Film recommendation: “Paris, Texas”

Two days ago I watched this film at the cinema. A friend told me that it is widely available online, but I preferred to go to the cinema, for its setting and rituals: comfortable seats, great audio and video, planned timing and breaks. It is a situation where I have to decide very little and I can concentrate fully on the film.

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I have been enchanted by the colours, all along the film. Camera angles were a treat in practically every scene (I thought that the film could be stopped almost anytime and printed out on a large canvas, with wonderful results). But maybe I enjoyed the careful, slow unwinding of the characters’ stories even more than everything else. It seemed to me that some moments were not acted at all, they seemed so alive and real. I enjoyed the sensation of having enough time to understand what the characters thought, what they felt, instead of having to pick clues or devices put in place to signify an emotion, but in a way that saves film-time. I felt there was no plot, no planned outcome, and this made me feel relaxed – otherwise, when I know that the plot has to follow certain steps, I end up fixing my attention to it, afraid of missing a clue, but missing a whole bunch of other information.

It was great to watch the movie together with many other people. We chuckled, paid close attention, smiled, laughed and sighed together. It was precious to hear the buzz of conversations started right out of the doors, people flowing out in pairs or small groups, all starting a discussion about some particular scene or their impressions. There were people who didn’t like the film, and it didn’t bother me, even if I loved it a lot. There are many factors that need to be there to make you enjoy an artistic creation like a movie, not all under our control; maybe they were tired or worried about something and could not focus; maybe they didn’t like the story. Some films and books clicked for me only when I saw them again much later, with a different mindset.

For this movie, I liked the large space that the creators reserved to the spectator, to be filled with personal interpretations and empathy. There are very little hints of the opinion of the creators on the complex net of relationships among the characters, and their lives’ difficult turns. I felt that they offered that story to me, as it was, without trying to make sense of it themselves.

I’m curious to see more movies like this, and I am open to suggestions! Let me know in the comments.

Find the differences #1 – accepting people vs. accepting their issues

I want to start a series of posts about two sentences who say something about a topic, in slightly different ways. I start with this pair:

  1. accept people for how they are
  2. accept their issues: assume nothing can be done when they look distressed

For me in such cases, words are really hard to match with thoughts. I find there is something very respectful in accepting people for what they are – the opposite would be consistently pushing them to change towards “acceptable behaviour” and “normality”.

Still, I don’t think that it implies that the best choice is to be passive. The second sentence sounds painfully familiar to me. I see a huge difference in stepping in when someone is doing something odd but seems happy with it (reading a lot? drawing minute details? be silent for long bouts of time?), versus stepping in when someone seems unable to cope with an input that makes them suffer (too much noise for them? too much stress? too many interactions?).

I admit that I over-think about this. Especially with kindergarten children, I am always asking myself: am I accepting the child’s behaviour with an open mind or am I passive when I should chime in? Am I encouraging obedience or am I offering support adequately? The same I think about my interaction with adults, because I am never sure if someone is in control of a given situation, or is overwhelmed and would benefit from external help.

I suppose I can learn by experience, but I am relieved that I have put my doubts into words, instead of erring on the cautious (but dangerous) side of non-intervening. I would love to continue exploring this topic with your inputs: please use the comment box below!

Billy Cobham’s lesson at Drumeo

Yesterday I watched Billy Cobham’s lesson about the art of the rhythm section. I knew him only by name and I remember having bought drumsticks designed by him. I have to confess I was unsure if I would like the lesson, as he is so famous, and I am often disappointed by how famous musicians lose connection with their own creative source, with fellow musicians and with the audience.

This is not the case of Billy Cobham: I found him so open, so genuinely interested in preparing a good atmosphere for the musicians he plays with, conscious of the force and responsibility of the drums section; he compared playing in a group to a friendly conversation; he underlined the ability to keep an internal metronome and play only the notes that are really needed. He then played two pieces and an amazing solo. It was almost possible to follow his thoughts, and feel his joy in making music. See and listen yourself!

I am relieved that such a gentle personality is one of the leading voices in drumming. I am so afraid that the music scene will end being dominated by other forces than the human aspiration to get together and have real fun – people like Billy and many others like him, are my hope. Last but not least, thanks to Drumeo for sharing these amazing lessons for free!

 

On leadership mindset

Love Bite -- by Chad Hanson

Lately I collected many hints on how a good leader should be: at my kindergarten, at riding lessons and by music rehearsals. At the same time I thought about how it takes to be a good team member.

In the past I had my strong opinions on some topics and would not accept any other, even from people who expected me to conform. I used to fight back, first with explicit force, then more softly but still very firmly. I was not especially good at leading because I was not so good at presenting my ideas and getting feedback from others, on any level. I was sometimes a difficult musician in my orchestra: the more I was pushed to play in a way I didn’t like, the more unmanageable I became.

Since then I understood many signs, or maybe, I got older and I don’t cling that desperately to my opinions anymore. It was an interesting lesson with the horse I ride: I have to communicate clearly and show a calm, focused mind, in order to be accepted as leader by an animal that is many times bigger, heavier, faster than me. I can occasionally bluff and play calm, even if I am not, as it is usually a safe thing to do – opposed to be scared by default, scare the horse and create an actual dangerous situation.

It is almost the same with children. They have marked personalities and clear ideas on what they want, but also rely on adults for guidance and exploration of the unknown world. When I feel that I am teaching something new to them, I am like a mountain guide, walking in front, showing where I put my feet, leaving the freedom to walk in another path when I consider it safe too; I check often with them to see if the way is manageable for them, if they are tired, happy, scared,curious. I learned in these last months how to pay attention to small signs that help me understand how another person feels, even if his/her words say otherwise. It happened too often that people answered “No thanks, how nice of you that you offer help, but I don’t need it now” and I saw on their faces that they needed that help so badly. Then it’s another diplomatic game to play, how to help them without patronisation.

And on this fine tuning, I exercise my leadership skills and my team member skills, usually by trial and error in real world situations. Sometimes I manage to make my tests with people who have much to teach me on this field: it is a real enjoyment to know that I can practice with the confidence that I am in a playpen, in a sandbox where I don’t have to worry that I could hurt somebody in order to learn my lessons.

On obedience, on teaching

I was very inspired by K’s blog post about teaching and understanding other living beings (people and animals that people find similar enough to them to be able to establish communication).

I should quote the whole post; except a few references to her own life, all her words could have been written by me as well. I am astonished at how our minds wander in the same landscapes, along several years now; I find her thoughts written almost at the same time when they surface in my mind.

I wish to append another line of thought to her reflections. Now that I am fine with not judging, with a gentler way of helping others find their way, when should I do that? I am very often confronted with clashes of ideas between me and my current pupil(s). One clever “trick” is to offer an apparent choice. For example I a young child to walk in my same direction, and he shows that he wants to go another way. Then I can offer the choice to go in hand with me or walk alone – in both cases, in the direction I have chosen.

This solution avoids conflict and still gives the child the possibility to make a choice. Still, not the one he initially wanted, the choice of direction. I am sometimes myself (yet) too unsure myself, and I am not able to drop the child’s idea in favour of mine. Maybe is a matter of experience and time, but I don’t want to become a guide that is too sure of his own ideas, and drops others’ ideas by default. I wish to keep doubt about my judgments for a little longer.

Of course it very much depends on how crucial are these choices. If I am reasonably sure that the child is leading a happy and fulfilled life, and at one moment of the day just wishes to play a little longer, sleep some more, scream and sing aloud, I don’t feel too guilty if I limit his liberty for a moment with my decision (the more, when there is a small life lesson attached). But I want to keep an eye always open for the cases when a disobedience is a sign of something deeper, that requires attention and not simply correction.

There is something of that kind also in my orchestra, where the conductor has (always had?) the ability to let us comment on a piece and tell him how we want it to sound like. This doesn’t diminish the respect we have for his opinion, quite the contrary.

Reflections

On playing at concerts, part 2

 @ Bergamo, 83. Adunata Alpina

Last riding lesson was interesting, once more, as a mirror and sandbox for how I feel when playing music. In a former post I wrote about how I came to enjoy concerts less and less, and now I feel I made one small step in a direction I like.

Martina was letting me focus on my posture while Lozano walked slowly in the arena. I am getting better at following Lozano’s movements and interfere as less as possible with his rhythm. Martina and me discussed about how to sit comfortably at the trot. She explained to me that the horse has a marked bouncing movement of the back, that the rider should not block with his/her own body tension. In other words, if the rider sits with contracted legs and torso, the horse’s movement will make him/her bounce and fall over, and if not, will prevent the horse from moving correctly (the horse would then slow down or stop, as it interprets that stiffness as a request to slow down). This is fairly obvious for anyone who rode a horse at trot, or was astride any animal or vehicle which moved with a lot of energy.

The interesting part of the explanation came when considering other approaches to the trot. One could try to anticipate the horse’s movement, with the goal to make the same displacements. This is very tricky, because the horse rarely makes perfectly timed strides, and without stirrups it is especially difficult to create your own movement. Another idea is to follow the horse’s movement, with a relaxed body, with the legs alongside the horses’s flanks (not so relaxed that they bounce, but as much relaxed as possible). I tried it and I really felt my body’s movements lagging behind the horse’s, the horse almost shifting away from underneath me at each step; only gravity and friction were keeping me astride. (I had my hands on the handles of the vaulting surcingle for safety, not for actively holding myself on the horse.) Martina noticed my change in posture and we talked about it in detail. I managed to better understand how the rider follows the movement of the horse, while still being able to guide the horse – but with cues and intention, not with his/her own movements.

I brought to her a comparison with music, and drumming in particular. A very similar explanation has been given by Mark Kelso for Drumeo, in a longer lesson about playing with the metronome. He shows how to play exactly with the metronome, slightly ahead or slightly behind it (laying back):

The point Mark makes is that you should be aware of these three ways of playing, and you should be able to consciously switch between them. After this lesson, I could not tie myself to an exercise that does not help me strengthening my awareness, in any field. I had recognised the moments when I could play music “laying back”, but could not always recreate the conditions, or decide how to play with other musicians. That disappointed me very much, it made me feel powerless and clueless. Now that I got a rational explanation, that I can test at will, I am not fighting so eagerly anymore for perfect harmony at rehearsals or concerts – I know it is a fragile mixture and that it’s not necessarily my own fault if it does not happen.

I further talked with Martina about Feldenkrais riding practice in relation to competitive riding, and Feldenkrais-like music practice and meta-exercises in relation to concerts. We agreed that when the show is on, deep feelings are not so important anymore; they have been the focus of practice, and on stage rules another set of values. Of course people notice when there are flow and deep connections on stage; but it is usually not as important as other rules.

Finally I am OK with doing a half-hearted concert – or better, I know why I am not there with my full swing; instead of raging and biting, or worse, abandon the stage, I have seen a path that will take me to a higher awareness and the accompanying technical ability.

I am thankful to my guides, who picked up the way I learn, give me food for thought and appropriate learning supports; they are confident I can go forward on my own legs, they smile when I conquer a new height.

On movement and mind

Last Friday I attended two lessons, one at a local riding school, the other as usual at my orchestra’s rehearsal theatre.

The first lesson was my first Feldenkrais and riding lesson, with Martina Schumacher and one of her horses, Lozano. The lesson focused on the mind’s image of the body. According to usage and perceived importance, each limb and part of the body have a more or less detailed image in our mind. That is not inherently bad, but if the consequence is the uneven usage of force, or unbalance, then it makes sense to examine how the body is mapped in our mind, notice which parts could deserve more attention, and what can be done to to reach a better balance and self-awareness.

Martina guided Lozano around the arena with me in the saddle, while she guided my focus on the perception of various parts of my body, my balance, my overall feeling. Martina could not see me, as she was leading the horse; but could know if I experienced tension by noticing how Lozano increased his pace. There was a quiet and fluid understanding between the three of us, on different channels: me and Martina only speaking, Martina and Lozano by their long-time osmosis, me and Lozano by our movements. I was amazed at how Lozano decoded the smallest changements in my posture and tension, and manifested them clearly by walking faster or by relaxing his gait and body. That mirroring is hard to find among humans and other animals, as far as I know, so I am grateful that this horse gave me such clear feedback.

At the end of the lesson, Martina brought Lozano in the centre of the arena and we shortly talked about how I felt during the ride. In the meanwhile, Lozano bent his neck and touched my left foot with his nose. Maybe he wanted to draw my attention to my left side?

I dismounted and talked a bit more with Martina. I am amazed at the fact that I didn’t feel the need to address my unbalance and unevenness until, well, today. How did I survive for thirty years, doing apparently quite well? Our body is amazingly resilient.

With all this in mind, I came back home for a while and prepared my gear for my drum lesson. Not surprisingly, I am taking drum lessons (again, after ten years) with a special focus on movements and body awareness, not on technical achievements anymore (even if the distinction is fuzzy, for instruments such as drums where movement is key). I take fun and pride in mastering simple exercises that require special attention to a movement, a set of movements, coordination, control; playing loud or softly, playing exactly what I have in mind, in terms of timing and sound. I have the privilege to have a terrific teacher, who spots all little bends, tensions, hesitations; honest, gentle and helpful as a doctor.

I felt that that day I had one single long lesson, and I am eager to make progress further along these two converging paths.