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  • Dave Monette


"Successful musicians have the emotional strength to intimately connect with their audience - even (and especially) if their audience is just themselves."


Twenty years ago I was invited to spend a few days at a large, well known music school. On my first day there, I gave a clinic and masterclass on equipment, body use, and breathing. The next day I was invited to sit in on a few private lessons given by the senior trumpet teacher at the school, who was a long-time client and friend. He mentioned that he was working with some promising students that semester, but had one grad student who was an enigma to him.

He went on to explain that one minute this student would be capable of playing as one would expect from a grad student at a renowned music school; but at other, unpredictable times, the student sounded like a much younger, inexperienced student. My friend said he was about out of ideas on how to work with him, and open to any suggestions I might come up with during the lesson.

The student had been working on Charlier Etude #2, a piece that is well known to classically trained trumpet players. Graduate students at most any music school would normally be able to play at least some of this piece with a reasonable degree of mastery. He started out a bit rough, and things went downhill from there. When the student finished playing, the instructor turned to me and asked if I had any comments or suggestions.

At that moment, I had one of those experiences where time warps into slow motion, and a flash of intuition and deja vu provides guidance. It was time to "jump off the cliff," and explore an approach that came to me in the moment... a rough and unpolished version of a therapeutic process that years later I would learn had already been explored in other ways by several well known mind-body innovators.

I asked the student to play the first eight bars of the etude again, but this time with his eyes closed. I also asked him to keep the trumpet up in playing position when he was done playing, and told him that I would then be asking him some simple questions that he should answer spontaneously and from his heart.

The student played the introduction of the etude, missing notes and sounding uncentered and insecure. Now every player has bad days... but the question was: what was happening with this player, right now, on this day, that was causing him so much frustration?

When he was done playing, still with his eyes closed, I asked him to notice how he was experiencing his presence in the room. I asked him if he felt larger or smaller than usual. He said smaller. I asked where he felt himself positioned in the room: left, right, up, down, above or behind himself. He answered that he was forward several feet and over to the left. When he said this, memories of an introductory NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) weekend training that I attended back in the 1980's immediately surfaced in me.

I asked him what was going on out there, forward and to the left. He replied that he felt very uncomfortable. His voice was shaking and it was obvious he was upset. I asked him what age he was, and he replied 12 years old. At this point he started tearing up. I asked him what he was experiencing, and he replied that his parents were scolding him for sounding bad, and were critical of him for wanting to be a musician.

Stanley Keleman's "Emotional Anatomy"

So as he played for us, this student in his late 20's was regressed back to adolescence, and he was under attack; feeling inadequate and disgraced from the disapproval of his parents. And indeed at that moment, in both his speaking voice and in his trumpet playing, he sounded like a wounded twelve-year-old.




Over the next twenty minutes or so, we dialoged in the "real time" of his adolescent regression. Once he accepted the initial shock of his shift in emotional age, we started a guided meditation to release some of the old imprint of disapproval, and bring him back into himself - in the present moment - as a doctoral student and accomplished musician.

When he was more comfortable and centered in himself, I asked him to take some relaxed, full breaths, and take a moment to consciously experience how it felt to be more grounded and present, holding his trumpet as a graduate student at a large and well respected music school. He said he felt larger. The shift in his projection beyond himself out into the room was obvious. When he settled in and seemed somewhat stabilized in the present, I asked him to hold that template and play the opening of the etude.

He immediately sounded like a different player; playing with more power, control and nuance... and without missing any notes. He was literally a different player in a different place and time. The shift was stunning to all three of us in the room. After the lesson concluded and the student had left the studio, my friend the trumpet professor's only comment was, "That was very interesting..."

This was the start of a fascinating learning process for me that since then has continued with other clients to this day. The student had reclaimed some of his adult musician identity that had been taken by the adolescent emotional trauma inflicted by his parents. And I had experienced a potent introduction to a technique I could develop and build on when working with other clients.



Twenty years ago, when I worked with the graduate student mentioned above, I had never heard of Wilhelm Reich. After studying somatics now for the last three years, I now know that Reich is often cited as one of the principal founders of mind-body work. Somatics is a field within bodywork and movement studies which emphasizes internal physical perception and experience. The term is used in movement therapy to signify approaches based on the soma, or "the body as perceived from within." This is key work for musicians who want to expand their awareness and experience new levels of musical communication.

Reich was arguably the first to develop an approach to working with patients that included somatics, neuromuscular work and psychoanalysis. Fundamental to his approach was the idea that a natural energy flows through the body. Reich called it ORGONE. Other modalities, cultures and religions use different names:

Accupuncture: ANCESTRAL CHI


French Philosophy: ELAN VITAL

Biodynamic Osteopathy: LONG TIDE

Tibetan Buddhism: UNCONDITIONED


Reich found this natural energy could be blocked at various points in the body, often as a response to some trauma or suppressed impulse or emotion. He referred to these points as "Deficits in Bodily Orgone." Dr. John Upledger, in his classic book SamatoEmotional Release, called them "Emotional Cysts". Dr. Fritz Smith (Founder of Zero Balance) calls them "Free-standing Wave Forms."

A typical example of these "emotional cysts" could be formed by a child's inhibition

of impulses and expressions of feelings arising from being in a difficult or unpleasant situation - such as when the graduate trumpet student mentioned above experienced the strong disapproval of his parents for his pursuit of music. The child learns to tense the muscles and hold back the full expression of a movement or feeling. When this is done repeatedly, the muscular holding pattern can become chronic and unconscious. Welcome to the world of many musicians.

Playing antiquated, out-of-tune equipment adds another dimension to these habitual patterns of constraint and holding. The unconscious physical compensations players learn as they try to physically compensate for out-of-tune equipment reinforce whatever emotional armoring they may have taken on as part of their larger life experience. We hear the effects of all this regularily with players we meet at almost all levels of performance.

As we all know, there is no hiding when making music. This is both the gift and the challenge people accept when deciding to become musicians. Preventing and eliminating the part of this "armoring" that is generated by playing antiquated equipment has been my main focus in pursuing the continued evolution of modern brass instruments. With Energetics of Performance work, we now also share more subtle tools for addressing these issues beyond those caused by the equipment.


The extra tension, misalignment and patterns of compensation held in the body from emotional trauma, playing poor equipment, or both, can become part of our character and structure. Some use the term "muscle memory" for this, although the memory - while manifest in the physical/emotional body - initiates in the motor cortex of the brain. Once a compensation is committed to memory, the motor cortex is less involved, and activation switches to lower-order processing areas such as the cerebellum. The point here being, the memory is in the brain; not the muscles.

Neuroplasticity is a key to cutting edge work in the field of healing. Brain activity associated with a given function can be transferred to a different location in the brain, allowing a reset of what many musicians refer to as "muscle memory." This can be highly effective in relieving both old patterns of muscular holding and chronic pain. Moshe Feldenkrais was decades ahead of his time in incorporating this in his neuromuscular re-education lessons. (For more on neuroplasticity, refer to Dr. Norman Doidge's bestselling book "The Brain's Way of Healing.")

Wilhelm Reich's work, Stanley Keleman's Emotional Anatomy, John Upledger's SomatoEmotional Release, Ida Rolf's Rolfing, and Moshe Feldenkrais's The Feldenkrais Method all address releasing restrictions and opening pathways for greater structural and emotional integration. ​In what is called Functional Integration, Feldenkrais lessons are given one-on-one, with a practitioner working with an individual student. Awareness Through Movement lessons can be held in a class setting, or one can do the work individually at home. This is one of many reasons that the Feldenkrais Method is such a comprehensive approach.

A fundamental goal of the Feldenkrais Method is to teach one how to learn. And the definition of intelligence is one's ability to learn.

Moshe Feldenkrais mentions in his classic book Awareness Through Movement that children brought up in "achievement oriented" home environments often lose spontaneity, and later end up stagnating in their development as they try to relive and/or reclaim their lost adolescence.

Emotional trauma bringing on regression back to adolescence is common among adult musicians I work with. Many players struggle in ways one would not expect given their age and level of experience. As Moshe Feldenkrais famously writes in the first sentence of the preface of this book:

"We act according to our self image."

Moshe Feldenkrais, Awareness Through Movement

This book is a short, easy and exceptional read (including an extensive workbook!) for anyone who wants to be more conscious of who they are, where they came from, what they might have missed along the way, and how they can grow into more of themselves. It opens the path for lifelong learning.



That first Emotional Integration lesson with the graduate student twenty years ago showed me an important key to effective music making. Successful players usually have the emotional strength to embrace the intimacy that allows them to connect to more of themselves - and by extension to connect with their audience.

My experience working with musicians - including those who are experiencing some degree of emotional dis-integration when making music - is that they often fall into three general categories:

1: The most common case of someone experiencing difficulties that would not normally be expected from someone of their age or experience level is the displaced adolescent who was traumatized in some way as a youth. Typically, their emotional body is dis-integrated from their physical body, and they act out from their adolescent self. The more disconnected they become, the more frustration they experience.

2: The next most common case of someone experiencing difficulties that would not normally be expected from someone of their age or experience level is the player who feels older than their chronological age as they play; often elderly. They often say that they feel like they lack the physical stamina it takes to properly hold up their instrument, let alone effectively play it.

3: When working with players who are emotionally centered and comfortable with themselves, they almost always experience themselves as being more or less centered, and feel relatively grounded, secure, and happy. Often these players sense that they are larger than their physical body, expanded either above themself or actually radiating out, filling some or all of the room beyond their awareness of the physical body. This expanded state usually coincides with a sound concept that encompasses everyone and everything in the room. This expansion is the most obvious benefit of practicing grounding, centering, and other Energetics of Performance techniques.


TO BE CONTINUED... more on Emotional Integration coming soon in PART TWO of this post!

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