. As an element of Rhetoric, the Art of Gesture is embedded in the Science of Historical Action. In this ancient, intuitive model of how poetry, music & drama induce psychological and physiological changes amongst performers and audiences, Enargeia (the emotional power of detail) creates imaginary Visions that use the mind-body force of Pneuma to stir up the Four Humours.

Our research Aim is to develop rehearsal methodologies that empower modern-day performers to Use the historical principles of the 17th-century Art of Rhetoric within the framework of period Science. Andrew Lawrence-King’s Method is grounded on close reading of such key historical sources as
Cavalieri & Peri (1600), Bonifacio (1616) & Bulwer (1644), the anonymous Il Corago (c1630). These well-known texts are re-evaluated in the light of period Philosophy, in which Time, Pneuma & Music all exhibit a complex, threefold structure that connects mondana – the heavenly & mysterious, with humana – the human & embodied, and instrumentalis – the practical and interactive.

New understandings were debated in seminars and conferences, applied in workshops and rehearsals, and tested in the real world of live performance with a wide range of modern audiences. Interim Findings – on Pre-Newtonian Time, Musical Tactus, No Conducting!, Medieval music-drama, Commencing Continuo, Redefining Recitative, Pepys’ Shakespeare Speech, Pneuma, Enargeia, Music & Consciousness, 17th-century Hypnosis, Baroque Gesture:
What’s the Point? – have been reported at conferences & public lectures at Cambridge, Oxford, Yale, Vienna, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Singapore, Moscow, St Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Ghent, Basel, Helsinki, Galway, Kilkenny, Budapest, London etc.

 

Alessandro Turchi 'Bacchus & Ariadne' (c1630). Historical Action is more than just Baroque Gesture.

Alessandro Turchi ‘Bacchus & Ariadne’ (c1630). Historical Action is more than just Baroque Gesture.

 

TRAINING

17th-century writers present Art as a set of principles, a coherent collection of rules which we can study and apply to today’s Historically Informed Performance. The period concept of Use refers to the nitty-gritty of practical experience: a key element of Andrew Lawrence-King’s work is to devise new
training methodologies that facilitate modern-day performers’ acquiring the skill-sets needed to apply rules of historical Art. The study of profoundly spiritual, cosmic matters beyond the everyday and mundane, the mysterious power of emotions, the magic of the theatre, is the realm of renaissance
Science.

The training focus is historical expertise rather than romantic character analysis or the 20th-century search for motivation: first acquire Thomas Betterton’s (or La Florinda’s) skill-set, then play Hamlet (or Arianna)! Accordingly, we do not rehearse a particular interpretation; rather we teach principles that empower performers to improvise collectively a stylish realisation of text, music & action. Participants do not just memorise a production; we help them develop baroque skills which they can re-apply throughout their careers.

We practice what we preach. The priorities established by historical research are put into effect in professional training: Text – for each hour of rehearsal, 50 minutes are devoted to detailed text-work; Tactus – every performer shares responsibility for maintaining the rhythmic pulse; there is, of course, no conductor; Gesture – supported by period posture and the force of Pneuma; the emotional power of Enargeia – detailed visual description; Visions – mindful attention to the Text creates imagined visions that stir up emotions for performers and spectators; Deictics – the fundamental importance of ‘pointing words’; Ut pictura – how to make historical gesture ‘work’ for modern audiences.

Professional standards – well-structured rehearsals, directorial competence, clarity and consistency of coaching, respect for participants and audiences; state-of-the-art Early Music, Historical Dance and period Swordsmanship; cutting-edge modern understandings of the mind/body interactions of Flow, the Zone, Feldenkrais Method and Neuro-Learning – brain plasticity, myelination, hypnosis; the Structure of Magic – Neuro-linguistic Programming and 17th-century Rhetoric, the modern & historical arts of persuasive language.

Lasciate i monti

PERFORMANCE

Scroll down for Publications  & (lots of) Links.

HISTORICALLY INFORMED STAGED PRODUCTIONS OF EARLY MODERN MUSIC-DRAMAS

Monteverdi Orfeo (1607) ALK (stage & music), SP (movement), JD, KA (assistants); Royal Danish Academy of Music, Copenhagen Christianskerke: Tactus, Art of Gesture. New edition. Handbook on Baroque Gesture. Conference Ghent Orpheus Centre, Full-length documentary film.

 

Cavalieri Anima & Corpo (1600) GI (modern staging), ALK (music), KA, IV (assistants); Natalya Satz Theatre, Moscow. Word-painting, Tactus, Continuo. New edition (Russian translation AP, KA, ALK). First staged performance in Russia. Golden Mask Award. 42 performances (continues in repertoire). TV and radio interviews.

 

Purcell Dido & Aeneas (1689) ALK (stage & music), SP (dance), KA (assistant); Concerto Copenhagen, Copenhagen Town Hall. Dance & Gesture, training methodologies. New edition (dances & incidental music)

 

Landi La Morte d’Orfeo (1619) ALK (stage & music), XDL (music), KA (stage), DV (designer) EMS (dance) AS (swordsmanship); International Baroque Opera Studio, St Petersburg Philharmonic. First staged performance in modern times. Tactus, Art of Gesture, Enargeia, Visions, Historical scenery/lighting, Ut Pictura. New edition. Article Musicologial Journal of Moscow Conservatoire. Radio & TV interviews.

 

 

Ludus Danielis (c1200) ALK (stage & music), KA (assistant, gestures); The Harp Consort & Ars Nova Denmark, Copenhagen Marmorkirke: Medieval gesture, conductus (rhythm & improvised polyphony), pitch. New edition. Conference Budapest University, mini-documentary film.

 

 

Orgambide Oratorio del Nacimiento ALK (music & stage), KA (designer, stage) The Harp Consort, Ourense Cathedral, Festival Portico de Paraiso. First performance in Spain in modern times. Spanish recitado, Art of Gesture, Tactus, Enargeia. Public lecture by Dr Maria Teresa Ferrer. TV & radio interviews. New edition.

 

 

Monteverdi Combattimento (1624) ALK (music & stage), GW (swordsmanship consultant), DR (fight director), SP (dance), KA (stage) Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London Wallace Collection. New edition. Public lectures, post-performance panel discussion with Prof John Sloboda. Conference Cambridge University with Prof John Sloboda. BBC Radio interview.

 

 

Ludus Danielis (c1200) ALK (stage & music), KA (designer & stage); The Harp Consort & St Michaels Schola Cantorum, Galway Early Music Festival. Emotions in Action, Medieval Gestures. Public lecture National University of Ireland, full-length documentary film. Radio interviews.

 

Orgambide Oratorio del Nacimiento ALK (music & stage), KA (designer) Insula Magica, Novosibirsk Philharmonic. First performance in Russia. Spanish recitado, Art of Gesture, Tactus, Enargeia. Public lecture. TV & radio interviews.

 

 

Orgambide Oratorio del Nacimiento ALK (music & stage), KA (designer) Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London. Spanish recitado, Art of Gesture, Tactus, Enargeia. Presentation by Dr Anthony Trippett.

 

 

Cavalieri Anima & Corpo (1600) ALK (music & stage); Durham University Opera Society, Durham Great Hall. Tactus, Continuo, Enargeia, Visions. New edition.

 

Purcell King Arthur (1691) ALK (music & stage), Poznan Academy of Music. New edition. Continuo, French violin bowing, Gesture, Speech/Song/Recitative, Ut Pictura. Radio interviews.

 

Hidalgo Celos aun del aire matan (1660) ALK (music) GI (stage) KA (translation) Moscow, Theatre Natalya Satz Text, Tactus, Spanish Continuo New edition (Russian translation).New edition. TV & radio interviews.

 

Medieval Kalevala ALK (music, stage, concept) KK (stage, text) The Harp Consort, Montalbane Festival Medieval storytelling & gesture

 

Carissimi Jeptha ALK (music, stage), MB (vocal coach), KA (assistant). St Petersburg. New edition. TV & radio interviews. Art of Gesture, Tactus.

 

Peri Euridice (1600) ALK (stage & music), SP (movement), KA (assistant); Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London Lumen Centre. Continuo, Art of Gesture, Posture, Visions. New edition (version for 5 singers). Conference Cambridge University, mini-documentary film

Ourense Angel

Nicole Jordan as the Angel in Orgambide’s ‘Oratorio del Nacimiento’

PERFORMANCES WITH TEXT, RHYTHM, ACTION!

 

Monteverdi Vespers (1610) ALK (music); Alta Capella, Moscow Lutheran Cathedral. Tactus, Continuo, Visions. Radio broadcast, radio & TV interviews. New synoptic edition. Public Lecture. First performance in Russia.

Gibbons, Dowland, Holborne, Morelli Shakespeare’s Music (17th cent) ALK (stage & music), Alta Capella, Moscow Conservatoire of Music. Text, Tactus, Pepys on Shakespeare.Public lecture. Radio & TV interviews.

Gibbons, Dowland, Lawes The Masque of Time (17th cent) ALK (artistic director, script & concept), EB (music), VN (stage) Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Canterbury St Gregory’s Centre and London. Tactus, Gesture, Dance, Philosophy of Music & Time.

 

Schutz, Schein In Friede (17th cent) ALK (music & gesture), Royal Danish Academy of Music, Copenhagen Chapel Royal Tactus, Art of Gesture New editions.

 

Lully, D’Anglebert Choregraphie (1700) ALK (music), KM (dance), The Harp Consort, Edinburgh International Harp Festival Tactus, Dance New editions.

 

Monteverdi, Peri, Caccini, Cavalieri Favola in Musica (c1600) ALK (artistic director, concept) MB (voice) XLD (continuo) SP (dance) The Harp Consort, St Petersburg Early Music Festival, Feldkirchen Festival, Hamburg Bucerius Kunst Forum The First Operas, Tactus, Continuo Radio interview & broadcast.

 

Dowland, Purcell The Dark Side (17th cent) ALK (music, stage, concept) SP (movement) The Harp Consort, Graz List Halle Text, Tactus, Art of Gesture

 

Vite e Voce (Vasari 500th anniversary )ALK (music, concept) Ensemble L’Homme Armé, Florence, Museo Sarto. Baroque gesture & Fine Art

 

Ars Musicae (Vasari 500th anniversary) ALK (music, concept) Florence, Museo Sarto Design & perspective in Art ~ form & proportion in Music

 

Hebro with head of Orfeo 2

Anton Varentsov as the River Hebro with the head of Orpheus in Landi’s ‘La morte d’Orfeo’

 

WORKSHOP PERFORMANCES, STUDY PROJECTS ETC

Monteverdi Lamento di Arianna (1614) (ensemble version) ALK (stage & music). Study project at Helsinki Metropolia. Conference London GSMD.

 

Monteverdi Lamento di Arianna (1608) (solo version) ALK (stage & music). Study project at Sibelius Academy, Finland. Conference Perth WA. Seminar Melbourne.

 

Monteverdi Madrigali Guerrieri & Amorosi (1638) ALK (music), Melbourne Early Music Studio. Tactus, Swordsmanship, Visions.

 

Dowland, Purcell, Morelli The Dark Side (17th cent) ALK (music): Melbourne Early Music Studio Melancholy, Speech/Song/Recitative Conference Sydney University

 

Malvezzi, Cavalieri, Gabrieli etc Rappresentationi (excerpts from 1589 Florentine Intermedi, etc)  St Petersburg. ALK (stage & music), MB (vocal coach), KA (assistant).

 

Monteverdi Lettera Amorosa (1619) ALK (stage & music). Study project at Royal Danish Academy of Music, Copenhagen. Paper for Letters2 conference, Lisbon; presentation at Books & Music Conference, Newcastle. Enargeia, gendered Gesture

 

 

Purcell Dido & Aeneas (1689) ALK & AM (stage & music); Sydney Conservatorium Redefining Recitative, Art of Gesture

 

Baroque Gesture: What’s the Point?

Workshop for advanced students and professorial staff at ESMUC, Barcelona

Workshop for theatre researchers, Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama & Performance Studies.
Workshop for movement researchers, Dalcroze Conference, Vienna.
Workshop, Edinburgh International Harp Festival
Workshop, Kilkenny

 

The Theatre of Dreams: La Musica hypnotises the Heroes

Workshop for advanced students and professorial staff at ESMUC, Barcelona.
Workshop for research students at Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London.

 

Seminar on Historical Action ALK with Dionysios Kyropoulos at New College, Oxford

 

Redefining Recitative Workshop at Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London.

 

Landi La Morte d’Orfeo (1619)

Workshop at Theatre Natalya Satz, Moscow.
Workshop at Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music, St Petersburg

 

Music & Rhetoric Public Lecture & Workshop, Moscow Conservatoire of Music. Radio/TV.

 

A Baroque History of Time

Public Lecture, St Petersburg Derzhavin Museum.
Public Lecture, University of Adelaide
Public Lecture, Kilkenny

 

Modes of Emotion Public Lecture, Kilkenny

 

Empfindsamkeit Workshop, Moscow Theatre Natalya Satz

 

Landi Sant’ Alessio (1631) ALK (stage, music), Basel Schola Cantorum, workshop performance. Tactus, Continuo
Etc…

MEET THE DIRECTORIAL TEAM

 

ALK Andrew Lawrence-King, AM Alan Maddox, AS Anton Semenov, DR Dave Rawlings, DV Danil Verdenikov, EB Emily Baines, EMS Ekaterina Mikhailova-Smolnyakova, GI Georgy Isaakian, GW Guy Windsor, JD Jane Davidson, KA Katerina Antonenko, KK Karoliina Kantolinen, KM Karin Modigh, KZ Klim Zhukov, IV Ivan Velikanov, MB Marco Beasley, SP Steven Player, SG Stephen Grant, VN Victoria Newman, XDL Xavier Diaz-Latorre

Marco Scavazza as the Devil in Orgambide's 'Oratorio del nacimiento'

Marco Scavazza as the Devil in Orgambide’s ‘Oratorio del nacimiento’

PUBLICATIONS & LINKS

Book Chapters by Andrew Lawrence-King:

ALK Il palpitar del core: The Heart-Beat of the “First Opera” in Crispin & Gilmore Artistic Experimentation in Music (2015)

 

ALK ’Tis Master’s Voice: A Seventeenth-Century Shakespeare Recording? in White Shakespeare and Emotions (2015)

Journal Articles by Andrew Lawrence-King:

ALK (with Antonenko & O’Shea) The Irish Harp: Myths Demistified Celto-Slavica Journal (2015)

 

ALK The Theatre of Dreams: the Science of Historical Action ADSA (Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama & Performance Studies) Journal (2015)

 

 

ALK In vino veritas: wine, women & song in Landi’s ‘La Morte d’Orfeo’ Musicological Journal of Moscow Conservatoire (2015)

Historical Prefaces:

Cavalieri Anima e Corpo (1600)

Peri Euridice (1600)

Caccini Le Nuove Musiche (1601)

Gagliano Dafne (1608)

Frescobaldi Toccate (1615)

Introductions

 

ALK Video: “What are the Three Secrets of Great Performance?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j58nwM3nbpE

Anon. Il Corago (Biblioteca Estense, Modena: MS y.F.11, c1630) edited by Fabbri & Pompilio (1983)

 

Introduction to ALK’s research: http://www.theharpconsort.com/#!research/c1dp3

Index to ALK’s blog: http://www.theharpconsort.com/#!blog-index/cxm4

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2013/08/26/what-is-music/

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2013/08/04/music-expresses-emotions/

Time & Tactus

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2014/11/23/a-baroque-history-of-time-stars-hearts-and-music/

 

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2013/09/08/rhythm-what-really-counts/

 

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2015/02/16/tempus-putationis-getting-back-to-monteverdis-time/

Grant Beating Time and Measuring Music (2015)

Houle Meter in Music 1600-1800 (1987)

 

ALK Video: “What is Time?

Redefining Recitative

Il Corago on ‘the three ways of acting’, Delle Tre Maniere di Recitare (Fabbri & Pompilio, 40)

 

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2013/09/22/the-good-the-bad-the-early-music-phrase/

 

http://www.theharpconsort.com/#!research-findings-recitative/c1nz2

Sternfeld ‘A Note on Stile Recitativo’, RMA (1983-1984)

 

Continuo
Agazzari Del Sonare sopra’l Basso (1607)

 

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2013/10/08/sparrow-flavoured-soup-or-what-is-continuo/

 

ALK Video “What is Continuo?”:

 

Introduction to Italian Continuo Video:

This is the first of a series of videos, all on the You-Tube channel of The Harp Consort & Il Corago.

Historical Action

 

www.IlCorago.com

 

Bonifaccio L’Arte de’ Cenni (1616)

Bulwer Chirologia & Chironomia (1644)

 

Barnett The Art of Gesture: The Practices and Principles of 18th-century Acting (1987)

Roach The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting (1985)

 

Introduction to Historical Action:

http://www.theharpconsort.com/#!historical-action/c12q3

 

Flow & The Zone

www.TheFlow.Zone

 

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2014/09/16/flow-2014-the-cambridge-talks/

 

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2014/10/17/flow-accessing-super-creativity-making-connections/

 

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2015/04/19/flow-the-oxford-papers-part-1-whats-in-a-name/

 

ALK Video: “Accessing Super-Creativity” 

 

History of Irish Harp

ALK (with Antonenko & O’Shea) The Irish Harp: Myths Demistified Celto-Slavica Journal (2015)

 

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2013/12/27/the-researchers-otherworld-a-dream-of-the-ancient-irish-harp/

 

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2014/10/07/regina-cithararum/

 

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2014/08/30/precision-tuning-early-irish-harps/

 

History of Welsh Triple Harp

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2014/03/12/the-triple-or-modern-welsh-harp/

Hypnosis, Rhetoric & Neuro-Linguistic Programming

ALK The Theatre of Dreams: the Science of Historical Action ADSA Journal (2015)

 

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2014/12/11/the-theatre-of-dreams-la-musica-hypnotises-the-heroes/

 

Landi La Morte d’Orfeo

ALK In vino veritas: wine, women & song in Landi’s ‘La Morte d’Orfeo’ Musicological Journal of Moscow Conservatoire (2015)

 

 

http://www.theharpconsort.com/#!la-morte-dorfeo/c4be

Monteverdi Vespers

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2014/06/07/the-right-time-for-a-new-vision-monteverdis-1610-vespers/

 

Laudate Pueri Video:

 

Dixit Dominus Video:

 

Harp Technique

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2014/09/09/historical-technique-for-early-irish-harps/

 

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2013/09/02/the-shake-irish-harp-ornament-of-the-month-1/

This is the first of a series of articles on this subject, all available on this blog. There is a video to accompany each article, all on the You-Tube channel of The Harp Consort & Il Corago.

 

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2013/09/19/single-action-harp-making-sensibility-of-the-methodes/

 

Introduction to Italian harp Video:

This is the first of a series of 4 videos, all on the You-Tube channel of The Harp Consort & Il Corago.

 

 

Introduction to Early Irish harp Video:

This is the first in a series of 4 videos, all on the You-Tube channel of The Harp Consort & Il Corago.

 

Early Irish harp ornaments Video:

This is the first in a series of 4 videos, all on the You-Tube channel of The Harp Consort & Il Corago.

 

Monteverdi Orfeo

 

Documentary Film:

 

https://andrewlawrenceking.com/2014/11/09/sherlock-holmes-and-the-wedding-dance-tactus-proportions-in-monteverdis-lasciate-i-monti/

 

Ludus Danielis

Documentary Film:

 

Peri Euridice

Mini-documentary:

 

Purcell Dido & Aneas

Dido’s Lament Video:

 

The Witches Video:

 

witches-queen

Kristin Mulders as the Sorceress (doubling Dido) and Leif Aruhn-Solén as the Tenor (doubling the Spirit of Mercury) with Leif Meyer (continuo) in Purcell’s ‘Dido & Aneas’

 

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our websites www.TheHarpConsort.com

www.IlCorago.com and www.TheFlow.Zone

 

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago. From 2010 to 2015 he was Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for the History of Emotions.

A Baroque History of Time: Stars, Hearts and Music

A Baroque History of Time

The past is a foreign country,

they do things differently there.

L. P. Hartley The Go-Between (1953)

The past is a foreign country;

there is very little we can say about it until we have learned its language

and understood its assumptions.

Michael Howard The Lessons of History (1991)

One of the challenges of Historically Informed Performance is to try to catch a glimpse of our own assumptions, to notice where something seems so ‘obvious’ and ‘absolute’ that we  don’t even question it. The worst decisions in Early Music are the decisions that we don’t even realise we are making, because we don’t even notice there is a question to be addressed. But as soon as we become aware of an assumption, we can look for evidence of whether the same assumption held good in the past, or if attitudes might have changed with the centuries.

In this post, I’m exploring the subject of musical Rhythm by examining period concepts of Time: historical belief-systems at both cosmic and human levels; the grand philosophy and naive assumptions that underpin pragmatic performance decisions; the changing views of science; and the various practices of artists as they performed their passions. The assumption that I’m challenging is that we today understand Time itself in the same way that Monteverdi and Shakespeare did.

 

1900 and 1600

The question I’m posing to Renaissance Man, in order to understand his ways of thought, is the same question we can pose to ourselves, in order reveal the assumptions of our own age:

What is Time?

Modern Time

Now, it’s almost a century since the London newspaper, the Times, declared that Newton’s ideas had been ‘overthrown’ by Einstein (7th November, 1919). One might say that this ‘Revolution in Science’  which led to a ‘New Theory of the Universe’ began with a paper written by an official in the French Bureau of Longitude, mathematician Henri Poincaré. In The Measure of Time (1898), he asked two deep questions:

1. Is it meaningful to say that one second today is equal to one second tomorrow?

2. Is it meaningful to say that two events which are separated in space occurred at the same time?

 

A century later, the answers are: (1) we still don’t know, and (2) No. That resounding “No” came  from the work of Albert Einstein, who in his annus mirabilis of 1905 published four papers, on the Photoelectric Effect (establishing the Quantum nature of light), on Brownian Motion (addressing the methodology of statistical physics that Quantum Theory would come to rely on), on Special Relativity (overthrowing Newton’s concept of Absolute Time) and on Matter-Energy Equivalence (formulating that most famous equation, E=mc2). He also submitted his PhD thesis.

Perhaps relativistic effects helped him get so much done in just one year!

 

Poincaré and Einstein

The predicted and observed effects of all this new science still seem ‘paradoxical’ to most of us. Schrodinger’s Cat is neither alive nor dead, until the act of observation collapses the quantum dynamical waveform one way or another. There’s no certain answer, only statistical Probability.

Schrodingers Cat

 

Even Einstein himself didn’t want to believe that ‘God plays dice with the universe’ like that. Whatever the science told him, Einstein’s own assumptions were inevitably conditioned by the thinking of previous generations. Before the 20th century, religious beliefs and traditional assumptions led most people to expect Cosmic Power to control the everyday scale. Like Einstein, many of us find it hard to grasp that tiny particles might dictate the fate of the universe.

20th-century Science presents many more paradoxes. Heisenberg’s Principle means that we are forced to balance knowledge with uncertainty in pairs of values, for example mass and momentum. The more precisely we establish Time, the less we can know about Energy. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity predicts that a man who travels to Mars and back will return slightly younger than his twin brother, who waits for him on Earth.

Time itself might be reversed, if the arrow of entropy changes, in some future contracting state of the universe. Meanwhile, Quantum effects in the brain allow our nervous system to respond to stimuli measurably before the stimulus is received. The mathematics of Quantum Theory predict the existence of Wormholes, opening up the possibility of travel through time. This raises the question of what might happen if you went back in time and killed your Grandfather, forestalling your own birth. The Bootstrap Paradox refers to creating something out of nothing by complex loops of time-travel, like pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.

 

Tardis

In Heinlein’s novel All you Zombies, kidnapping, love-affairs and gender-change surgery leave us with a time-travelling character who is his own mother, father, son, daughter, long-lost lover and kidnapper. Scientists are struggling too: Quantum Theory and Relativity do not mesh well, so that a Grand Unified Theory of Life, the Universe and Everything is currently out of reach.

But for most of us, the paradoxes of Einstein’s science, let alone more recent findings, do not affect our daily lives. We find Relativity counter-intuitive, because we do not see it at work in the everyday world. For us, Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687) works just fine. If I drop an apple it will hit the ground more or less when I expect. Our intuitive assumptions about Time are more than 300 years behind the cutting edge of scientific theory.

Newton Principia 1687

 

We are very comfortable with Newton’s concept of Absolute Time, with its one direction ‘like an ever-rolling stream’, Time that exists independent of any other quantities. We are very accustomed to measuring the accuracy of a clock, the movement of a star, or the beating of a heart, against the absolute scale of Newton’s Time. So accustomed are we,  that as well as ignoring what we know from Stephen Hawking about post-Einsteinian Time, we also overlook the fact that Peri and Monteverdi did not know about Newton’s Time.

Early baroque musicians, around the year 1600, did not feel about Time the same way we do. They could not have had the same assumptions. Even after Newton’s 1687 publication, it would have taken some years for his ideas to gain acceptance amongst fellow-specialists, and many decades for those ideas to become part of the instinctive assumptions of the population at large.

Monteverdi’s Time

The Early Modern philosophy of Time was founded on Aristotle and Plato. Aristotle’s Physics characterises Time as

A Number of Motion in respect of Before and After

Time is only meaningful in the context of Motion or Stillness, of observable Change before/after.

In the year 1610, this was no mere philosophising: swordfighters bet their lives on it. Capo Ferro describes a swordfighting tempo as ‘measuring the Motion of my opponent by the Stillness of my sword’. Such a tempo could be long and slow, when the duellers were far apart and reluctant to come to close combat, or terrifyingly fast, as the sword-master parries and ripostes in a single lightning-strike of tempo, driving his rapier through his opponent’s left eye.

 Capo Ferro Plate 7

Viggiani’s sword treatise specifically refers to Aristotle. Agrippa’s fighting manual shows the period theory of Light, beams that come from your eyes, as he demonstrates how to save your life with a timely turn, the scanso della vita.

Agrippa rays of light

Tasso, whose poetry Monteverdi set as  the Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, owned a copy of Agrippa’s book, and that music-drama is full of swordsmanship jargon: schivar (deceiving the blade), parar (parry), ritrarse (step back), destrezza (sword-skills).

Cavalieri’s musical morality play, Anima e Corpo (the earliest surviving ‘opera’, the first oratorio; Rome, 1600) presents Plato’s philosophy of Time. Past and Future are divided by the moving point of the Present, which is an instantaneous image of all Eternity. As Soul and Body battle against worldly temptations, this libretto too is full of swordsmanship jargon, but the first character to sing is Il Tempo, Old Father Time.

Old Father Time

Cavalieri tells us that Time flies, does not last, wears us away, measures us, that Time is short. We are told to do good works – act with the hand, act with the heart –there is a clear parallel to an actor’s performance, linking baroque gestures and heartfelt emotions.

But 17th-century texts use the word Time (in Italian, tempo) to translate from Greek two different words, conveying two distinct concepts. Kronos is Aristotle’s numbered Time of Before and After: kairos is a timely opportunity. In Rhetoric, kairos is when the time is ripe to press home logical arguments – I hope that as you read these words, there is kairos now.

For a swordfighter, tempo  is not only motion and stillness, but also the moment of opportunity, the crucial instant in which you must strike to defend yourself and wound your opponent.

In the Christian New Testament, the Messiah comes in the fullness of time – at the moment of kairos. And the Apostle Paul frequently exhorts his followers to seize the chance of their own instant of kairos.

In life, in debate, in a fight, or on stage, kairos is the moment to act. The anonymous 16th-century Bologna sword-master said that swordsmen need the same skills of timing as a fine singer: this gives an idea of the level of sharp rhythmic precision singers must have had back then. As one voice-student said to me ruefully of today’s early music singers: ‘we’d all be dead!’.

Hierarchy of Disciplines

 

Since Aristotle links Time to Number and to motion in Space, the Renaissance recognised an intellectual hierarchy relating Arithmetic (the study of Number), Geometry (Number and Space) and Music (Number and Time). At the top of this hierarchy is Astronomy (Number, Time and Space), the study of the heavens. That lofty position is shared by Dancing and Sword-fighting, which (in contrast to today’s devaluing of ballet, let alone martial arts) outrank absolute music.

Both philosophically and practically, sword-fighting and renaissance dancing are related, and ballets of the stars are a 17th-century cliché. In Monteverdi’s Orfeo, Nymphs ‘leave the mountains, leave the fountains’ to dance a ballo ‘even more beautiful than those danced to the moon on a dark night by the heavenly stars’. The first opera from the New World, Torrejón’s La púrpura de la rosa (Lima, Peru 1701) begins with Urania, the Muse of Astronomy, sighting a new planet.

So here are the Stars of my sub-title. For period musicians, swordsmen, even for baroque sailors, Time is a matter of Astronomy. Around 1600, it is defined by the stars and planets (on the largest, cosmic scale) and followed here on earth (on a smaller, human scale).

Three kinds of Music

Time & Music

Continuing to examine the assumptions of the past, what about practical music-making? For Cavalieri, Peri and Monteverdi, what is Music? Again, period thought was based on ancient authorities, and there is a consistent view that differs from modern assumptions.

The most significant type of music was musica mondana, the Music of the Spheres, the perfect music (inaudible to human ears) created by the heavenly  dance of the stars and planets. Musica humana is the harmonious nature of the human body, the divine image incarnate, the Word that was ‘in the beginning’ set to the soul-music of embodied Creation. Musica instrumentalis is what we mean by the word ‘Music’ today, the actual sounds we make with our voices and instruments.

These then are the three categories of my subtitle: music of the stars, of human hearts, and music as performed by 17th-century musicians. The structure of the cosmos, the beating of the human heart and musical rhythm are also the interlinked ideas that illustrate the period concept of Time. They are interconnected in philosophical theory and also in practical use.

What is Time

Slow Time (years, months, days and hours) is measured by Celestial movement. A brief moment is measured by the heartbeat, which is both a symbol and a practical measurement of musical rhythm.

Galileo discovered the pendulum effect in the late 16th century, but the first pendulum clock was not built until the 1630s. In this period, the most accurate clocks could just about count the seconds. This begs the question, how did Galileo measure the pendulum effect?

The most accurate clock available to him was his own, human pulse. This was sufficiently reliable to establish the constancy of period, around 7 seconds, for a chandelier hung on a very long cable from the roof of Pisa cathedral.

 

Galileo Pendulum

 

But Galileo also did high-precision experiments to determine the acceleration due to gravity, which required split-second timing. How could he do this? Circa-1600 clocks were hopelessly imprecise. His pulse (about one per second, when relaxed) was better, but still insufficient for such high-precision work.

History of Science researcher Stillman Drake realised that the Galilei family’s expertise in music would have solved the problem. Musical rhythm provides a reliable way to divide a one-second pulse into eight equal parts: in period notation, this is the equivalent of dividing a minim (half note) into semiquavers (sixteenth notes).

Joakim Linde has created an online simulation that allows you to repeat Galileo’s experiment with gravity and music, here.

What we need to understand today, is that Galileo was using Music to measure Time. Music was more precise than the very best clocks of his period. Music had the regular, heavenly equality of measure, that Time itself did not yet possess, since Newton’s idea of absolute time had not yet been formulated.

 

Measurement of Time

 

Hierarchy of Time

There is a definite hierarchy in this philosophy, in this period Science of Time. Celestial Time is the ideal, imitated on earth. As we look up to the heavens, to the musical spheres, the highest sphere is the primum mobile. It is God’s hand that winds the Clock of the Cosmos. This is imitated on earth, in that musical rhythm is determined by a long, slow count; in that we divide up those slow, long notes into faster notes (by division, or diminution); in that these faster notes must fit inside the rhythm pre-determined by the slow count; and in that we divide up the slow count in various proportions, in precise, whole-number ratios.

 

Hierarchy of Time

 

Ha, ha, keep time! How sour sweet music is/ when time is broke and no proportion kept!

warns Richard II.

Clocks had religious significance. Just as Protestants and Catholics argued about calendar reform, so musical rhythm is a moral imperative. As Dowland thunders in 1609 (translating Ornithoparcus from 1535) “above all things… “ (the language itself is hierarchical) …

Above all things, keep the equality of measure, lest you offend God himself!

To attempt to change Time (the modern practices of rubato, rallentando, accelerando; even the 19th-century concept that the performer can decide the tempo of a particular movement) is to risk the stability of the cosmos, to threaten your own bodily health.

When Phaeton seized the reins of Apollo’s sun-chariot, he could not control the movement of the sun through the heavens. He crashed and burned.

Sun Chariot

 

If your pulse stops, the music also dies.

 The take-home message from all of this period Philosophy, or History of Science, is that Newton’s 1687 concept of Absolute Time did not apply around the year 1600. Time does not measure music, because there is no Absolute Scale of Time.

It’s the other way around: Music measures Time. Time is determined by divine, cosmic forces that we see also at work in the human body and in music itself.

This helps us understand what seem to be needlessly complicated statements about musical notation, like Carissimi’s here:

The triple-metres all agree with regard to quantity, division and proportion, as is easily understood, but in the slow or fast quality, known by the Italians as tempo and by the French as mouvement, they are utterly different.

Carissimi lacks the vocabulary and the very concept of Newton’s Absolute time, and he flounders as he tries to explain something we can today express more clearly, more simply.

The triple-metres all agree with regard to the quantity, the duration of musical note-values in absolute time [a semibreve lasts 0.66 seconds, a minim 0.33 seconds, etc].

This is easily understood [but it is different from 19th-century practice, where the performer can choose the speed of a piece of music].

In the slow or fast quality [how it feels to the listener] the triple-metres are utterly different [3/1 feels slow, 3/2  feels medium fast, 6/4 feels very fast].

‘What the Italians call tempo’ can mean Time itself, or the subjective feeling of how fast a piece of music is going. Carissimi has no vocabulary to separate these concepts, except for his idea of Absolute quantity and subjective quality.

The difficulty for Carissimi’s generation is that they do not have a concept, or a vocabulary for Absolute Time. Their best measure of Time is Music. So it’s extremely difficult for them to explain how different pieces of music can have consistent note-values, yet still produce such different subjective impressions of speed.

The French language is  bit more helpful: Mouvement for a piece of music helps us appreciate that music can seem to ‘move’ faster or slower, whilst we measure time steadily. But in the 17th-century they still measure Time with Music (so one can’t establish an objective description of how music moves in time), and (looking back to Aristotle) Time itself needs movement (i.e. change) in order to be measured. Without Newton’s concept of Absolute Time, it is very difficult to talk about the subjective speed of music!

Towards the modern assumptions of Time

 

As the 17th century progresses, the idea of an Absolute measurement of Time emerges. Clocks become more accurate, and the clock itself becomes a metaphor of time, and of music.

Thus Playford can advise music students to learn rhythm by listening to the tick-tock of a clock. Musicians’ modifying words, such as tarde, velociter, adagio, presto function like subtle adjustments to a clock, so that it ticks somewhat slower or faster. Similarly, Frescobaldi, Caccini and others allow the Tactus beat to go faster or slower according to the affetto, just as the human heart beats faster or slower under the influence of differing emotions. Gradually, music becomes a clock that can be adjusted by emotions to count Time faster or slower.

Nevertheless, this is still far removed from Newton’s concept of Absolute Time, and from our modern ideas that music can move freely whilst time itself is regular.

We need to think carefully, we need to understand the language and assumptions of the 17th century, before we rush to conclusions about rhythmic freedom. Rather than starting from the modern assumption of Absolute Time and musical rubato, we would do better to start from the period assumption that steady time is a religious imperative; that the heavens, our hearts and our music are inter-connected.

 

If the rhythm breaks, the cosmos will collapse!

If your heart stops, the music also dies.

 

 No rubato, no conducting

 

 

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our website www.TheHarpConsort.com . Further details of original sources are on the website, click on “New Priorities in Historically Informed Performance”

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.

www.historyofemotions.org.au

Flow (Accessing Super-Creativity): Making Connections

Neurons

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Flow was enthusiastically taken up by musicians, sportsmen, businesswomen, creative types, indeed by anyone interested in learning, training and high-level performance. It’s that wonderful feeling when one is ‘in the zone’, simultaneously relaxed and concentrated, where one’s actions proceed effortlessly from a deep understanding of the situation. Whatever your particular application (arts, sports, business, creativity) Flow is the optimal state for efficient learning, effective training, and maximising one’s performance.

As part of my research (read more here) for the Australian Centre for the History of Emotions (CHE, read more here), I’m investigating Flow in the context of various related disciplines. My approach is phenomenological, experiential, based on my personal experience and on observations reported to me by colleagues, teachers and students from their own individual experiences. My aim is to reach a deeper understanding of how Flow works on a pragmatic level, so that I can offer practical hints to anyone who wants to access Flow in their own activities.

In this Introduction, I will summarise the classic description of Flow according to Csikszentmihalyi, and set out various connections which I’ll explore one-by-one and in greater depth in later posts: Griffin’s Dream Theory, Ericksonian Hypnosis, Ericsson’s Deliberate Practice, Neuroplasticity & Myelination, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Feldenkrais Method, Positive Psychology, Historically Informed Performance.

Also in this post, I’ll identify one crucial element of Flow which has not so far received the attention it deserves. I’ll connect this to the background theory, and suggest why this might be the missing link between Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow, and the high-level, elite performance skills that so many coaches and performers are searching for.   

Chain Missing Link Question

 

MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI’S FLOW

In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Steps towards enhancing the quality of life (New York 1990, on Google Books here), Csikszentmihalyi identifies various elements that characterise Flow. If you experience several of these (not necessarily all of them), you are probably experiencing Flow. These elements can be present in any activity – sport, music, creative writing, business negotiations, public speaking etc.

  • Challenge

The activity is challenging, but not impossible. You are pushing the limit of your skills, but you are nevertheless confident in your abilities.

Csikszentmihalyi developed and gradually refined a diagram relating challenge and skill, with the flow-zone in the area of high-challenge, high-skill.

Flow diagram transit of Venus

 

  • Merging of Awareness & Action

Your intense awareness of crucial aspects of the activity leads immediately and effortlessly  to your actions, perhaps without any intervening conscious decision-process. You notice the situation, and your actions flow from that awareness.

  • Absorbtion

Your awareness is so intense that you are fully absorbed in the activity. Incoming information entirely fills the “bandwidth” of your attention.

  • Goals / feedback

The activity has clear goals, and you receive clear feedback on your progress towards those goals.

  • Concentration

You are fully concentrated so that nothing distracts you from the activity. Your focus does not shift here and there. Your concentration does not flicker off and on again. Potential distractions (e.g. background noises) do not disturb your focus and concentration.

This maintaining of a narrow focus is subtly different from the intensity of concentration described above as Absorbtion.

  • Control

You have a sufficient sense of control. As with Challenge, the optimal level of control presumably balances the thrill of unpredictability against the stability of control.

  • Lack of self-consciousness

Whilst the activity is in process, you are not aware of yourself, you are not concerned with how others see you, you are fully immersed in the activity itself. Typically, there is a strong feeling of pleasure after the activity is completed.

Csikszentmihalyi gives the example of a mountain climber, for whom the activity itself is physically demanding and requires total concentration. When the climber reaches the summit, only then do the feelings of elation kick in.

  • Time Distortion

You may not be aware of the passage of time, whilst you continue the activity in Flow. Only afterwards do you notice how late it is, that you might be hungry, thirsty, or need sleep.

As the saying goes, time flies when you are having fun! I’ll return to this question of Time Distortion, which I consider to be highly significant.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

 

The Autotelic Personality

Csikszentmihalyi considers that having an Autotelic Personality makes it easier for one to enter Flow. Autotelic people (from the Greek words for Self and Purpose) are self-motivated, they can find a sense of purpose in doing an activity for it’s own sake. Here are Csikszentmihalyi’s characteristics of Autotelics, which he derives from the corresponding elements of Flow:

  • Taking charge of your own destiny

You believe that what you are doing makes a difference.

  • Outward focus

You are focussed on your activities, on the outside world, not introspecting about your own situation

  • Goal setting

You set goals and monitor your progress towards them.

  • Absorbed

You get absorbed by the activities you undertake

  • Ability to concentrate

You can maintain a sharp focus over time, without being distracted

  • Enjoyment

You enjoy the immediate experience of the activity at hand.

I would add these two further characteristics, corresponding to Challenge and Merging of Awareness & Action

  • Have a go!

You enjoy taking on (new) challenges

  • Go for it!

You don’t procrastinate.

 

Flow notes

JOE GRIFFIN’S THEORY OF DREAMS

My investigation into Learning, Training and Performance rests on the theoretical foundation of Joe Griffin’s theory of Dreams and the REM state. In his later writings, together with Ivan Tyrrell, Griffin explores wide and deep implications of his theory, particularly in relation to mental health and creativity. (More here.)

The Expectation-Fulfilment Theory of Dreams offers a psychological, biological and evolutionary explanation that is consistent with neuroscientific data and has already led to measurable clinical success. It amounts to a new Organising Idea, a simple fundamental concept that underpins many observed complexities. In essence, Griffin claims that:
  •  Dreams are associated with the Rapid-Eye-Movement (REM) state during sleep

 

  • The biological function of Dreams is to resolve unfulfilled expectations (positive or negative), generated whilst awake

 

  • Dreams re-present unfulfilled expectations in Metaphors, so that they can be resolved by pattern-matching to recalled memories.

 

  • Some 40,000 years ago, humans evolved the ability to access the REM-state whilst awake: this facilitated learning, language, tool-making and higher culture.

Griffin’s metaphor for the REM-state is the Theatre of Dreams.

Waking access to the REM-state allows us to day-dream, to relive the past, to envision the future, to watch a play in the Theatre of Dreams.

In hypnosis, the hypnotist “hijacks” the theatre machinery, changing the scenery, producing special effects, sending on various characters, directing a play for you to watch (even to act in) within the Theatre of Dreams.

The Origin of Dreams

ERICKSONIAN HYPNOSIS

Milton H. Erickson is widely recognised as the founder of modern hypnotherapy. In contrast to the myth that hypnotism is ‘magic’; in contrast to the traditional view of the hypnotist as an authority figure who imposes his will on his client; in contrast to the cliche of watching as the hypnotist swings a pocket-watch and counts down from 10 to 1 whilst instructing you to sleep; in contrast to the Freudian concept of the unconscious as a dark cavern of negativity; in contrast to the caricature of the all-knowing therapist and the helpless client, the Milton method assumes:

  • Trance is a natural state that we all experience several times each day

 

  •  The hypnotist creates conditions in which the client can feel permitted and able to enter trance.

 

  • Different people enter trance in different ways and have different experiences within trance.

 

  • The unconscious mind can be a powerful and positive resource.

 

  • The client can be helped to access solutions from within their own unconscious resources.

 

One aspect of Ericksonian Hypnosis is that therapists don’t feel the need to rush through their Pre-Talk and Induction, in order to get the client into trance and ‘start doing something useful’. Rather, the Pre-Talk is seen as an essential and highly significant part of the therapeutic intervention, and there may be no formal Induction as such.

In the Ericksonian view, hypnosis is at work in many everyday situations, including conventional (supposedly non-hypnotic) talking therapies, and teaching/learning. I would also add the performer/audience interaction to this list.

Erickson made a particular study of Time Distortion effects in Hypnosis, where the client’s subjective experience of time, under trance, was either much slower, or much faster, than real time. I will return to this subject, which I consider highly significant for Flow.

 

Erickson

Erickson at work. Notice the characteristic SOLER posture: S = Sit down with your client; O = Open, friendly posture; L = Lean forwards, be attentive; E = make Eye contact; R = Relax.

 

Accept & Utilise

Perhaps the most important characteristic of Erickson’s approach was his response to Client Resistance. Rather than struggling to overcome resistance or to ‘correct’ the client’s behaviour, his solution was to accept whatever the client presented, and utilise even the most difficult behaviour as part of the therapy. For example, when treating a delusional client who believed that he was Jesus Christ, Erickson’s approach was not to attack the delusion, but to accept it. “I understand that you have a background in carpentry, would you like to build some bookshelves for me?”. The occupational therapy of woodworking became a crucial component of a successful treatment.

There are many stories from Erickson’s cases, which have inspired succeeding generations of hypnotherapists. My favourite is one particularly difficult case, where Erickson himself was unable to find a successful angle from which to direct his therapeutic intervention. Finally, he put the client into trance, and progressed him into the future, to a time when his problem had been successfully treated. “How was it done?” Erickson asked. Having obtained the answer (under hypnosis, direct from the client’s unconscious), Erickson gave the instruction (by hypnotic suggestion of amnesia) for the client to forget about this exchange, and brought the client back to the present, and out of trance. He then began a successful line of treatment, from the angle that the client himself had described in trance.

For an easy-to-read practical introduction to Ericksonian Hypnosis, I recommend Bill O’Hanlon Guide to Tranceland (2009). Richard Nongard Speak Ericksonian (2014) draws on his rich experience as a stage and speed hypnotist, clinical therapist and religious minister, and introduces techniques of NLP (see below). Michael Yapko Trancework: An Introduction to the Practice of Clinical Hypnosis (2012) is a thorough guide to essential theory and current practice, an excellently compiled textbook for serious students. Nash & Barnier (editors) The Oxford Handbook of Hypnosis is for researchers.  

 

CPD

 

As part of my investigations, I have been studying the theory and training in the practice of Hypnosis. I am not qualified as a Hypnotherapist, but I am competent to use Hypnosis as part of my work on Flow, in consensual and informed interactions. This training also gives me a better understanding of how hypnosis is at work in many everyday (supposedly non-hypnotic) situations.

 

ALK TRA

ERICSSON’S DELIBERATE PRACTICE

Psychologist Anders Ericsson researches the cognitive structures that underpin high-level training and expert performance. His work shows the importance of sustained, intensely concentrated practice that challenges one’s current skill-levels, deliberately and precisely pushing the envelope, always just outside the comfort zone. As the title of one of his editions – Towards a General Theory of Expertise (Cambridge University Press, 1991) – suggests, although expert skills are specific to a particular domain, the processes underlying the acquisition of those skills are common across a wide range of applications: music, sports, chess, business negotiations etc.

Ericsson’s work has led to a reassessment of the nature of Talent. The modern consensus places much less emphasis on ‘natural giftedness’, even on helpful genetic traits (runners born with long limbs), recognising the importance of environmental factors (in particular, access to training opportunities) and the decisive factor of many, many hours of Deliberate Practice.

These ideas have been popularised and extended in a number of books linking elite performance in sports to effective training regimes on the Ericsson model: Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (2008) presents the 10,000 rule (i.e. the need for about 10 years dedicated training to reach elite levels of performance); Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance (2008) looks at the acquisition of high-level skills in two apparently unrelated areas, chess and martial arts; Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code (2009) examines a biological mechanism underlying the beneficial effects of skills training; Matthew Syad’s Bounce (2011) discounts genetic factors, even useful physical attributes, in favour of Deliberate Practice.

Johan Harmenberg’s Epee 2.0 (2007) follows a similar line to Waitzkin in advocating a narrow focus during training – what Waitzkin calls ‘making smaller circles’. Harmenberg considers performance under intense stress, the ‘Olympic hit’: in such circumstances, even highly trained performers are sometimes unable to access their elite skills. Waitzkin also considers high-stress performance, and draws attention to Time Distortion – ‘slowing down time’ within a particular state of consciousness that he calls ‘the soft zone’.  I’ll return to these ideas below and in later posts.

NEUROPLASTICITY

My focus is phenomenological and practical – what is the experience of Flow, and how can we access it? Nevertheless, it’s inspiring and illuminating to examine the findings of Neuroscientists, as they try to understand the biological processes that support the expert skills we wish to learn, train and perform. The metaphor of treating your brain as you would a muscle – use it well, train it deliberately, and it will strengthen and grow – is apt.

Deliberate Practice (targeting precise skill elements, pushing the envelope) carried out in a state of Flow (optimal transfer of information between conscious and unconscious mind) builds new pathways, activates neural networks inside the brain. Think of this as installing new software into your computer.

After a couple of days of Deliberate Practice, your brain starts to grow, physically. You are growing new hardware, bolted-on so as to increase your capacity for the specific skills you are training. The results will show in two to three weeks.

On a similar time-scale (2 or 3 days for activation, 2 or 3 weeks for measurable results), training switches on or off certain genes, optimising your inherited DNA according to the demands your training makes. (This is one reason why identical twins, who share the same DNA, show differences in genetic activity: genes are switched on or off according to the experiences you have.)

Neurons

MYELINATION

If neurons are like wires, transmitting and processing signals through the brain, you can connect them up better, and even add new circuits, with Deliberate Practice. Practising a particular skill under challenging conditions (pushing the envelope) also wraps layers of Myelin around the particular neurons that are working hardest. Myelin is like the insulation around a wire, it stops the charge leaking out and makes transmission more efficient. The more Deliberate Practice you do, the more Myelin you can wrap. You get better, sharper, faster.

And of course, to stay in Flow, as you continue to train, you must continually raise the bar, up the Challenge. As you continue to push the envelope, you assemble more neurons, connect up more neuro-circuits, and wrap them all in Myelin. The skill becomes effortless, awareness and action merge, and you might well start to have some serious fun!

 

Myelin

 

POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY

Csikszentmihlayi’s concept Flow is part of a general trend to move away from researching only pathological conditions, mental illness, psychological trauma, and investigate well-being, happiness, positive psychology. Performance Studies can also benefit from a positive approach, with Solution Oriented interventions, learning to acquire confidence and access Flow,  rather than wallowing in the pathology of Performance Anxiety.

Nevertheless, musicians and sportsmen know all too well the phenomenon of ‘choking’. Just when it matters the most, the stress of the moment is too much, and one loses access to all those hard-won elite skills. In bad cases, one loses even basic competence, and reverts to crude bungling. This is what happened to the Brazil football team in the last World Cup: after they had Flowed through all the heats, in the semi-final they failed to Flow, and were not so much beaten as annihilated by Germany, 7-1. Brazil choked.

 

Brazil world cup defeat

 

How can we learn to use the stress of a highly significant moment as a spur towards our finest, most Flowing performance, rather than being knocked out of Flow into hopeless incompetence? I’ll explore some ideas in future posts.

NEURO-LINGUISTIC PROGRAMMING

NLP takes many ideas from Ericksonian Hypnosis, especially the subtle use of language to influence modes of thought, and distills them into their most concentrated form. Although NLP has become associated with covert hypnotism and unfair manipulation, its powerful techniques can be used beneficially, for teaching and even for self-improvement.

 

As well as subtleties of language, NLP examines directions of gaze and other outward indications of inner processes. I am interested to explore how this link might be reversed, to use deliberately directed gaze to re-order modes of thought and unconscious processes. Some work has already been done in this area by Feldenkrais practitioners and researchers into Performance Anxiety.

 

FELDENKRAIS METHOD

Moshe Feldenkrais was a martial arts expert and engineer who developed a method for learning and teaching efficient, effortless use of the body. Although its aim is similar to that of Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method teaches by different means. An ‘Awareness Through Movement’ class invites participants to notice subtle feedback from the body, as they carry out simple, undemanding movements in a relaxed environment. The use of non-habitual positions (e.g. crossing your legs with the other leg on top), or the introduction of a twist into a movement (direct your eyes to the right, turn your head to the left) produces a kind of alienation effect, sharpening one’s proprioception.

Classes include frequent moments of rest, not because the exercises are physically demanding (on the contrary, teachers repeatedly warn not to use too much effort), but in order to let the unconscious and conscious mind exchange and assimilate information. Many elements of Feldenkrais teaching look very familiar to the Ericksonian Hypnotist.

The results of Feldenkrais teaching can be amazing. The Method manages to link up conscious/unconscious learning, mind and body. A good session engages the participants in Flow, and the body Flows beautifully afterwards.

Feldenkrais Method

AREAS OF EXPERTISE

Csikszentmihalyi, Milton Erickson and Anders Ericsson all considered that their findings were valid across a wide-range of cases – music, arts, sports, business, any creative and challenging activity.

My experiential approach inevitably draws on my personal experience as an elite musician and teacher (part of my work as a Historical Informed Performer has included acquiring and teaching the related, but distinct techniques for different types of historical harp, Italian, Irish, Spanish, French etc, and the study of such related skills as directing, continuo, and baroque gesture); as a professionally qualified sailor (sailing is  favourite example of Csikszentmihalyi’s); as a novice fencer (modern epée and historical rapier) and as a keen student of the Feldenkrais Method.

I’m also consulting colleagues, teachers and students in each of these disciplines.

I hypothesise that certain aspects of Historically Informed Performance of music may be particularly suited for facilitating access into Flow.

QUESTIONS OF TIME 

Csikszentmihalyi considers Flow on the time-scale of an entire life-time’s search for happiness. But the Flow many of us are looking for is a transitory state, a temporary heightened consciousness that allows us to perform at our very best, just when it matters most.

Csikszentmihalyi characterises the Time Distortion of Flow as the perception that one has worked only for a short period, whilst in the real world, a long time has passed. This is a useful Time Distortion for training.

But in performance, we are looking for the other type of Time Distortion. The tennis ball comes flying over the net, but for the skilled player time seems to slow down: there is plenty of time to assess the incoming ball, position one’s body and the tennis racquet, and execute a perfect return that will severely challenge one’s opponent. In the Time Distortion of Performance, subjective time seems to slow down so that Awareness and Action can merge, effortlessly.

Erickson wrote about various Time Distortion effects under hypnosis, and about how this relates to the phenomenon of people responding to emergencies with cool, effective action: such people report a Time Distortion of Performance in which subjective time seems to slow down. Waitzkin links ‘slowing down time’ to the extreme stress of what Harmenberg calls ‘Olympic hits’, the most crucial, decisive moments.

swinging watch

 

TWO KINDS OF FLOW

 

Having proposed many connections, I’d like to conclude this introduction by suggesting a separation. I consider that there are actually two kinds of Flow, crucially distinguished by two types of Time Distortion. In Flow-T (ideal for training), the subjective impression is that a short time passed, whereas in the real world many hours went by. In Flow-P (ideal for performance), the subjective impression is that time slows down, so that one can effortlessly observe the situation and merge that awareness into action at elite skill-levels.

The two types are distinct but related. I hypothesise that long-term use of Flow-T can prepare the way for short-term access to Flow-P.

 

In the fluid mechanical phenomenon known as a Hydraulic Jump, a narrow zone of intense Flow contrasts with an extended region with different Flow characteristics.

In the fluid-mechanical phenomenon known as a Hydraulic Jump, a narrow zone of intense Flow contrasts with an extended region with slower Flow characteristics.

 

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Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.

Flow connections

Flow 2014 – The Cambridge Talks

Cambridge bridge of sighs

Csikszentmihalyi defined Flow, being ‘in the zone’, that ‘Zen feeling’, you’re relaxed, but wonderfully concentrated, quietly confident, feel calmly exhilarated at the challenge in front of you. [Read ALK’s introduction to Flow, Accessing Super-Creativity: May the Flow be with you!  here.]

This posting summarises and comments on papers and discussions related to Flow at the recent CMPCP conference at Cambridge University. [More about the Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice here.]

SELF-REGULATED PRACTICE PROCEDURES AND FLOW STATES

Marcus Araújó, who investigates Performance Studies and Psychology of Music & Education at the Department of Communication and Art at the University of Aveiro, is interested in Flow, the cognitive processes underlying performance and practice of music, musical expertise, and expert musicians’ preparation for performance.

Abstract

The aim of his study is to explore self-regulatory practice behaviours and Flow in highly-skilled musicians. A sample of 212 musicians answered a developed questionnaire about practice behaviours and Flow state. Results show that the skilled musicians were highly self-regulated. Most of the Flow characteristics were experienced whilst practising, but ‘action-awareness merging’ and ‘sense of control’ were less reported. Self-regulated behaviours, ‘metacognitive awareness’ and ‘self-efficacy’ were correlated with Flow dimensions, suggesting that these may contribute to the Flow experience whilst practising. ‘Goal setting’ negatively correlated with the ‘action-awareness merging’ dimension of Flow. No positive associations were found between the ‘action-awareness merging’ dimension and any or the self-regulated behaviours.

ALK summary 

Marcus is looking at the relationship between Flow and efficient practising. In particular, he has devised a questionnaire to measure various aspects of musicians’ experience. He has taken well-agreed indicators of Flow (from Csikszentmihalyi  and others):

  • a good balance between challenge/skills
  • clear goals
  • clear feedback
  • intense concentration
  • loss of self-consciousness
  • merging of action and awareness
  • sense of control and agency
  • losing track of the passing of time
  • a sense of deep satisfaction

Flow improves creativity and combats performance anxiety. But there is a lack of research on positive experiences whilst practising. This is why Marcus is looking at positive experiences, and at experiences during practising (as opposed to performance).

The experience of the ‘Merging of action and awareness’ is the Flow-indicator that is most beneficial for musicians.

Self-regulation and the optimal use of one’s own personal resources is the key to finding Flow and practising efficiently.

Marcus’ results show a negative correlation between Practice Organisation and Merging. Practice Organisation may inhibit Flow.

ALK comments

Marcus’ advance title was more ambitious “Entering into Flow-state through self-regulated behaviour: an explanatory study”. This is of course what we are all looking for, reliable ways to enter Flow  that we can use for ourselves, that don’t require the presence of a teacher. I can understand that with his revised title, Marcus wanted to avoid claiming more than he could deliver, but his study is already on a good path towards identifying possible gateways into Flow. And he has also noticed along the way some potential blocks to be avoided.  

The particular importance of Marcus’ work is that he is measuring experience. It is very useful to have data on, as well as descriptions of, Flow. Of course, there are limitations inherent in his methodology. Participants are reporting their own experiences, after the practice-session is over. There might perhaps be a tendency for self-reporting to be over-optimistic, but the strength of Marcus’ questionnaire is that it asks about many different aspects of experience. We don’t have to make any judgement about how successful or not these musicians were at entering Flow, rather (as Marcus has done) we can examine correlations between those different elements.

There might well be differences between how a practice-session feels whilst it is going on, and how one feels about it just afterwards – obviously, questionnaires cannot give real-time data on the on-going experience. Indeed, Csikszentmihalyi has already shown that the satisfaction associated with Flow is not felt during the process (which may require hard work,    Csikszentmihalyi  gives the example of rock-climbers making a difficult ascent), but afterwards, when one looks back on the completed task. And it seems to me that, since Flow is associated with an absence of self-consciousness, real-time testing carries a strong risk of Observer Effect (the process of measuring will change the activity that is being measured), even of disrupting Flow entirely. It is very difficult to devise real-time testing that would be ‘invisible’ to the participant.

Marcus is measuring subjective experience. This positions him somewhere in-between those of us who are investigating experience qualitatively (i.e. phenomenology) , and the ‘hard science’ approach of measuring objective variables. Such an in-between position might be particularly advantageous for establishing connections between subjective experience and more objective measurements from neuroscience and other disciplines.

Questionnaires are low-tech, low-budget and easy to administer. Collating the data is also straightforward. These are all significant advantages.

For all these reasons, I think Marcus’ approach has much to commend it. Other studies are producing descriptive material, but lack measured data. It would be very useful if other researchers could take up Marcus’ questionnaire and apply it to their own studies, so that large data-sets could be built up for comparative studies and meta-analysis.

From his data, Marcus pulls out some interesting ideas. I agree that the Merging of Action and Awareness is a key benefit of being in Flow, not only for musicians but also for sportsmen. It’s not the only such benefit, and in a future posting I will argue that it is not the most important one for elite performance. However, Marcus is looking at practising, and my next post will present my hypothesis that performance-Flow and practice-Flow are significantly different.

Marcus observed that goal-setting and practice organisation correlated negatively with Flow.  Can this be explained as conscious, Left-Brain processes interfering with subconscious Right-Brain Flow?  Or does referring back (during the practice session) to goals and practice-plans (established before the session started) disrupt the focus on the present moment, the Mindfulness that is needed for Flow? These are important questions, because Ericsson’s concept of Deliberate Practice suggests that conscious organisation of practice-sessions is highly beneficial. How can we organise practice efficiently without disrupting Flow?

My own investigation examines Flow within the Griffin model of the REM-state, and in connection with Ericsson’s Deliberate Practice and Ericksonian Hypnosis. [Read more here] Learning (in lessons or in self-regulated practising) is regarded as a Post-Hypnotic process, guided by Suggestions which can come from the teacher or from one’s own self-regulation. In a future posting, I’ll discuss how established knowledge from Hypnosis might contribute to our understanding of gateways into Flow and of how to manage blocks that prevent or disrupt Flow. Marcus observes that Self-Regulation is a key factor: I will propose that Self-Hypnosis could be a highly effective gateway into Flow.

 

Cambridge river flowing

 THE ABILITY OF REAL-TIME NAVIGATION IN THE MUSICAL FLOW: THEORY AND PEDAGOGY

László Stachó is a musicologist, psychologist and musician working as senior lecturer at the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest ad at the University of Szeged. He is a CMPCP Visiting Fellow. His research focuses on Bartok analysis, 20th-century performance practice, emotional communication in musical performance and enhancement of attention skills involved in music performance.

Abstract

Laszlo argues that a true sign of musical giftedness is the ability to uncover meanings from musical materials – grounded in feelings – and to position into them in the act of performing with full concentration. Full concentration is fostered through the ability to navigate cognitively in the musical Flow, i.e. the ability to ‘be’ in  (i.e. to position into) the future, in the past and in the present – phenomenologically very often at the same moment.

In a forthcoming book, he presents the outline of a new, detailed pedagogical methodology for enhancing in musicians (regardless of their instrument and including singers) the ability of real-time navigating in the musical Flow, including the sub-abilities to imagine the upcoming structural units (i.e. to estimate by feeling their durations through forming a mental image of them), to form a clear mental image of the past musical units to which the upcoming ones are to be measured, and to feel deeply the present moment.

ALK summary 

Laszlo contrasted two viewpoints: technical, logical, looking for the end-result and content-centred, emotional,  focussed on the on-going process. In Music, these viewpoints can be contrasted as  Mathesis (i.e. science/learning/mathematics) versus Emotions. Today’s conservatoire methodologies are strongly rooted in 19th-century attitudes to technique. However, Emotion and Mathesis need not be mutually exclusive.

What is missing in theories of musical ability is the consideration of Affekt, and Time. What is missing in pedagogy is teaching how or what to feel, teaching how music happens in real time (as opposed to detached analysis).

Laszlo showed videos of master-classes with elite performer-teachers. Teaching how to play Chopin in 1961, Alfred Cortot said that the performers interpretation “should be transposed to the plan of a kind of intimate reverie”. “You need to dream the piece, not play”. Flow is compared to dreaming.  In another master-class, Maria Peres said “We have to believe that miracles can happen, and then they happen more and more often”.

Lazlo argues that imagery is strongly connected to feeling. Mindfulness is also important: Laszlo sees it as a short-term phenomenon, linked to particularly significant musical moments.

Laszlo drew attention to the performer-teacher’s Gaze. A certain characteristic direction and focus of the eyes reveals the cognitive process of reflection.

Another video showed high-tech analysis of Gaze, contrasting two footballers, an elite international (Ronaldo, popularly dubbed “the phenomenon”, and considered by experts and fans to be one of the greatest football players of all time) and a competent amateur. Analysis showed Ronaldo’s very precise direction of his eyes, switching very rapidly and precisely from the ball to opponent’s feet, hips (for predicting the opponent’s next movement), looking for empty space to move into.

For musicians, Laszlo recommends that the mental image should appear in your mind just before you play. This ability is a core ability, appearing in sports as well.

Three skills must be operated simultaneously:

  • Goal setting – being in the future
  • Mindfulness – being in the present
  • Reflection – being in the past

The quality of performance depends on thoughts and feelings in your mind during performance.

Real-time navigation of musical flow requires learning “how to let go”. We learn this by visualisation exercises involving imagined movement (e.g. the trajectory of a thrown ball).

ALK comments

This was a fascinating paper, even if Laszlo’s detailed methodology for entering into Flow was not presented here. We’ll have to wait for his forthcoming book (in Hungarian!).

It could be very productive for Laszlo and Marcus to collaborate, since Laszlo has methods for helping musicians enter Flow, and Marcus can measure the experience they have as a result.

Ericsson’s concept of Deliberate Practice argues against the idea of inherited talent. I would re-phrase Laszlo’s opening claim to avoid the notion of “giftedness” and re-prioritise for the audience rather than for the performer: a true sign of musical success is the ability to reveal meanings to the audience. The performer must extract those meanings from musical materials – grounded in feelings – concentrate on them fully during the act of performing.

Laszlo is grappling with a difficult but vital concept as he tries to help performers ‘be in’ the Past, Present and Future, all at once. Perhaps this happens in different ways on different time-scales. As we speak (whether formally or in casual conversation) we are able to link the words we just said, the word we are pronouncing now, and the words that will follow immediately afterwards, in order to create a sentence. Whilst we remain more-or-less aware of our previous sentences, and of the sentence we are saying now, we might or might not have a conscious intention concerning the next sentence. Only an experienced speaker can maintain a coherent structure for an entire speech or lecture, navigating sentence by sentence through the current paragraph, whilst keeping in mind what was said in previous paragraphs and what must be said in subsequent paragraphs. Most people would memorise or write down some kind of plan (an outline, or an entire script) for such a speech. All of these examples are shorter-term than and different from Laszlo’s triad of Goal Setting, Mindfulness, and Reflection.

In Early Music, we can side-step these complications by equating Music with Rhetorical Speech. Past-Present-Future relationships in Music can then be linked to similar progressions through Time in prose or poetry (as I just did, above). I’m strongly convinced that such a Metaphorical understanding of the Past-Present-Future relationships is more useful in the practical situation than abstract theorising. Other Metaphors are also valid (walking, dancing, visual imagery) and indeed Laszlo recommends visual imaging as a practical way to manage Past-Present-Future awareness.

In Early Music, we can think about Passions (affetti) that change across measured Time. Time is measured with a slower beat (Tactus, read more here), affetti change more frequently, than in later music.  This results in a different experience of passions/time, that may be more effective in facilitating Flow. My own research into Enargeia links changing affetti to the emotional power of detailed visual imagery. (More about Enargeia: Visions in Performance here).  Positive imaging is frequently used in sports training and in Hypnotherapy.

Early Musicians are very aware of the bias of Conservatoires towards 19th-century models of performance and pedagogy. One aspect of this bias is the conventional divide between Technique and Interpretation. Historically Informed Performance (HIP) does not accept this binary, but follows earlier models in which technical means are more closely interconnected with musical ends (e.g. keyboard fingering and phrasing). Nevertheless, the most recent research relates HIP to Emotions Studies, so that performance, passion and the audience’s perception are also all interconnected. [Read more about How did it feel? here.]

I suggest that Laszlo is seeing from his pedagogical and Flow-oriented viewpoint similar limitations of the standard Conservatoire approach that we see also from the HIP viewpoint. Certainly most Conservatoires are uncertain how to teach Emotions in music, whether in standard repertoire or in HIP. There are programs that address the problem of performance anxiety, but (as Marcus observed in the context of practising) there is less teaching of precisely how to work positively with emotions.

Laszlo’s plea for a holistic approach that unifies interpretation, technique, and emotions should be heeded. This is the same triad that we see in the historical concept of Music as Musica Mondana (the Music of the Spheres, that Otherworld of magic, myth and mystery that makes a musical interpretation deeply meaningful, somehow spiritual), Musica Humana (the harmonious nature of humanity, unifying body, mind, spirit and emotions) and Musica Instrumentalis (actual music, i.e. techique, whether instrumental or vocal).

My first reaction to the videos of master-classes was to remind myself that a master-class is a very asymmetric situation, in which everything favours the teacher. The student is not only processing new information & new instructions, and changing their whole performance, but they are doing all this in full view of the audience. It is highly likely that the student will not be in Flow. At worst, a master-class can become a vehicle for the teacher to demonstrate their own superiority, their own Flow, at the expense of the student. But these problems for the student in a master-class are advantages for the researcher studying Flow, since we can expect to observe crucial differences between the master in Flow and the student not in Flow.

Cortot’s idea of a performance with Flow as similar to dreaming relates to the theoretical underpinning of my own research into Flow within Joe Griffin’s theory of Dreams. (more about Griffin’s theory, such stuff as Dreams are made on: Representing Emotions in Metaphor here).

As soon as I saw Cortot’s face, with the characteristic Gaze to which Laszlo drew attention, I recognised a look that can be found in many historical paintings of musicians. The eyes are directed forwards, upwards and into the remote distance.

Zampieri eyes

This Gaze is associated in Neuro-Linguistic Programming with inner focus (accessing visual memory or invented imagery). In Hypnosis this eye movement is part of a standard test, and is considered to be a reliable sole indicator of a hypnotic trance. In Historical Action, it is associated with the hand gestures for Awe or Wonder: the complete set of Awe/Wonder indicators are seen in many religious paintings (saints receiving visions, calling forth or witnessing a miracle).

 

 

Admiror

In 2013, I made a case-study of John Bulwer’s 17th-century gesture of awe-struck worship for performances of the earliest surviving Spanish Oratorio, which tells the Christmas story of the Shepherds witnessing the appearance of the Angel and worshipping the Christ-child in the Bethlehem stable. Another, highly detailed case-study of medieval Awe by Javier Diaz-Vera of the University of Castille La Mancha was reported at the recent CHE conference on “Languages of Emotion”. I observed a startling strong connection between this Gaze and Flow in a class at Scoil na gCláirseach, the summer school of the Historical Harp Society of Ireland, in August 2014.

The Feldenkrais Method advises re-setting ones habitual Gaze by placing the head lower, and lifting the eyes. This releases neck vertebrae, with beneficial effects for wellbeing, confidence and voice-production. Similar adjustments are recommended in Alexander Technique.  I am experimenting with Gaze and Self-Hypnosis in my own investigations of Flow.

Gaze and historical performance are related in the study of Enargeia and baroque gesture – you point at what you see, which can be far off in the distance, within your imagined vision of the words you are singing. 17th-century texts frequently evoke distant mountains or the heavens.

Laszlo identifies Gaze as an indicator of Flow. I hypothesise that control of Gaze can facilitate access into Flow. In discussions at Cambridge, some delegates were concerned that such a Gaze might just be created deliberately: I don’t think this is a problem. “Fake it till you make it” applies – imitating the outward appearance of the Flow-Gaze can be expected to produce the genuine Flow-state within.

Peres’ comment “We have to believe that miracles can happen, and then they happen more and more often” can be appreciated in the context of Hypnotic Suggestion for confidence, suggesting that the ‘miracle’ of Flow happens more frequently as one gains confidence in it. The comment also makes sense in the context of Deliberate Practice: the harder you practice, the luckier you get. Flow can lift you to the very peak of your ability, but it cannot create abilities you do not have.

The Gaze analysis of footballers supports a finding in Matthew Syed’s Bounce [here] that elite sports performance is not necessarily associated with fast physical reactions, but rather with very fast subconscious processing of information coming in from visual observation. That visual observation is facilitated by rapid, accurate, but subconsciously directed eye movements. All this fits perfectly within the Griffin model of dreaming and the REM-state (Rapid Eye Movement). Eye Movement is another route into hypnotic trance (see Richard Nongard’s “butterfly” rapid induction here). I hypothesise that REM is not only an indicator of Flow in elite performance, but could be a gateway into such Flow 

Laszlo talks about “letting go” in order to enter the Flow-state for performance. I think this is a crucial building block for a better understanding of how Flow differs between training/practice and performance. At Scoil 2014 I deliberately asked students to ‘change gear’, to ‘let go’ as they transitioned from establishing technical skills with detailed slow practice into full-speed trials of the new skill. I combined this with deliberate re-direction of Gaze, in order to enter a particular Flow-state for the full-speed trial. I used the imagery of a young bird learning to fly: flap the wings slowly, learn how they work; then jump off and fly. In this context, Yoda’s advice also holds good:

Yoda do or do not

Conscious doubt of whether or not one can succeed is a strong inhibitor of the subconscious Flow needed for that success.

I like Laszlo’s formulation that “The quality of performance depends on thoughts and feelings in your mind during performance.” When I was a student at the London Early Music Centre, tenor Edgar Fleet taught me that “Early Music is transparent. The audience can see through to what you are thinking about. If you are thinking about fish-and-chips, that’s what they’ll get. If you are thinking of something more meaningful, they’ll get that instead”. If we think about technique, audiences may appreciate our skill, but their passions will not be moved.

As Laszlo said in his opening remarks, we need to focus on Content and Meaning. I would add that such focus does not ‘distract us from our technique’, rather it helps us ‘let go’, and enter Flow. Let your subconscious handle technique, give your conscious mind something more interesting to think about, communicate better with your audience and also enter Flow. Win-win-win-win!

In private conversations, conference delegates reported to me that Laszlo’s coaching musicians to enter Flow has wonderful effects. I’m sure this is true, and I’m looking forward to reading his book (yep, it’s time to study Hungarian!) And what is the significance of Hungary’s position as a world-leader in pedagogy for Music (Kodaly method) and Fencing?

Other conversations dwelt on Laszlo’s personal conviction that discussion of Flow should include the language of magic. This was resisted by scientifically-minded delegates at the Cambridge conference, and it might not play well for Laszlo in academia generally. But here are my reasons for supporting Laszlo’s position. Flow is not a modern phenomenon, even though it has been named only recently. Our ancestors, right back to the first cave-painters experienced Flow, even if they did not name or analyse what they were experiencing. [More on the REM-state and evolution here] Flow and Hypnotism are clearly related to ancient traditions of folk-magic and shamanism.

Meanwhile, modern practitioners of Hypnosis recognise that different clients require different types of language. The word ‘sleep’ is used less today in Clinical Hypnosis, though it is still highly effective in Rapid Inductions. ‘Hypnosis’ or ‘Trance’ can be used with clients who are confident and comfortable with the idea of being hypnotised. For other clients, it’s better to invite them to a ‘resource state’ or ‘your own special state’. When I work with students on Flow, I take my cue from Ericksonian Hypnosis and adapt my vocabulary to match the student’s preferred language.  For an Early Music fan, I’ll talk about musica mondana and musica humana; for a new-age enthusiast, I’ll rephrase this in terms of Cosmic Harmony. For the nerd (yes, there are some Early Music nerds!), the Star Wars ‘Force’ may be the best metaphor. The Celtic Otherworld or Shamanism could be very powerful metaphors for someone who responds to such imagery. For someone with a science background, the metaphor of a computer, with its memory banks, operating system, keyboard inputs and background functions can be helpful.

From an Ericksonian perspective, it is the client/student, not the therapist/teacher, who chooses the vocabulary. From a historical perspective, ancient beliefs in music and magic are indeed related to the modern experience of music and Flow.  From my own, practical point of view, I’d recommend widening the vocabulary as much as possible, so as to offer Flow to students from all kinds of backgrounds. “Accept and utilise” is the Ericksonian mantra.

Thinking of the Historical priority that privileges the audience over the performer (in contrast to the 19th-century glorification of the ‘artistic genius’ and ‘expressive performer’), I raised the question at the Cambridge conference: is there any correlation between the Performer being in Flow, and audience members having a Strong Experience (shivers down your spine, the tingle factor, those powerfully emotional reactions to music)? The research project I’ve now begun on The Theatre of Dreams: Operatic Performance as an Early-Modern REM-state Activator assumes that around the year 1600 there was such a correlation, and draws on Ericksonian Hypnotism as an explanation. [More here]

 

Cambridge Mathematicians Bridge

WHAT COULD BE UNIVERSAL ABOUT MUSICAL IMPROVISATION? SITUATING THE COGNITIVE APPROACH

Andrew Goldman is a PhD student at the Centre for Music and Science, University of Cambridge. In addition to his scholarly research, he is a pianist and composer. Recently, his musical entitled Science! The Musical was premiered in Cambridge.

Abstract

Andrew Goldman reviewed trends in ethnomusicological and critical research on improvisation, showing how they challenge cognitive-scientific approaches and also how they share certain motivations (such as exploring performers’ creative processes). With specific reference to his own experimental research paradigms working with jazz musicians, he shows how such sensitivity can be an important check on the universalising tendency of scientific theorising, but also a way to demonstrate the broader validity of such scientific theories. This is accomplished through exploring modes of performance in terms of cognitive-scientific theoretical frameworks – such as motor theories of perception – in order to expand the explanatory scope of scientific conclusions beyond a particular musical tradition.

ALK summary

Andrew Goldman showed how daunting a task the serious, cognitive-scientific researcher faces, in attempting to establish solid,  reliable data for such richly complex activities as music-making and improvisation. His carefully designed and executed experiment established that time-delayed Feedback disrupted the performance of jazz pianists significantly more when they were improvising. From this, we can deduce that improvising (whatever that means: for this experiment the pianists were just instructed to improvise, and the results were accepted) is indeed different, and that the difference is somehow related to Feedback and to Time.

ALK comments

I admired this paper precisely because Andrew G’s conclusion was so carefully limited, precise in what it did not attempt to claim. Painstaking and sustained effort was needed to reach even this modest conclusion. This encourages great respect for those who are investigating complex phenomenon within the ‘hard’ scientific disciplines. We do need this check and balance on the tendency to universalise individual experience to general theory. Even if we can discover more, more quickly, through an experiential, phenomenological approach, we must constantly test the assumption that such experiences have any more general significance. A rounded view of complex phenomenon is likely to come about from a multi-disciplinary combination of various approaches, both “hard” and “soft”. [Andrew G tells me that he doesn’t like these labels, but I use them as a convenient shorthand, and with proper respect for both sides].

This paper was not about Flow. But I was interested in the topic of Improvisation anyway. I improvise a lot (in HIP styles) in performance; I direct The Harp Consort, an ensemble renowned for its HIP-improvisation; I’m a teacher of HIP-improvisation and I’m personally convinced that Improvisation is a valuable skill for any musician. Andrew Goldman gives us solid evidence that “improvising” [whatever that means] is “different”.

I suspect that scientific investigation of precisely how Improvisation is “different” will run into similar difficulties as scientific investigation of  Hypnosis, which has a much longer history. Neuroscientific observations of Hypnosis identify the characteristics of the activity happening (hallucinated or suggested under Hypnosis, or actually happening in a normal conscious state) rather than particular characteristics of Hypnosis itself. I suspect we will find the same is true for Flow. But in the face of this serious difficulty, Andrew G has established one clear difference, relating Improvisation [whatever that means] to Feedback. And we know from Csikszentmihalyi that Feedback is related to Flow. I have hypothesised that Improvisation may be related to Flow, and that Improvisation may be a gateway into Flow.

One possible explanation could be that Improvisation requires an Altered State of Consciousness, an inner focus that facilitates the calling up of material either from the memory, or from the imagination, or from the imaginative re-combination of memorised and imagined fragments. In ensemble improvisation, this inner focus must be combined with the processing of external information, the material improvised by other musicians. In any improvisation, this inner focus must be combined with the processing of the sound of the music one is creating, i.e. with Feedback. Improvising may self-induce a trance. In trance states, Suggestions can have particularly powerful effect. When improvising, it is the sound of this note that Suggests what note might follow. If that Feedback/Suggestion process is disrupted, the effect would be stronger in trance than in normal consciousness.

In one way, that explanation of mine is useless. It replaces one word we can’t define, Improvisation, with another word we can’t define, Hypnosis. In spite of all the years of investigation, there is still no accepted definition of Hypnosis, and no accepted scientific indicator of trance. Just as with Flow, there is a list of typical indicators: if someone experiences enough of these indicators, they are probably in that state. But the benefit of linking Improvisation, Flow and Hypnosis (no doubt there are distinctions to be made, alongside those links) would be that we could take the knowledge of Hypnosis acquired through many decades of practical investigation and scientific study, and quickly apply that knowledge (mutatis  mutandis) to Flow and/or Improvisation.  

Certainly, we should not be ashamed that we don’t really know what Improvisation or Flow is, in the strict scientific sense. In that sense, we don’t yet know what Hypnosis is, but we do know that it works, and that in certain circumstances, it can work magic, wreak miracles. An phenomenological approach might open up ways to extend good experiences of Hypnosis, Improvisation and Flow to the benefit of more people, more often. A ‘hard’ scientific approach can provide necessary balance by searching out chinks in the links, establishing how these related phenomena differ from each other. Ericksonian Hypnosis emphasises how one person’s experience can differ from another’s, and searches for ways to accept and utilise those differences. Can hard science establish what is universal, beyond such individual differences?

water drops

In the meantime, my own experiential investigations into the phenomenology of Flow and the Theatre of Dreams continue. More posts on these subjects soon. In particular, I will propose that Time Distortion effects (much studied in Hypnosis) are crucial to the understanding of two different kinds of Flow, in practice and in performance.

May the FLOW be with you

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our website www.TheHarpConsort.com .

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.

Accessing Super-Creativity: May the FLOW be with you!

 

May the FLOW be with you

Many musicians, sportsmen and women, creative writers and composers know the special state of consciousness described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as Flow. It’s being ‘in the zone’, that ‘Zen feeling’. It’s related to Mindfulness. You’re relaxed, but wonderfully concentrated on the task at hand; you feel quietly confident that you can manage it, you feel calmly exhilarated at the challenge it presents to you; you don’t feel self-conscious, you are just ‘there’, in the moment, in the groove; somehow, Time seems to slow down, so that you can effortlessly take in all the incoming information, calmly make an elegant decision, and execute your response perfectly; your artistic intentions and your physical actions unite perfectly; you are working at high efficiency, but you could continue for hours without getting tired; you feel happy, even elated, yet somehow also calm.

Flow notes

It’s a great feeling, and it is the ability to find Flow just when it matters most that makes the crucial difference between an elite performer, musician, martial arts practitioner or sportsman, and one who is merely average. But when Flow is blocked by performance anxiety, ‘stage-fright’ for actors or musicians, ‘choking’ for sportsmen, the effect can be devastating. Under the blocking conditions of high pressure and no Flow, elite performers find themselves unable to carry out basic techniques, experienced airline pilots make elementary, disastrous errors; international sportsmen’s competence plunges to rock-bottom. Just think of the Brazil football team in the World Cup semifinal: something happened to disrupt the Flow of their previous performances, and they crashed into incompetence and embarrassing defeat.

Brazil world cup defeat

But Flow is not only for elite perfomers. Accessing Flow can lift any of us beyond the limits of our normal abilities, so that we perform at our very best, ‘better than we know’. Flow is the ideal state not only for high performance, but also for the most effective learning. Flow seems to access something beyond the ‘here and now’, and may also be communicable between members of a team, between performers and audience. Perhaps the Star Wars metaphor of a mysterious Force uniting us all is not so far-fetched.

Access Flow you can

I suggest that in many disciplines we could teach Flow from the very first lessons, allowing students to make faster, deeper and more satisfying progress. Not just (for classical musicians) Technique and Interpretation or (for sportsmen) techniques and tactics, but (for anyone) how to get into Flow at whatever level of technical competence and interpretative insight.

Cellist

There is exciting work already in progress about teaching Flow to musicians, some of which was discussed in a flurry of papers at the recent CMPCP conference at Cambridge Univeristy. Lazlo Stacho (Liszt Academy, Budapest) is developing exercises to help classical musicians enter Flow. Marcus Araujo (University of Aveiro) is measuring whether or not musicians are indeed experiencing Flow, according to criteria based on Csikszentmihalyi’s work. In a properly cautious initial study, Andrew Goldman (Centre for Music & Science, Cambridge) has established measurable differences in cognitive processes when musicians are instructed to ‘improvise’.  Henrice Vonk is looking at Flow and Mindfulness.  I’ll summarise and comment on these CMPCP papers in a future post.

Zampieri eyes

 Elsewhere, Frank Heckman is working with Flow with both elite sportsmen and music students in the Netherlands. In Bremen, violinist and psychotherapist Andreas Burzik works on Flow for orchestral musicians, drawing parallels for businessmen. I’ll comment on Burzik’s approach in another future post.

Accessing Super-Creativity

My own research for the Australian Centre for the History of Emotions investigates Flow as an Altered State of Consciousness, within Joe Griffin’s model of the REM-state. Read more about Griffin’s Dream Theory here.

 

My aim is to build on existing work, and on my own personal experience of Flow as an elite performer (music), competent practitioner (sailing, a favourite example of Czikszentmihalyi’s) and elementary student (fencing), in order to develop exercises, teaching techniques, training conditions and rehearsal methodologies that facilitate entry into Flow.

My approach is therefore experiential, phenomenological and practical. Ethical considerations dictate that my first experiments are personal: observing, tweaking and testing my own experiences of Flow. When I’m teaching Flow to students, concern for their progress must outweigh the demands of pure research. My practical purpose is to help them access Flow. I can observe and monitor their work, and/or ask them to self-report on their personal experience, only in so far as this does not negatively impact their learning.

How far might that be? Lack of (negative) self-consciousness is one of the characteristics of the Flow state. This should serve to warn us that awareness of being observed will tend to work against Flow. We should expect to find the Observer Effect (familiar from quantum physics) at work: attempts to observe and measure sensitive processes will certainly effect the process itself, and that effect will probably be negative. In the worst case, trying to observe Flow (perhaps with an elementary student), might disrupt the Flow state we are trying to access and observe.

Schrodingers Cat

Neuroscience offers some fascinating data, and some understandings that can be applied to this search for Flow. But in the search for descriptions, explanations and recommendations that can be meaningful for students, metaphors and physical processes are likely to be more useful than neuroscience. It is more effective to ask a student to “focus inward” (a metaphor) or to “notice whether you have more weight on the right foot, or on the left” (directing attention to a physical process), than to “de-activate the anterior cingulate”, even if all three instructions are in some way equivalent, associated with switching conscious awareness away from externals.

cingulate

Another difficulty with a ‘hard science’ approach is that playing music, let alone finding Flow whilst playing music, is a complex activity full of rich detail. Reducing the experience to one variable may not be possible, or may be so distorting that any observations are invalid. It must be assumed that the music, one’s emotions and Flow itself will be affected by the intrusion of measuring equipment and the implied presence of an Observer.

Observer Effect

Looking for pathways into Flow, we first need to explore the territory, see the forest not the trees. Putting individual leaves under the microscope can come later, when we have learnt by experience and practice how to navigate the zone confidently.

A good parallel might be the scientific investigation of Hypnosis in the last half-century, where the phenomenological approach has led the way. Clinicians have discovered what works – experientially and practically – for them and for their clients, blazing a trail along which empirical verification and neuroscientific measurement can follow. Indeed the experience of Flow seems to have much in common with (self) hypnosis, and this will be one of the main lines of my enquiry.

Accessing Super-Creativity

My idea is to unite Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow with Ericksonian Hypnosis and Ericsson’s concept of Deliberate Practice (the importance of many hours of effective practice, rather than innate talent, in creating elite performance), all within the framework of Griffin’s work on the REM-state. I am confident that this will offer a better understanding of the experience of Flow, improved success in accessing Flow, and greater efficacy in practice and performance. Watch out for more posts on Flow, soon.

Locking Attention

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our website www.TheHarpConsort.com .

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.