Flow Interview Lucy Hare – BBC Symphony Orchestra

Flow Interview Lucy Hare – BBC Symphony Orchestra

Flow Music Tips and Training

 

Lucy Hare is a double bass player, sitting in the world of classical world music. She’s played for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Concert Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Opera House Orchestra, the Tango Volcano, and the Oxford Concert Party.

She will share with us her group Flow experiences, how she connects with with her instrument and with the energy of the room and some of her tips that help her to get into this amazing state.

 

 

Cameron:  I’m just going to ask you initially just to explain one or two Flow experiences, it can be either in training or performance, where you felt that you’ve hit that zone, you’ve hit that bubble, and you found a bit of freedom in that Flow space. So we’d love to hear where it was, when it was, and some of the characteristics that happened during that Flow experience.

Lucy: Okay. The one that comes to mind, because I’ve done so many different things with my playing obviously over the years, but one really comes to mind, which is a kind of group Flow in a way, but for me it was personal as well. It was at one of the Prom concerts, the London Prom Concerts in the Royal Albert Hall, and we were playing Strauss’ Alpine Symphony which is a massive work, it has alpenhorns in it and cowbells and an orchestra of about 120 or something, it’s an incredible piece of music. It’s a great piece, it’s challenging but it’s playable for us, and there was a moment in the middle…

We were playing it with the most incredible conductor, which isn’t always the case, but this was a really wonderful, amazing Russian conductor, and there was a moment where the orchestra kind of felt we turned a corner, we all turned it together and there was this incredible moment of feeling as if the whole orchestra, so it’s 120 people, were on the point of their toes and turned this corner together. For me afterwards, it was just this fantastic point of being completely with the orchestra, with the other people, but also completely one with my instrument and my technique and the room. Everything just came together in that spot, that moment, that sort of sweet spot in a way. So that was a very memorable case of Flow for me.

Cameron: Wow – that sounds really fascinating! I talk a lot about jazz musicians finding Flow because of it being spontaneous and connecting with one another and feeding off one another, but it’s really interesting to hear that you found that collective, group experience where you were almost on a tipping point. Was that something that happened a flip of a coin, or was that something that progressed a processed slowly? Did you feel like you were feeding off others, or was it a case of you were in your Flow and you found other people in a similar space?

Lucy: Yeah, really good questions. I’m not sure what other people were doing, but I think if I had to choose one thing it would depend on really, it would really be the leadership we were getting at that moment, so the conductor, he took the time to let us turn that corner together. But I think it’s not as simple as that actually, I think it came from also the sort of micro details, where everybody being in control of their technique and their ability to manage that moment technically on whatever instrument they were playing, and all kind of taking that point of poise in a way.

(…) And with music things like your tuning of your instrument, so everybody probably was playing really well in tune, there’s a kind of resonance that happens when everyone plays together and well that you don’t get when… It can sound together but it doesn’t have that resonance if people aren’t really hitting that sweet spot in a way.

Cameron: It sounds like as everyone else is hitting their sweet spot and the notes are, dare I say, perfect. You feed off one another, you hear it and it helps you up your game, and you get to that base where performing in that higher state is easier. Is that correct?

Lucy: Yeah. I think… There is something about your antennae, about… You have to obviously take care of your own technique, and that takes years and years and years of work, and hours every day probably, but then there’s also something about your awareness about the person sitting next to you. We play in sections in an orchestra, so the section of eight double basses, then there’ll be the string section which is bigger again, so it kind of fans out, and then there’s the whole orchestra. So you have all these different levels of awareness, and if they all come together, so both intonations – the pitch, the tuning – but also the timing… Timing is such a fine art I think, and there’s no… I was going to say there’s no exact science to it, I bet there is [laughs], it appears a very mathematical thing, but I think it has something that’s much more magical than that actually. So I think all those things coming together. Yeah, so you have to kind of perfect what you’re doing, but it’s a greater thing that perfection I think.

Cameron: So practically speaking, when you’re in let’s say at that moment, the moment you’ve just explained… To me there’s a lot going on there: you got the notes in front of you, you got the conductor, you’ve got your instrument, you’ve got where your fingers are, you’ve got the audience around you, you’ve got colleagues. Where is your focus? What are you focus on and aware on? Is it a case of you are hyperaware of everything and you’re playing effortlessly? Or is it a case of you’re actually highly focused on one thing, which is your notes and your… Where is your focus and your awareness?

Lucy: That’s a really good question. I would be really interested to hear the answer to your question from a sportsperson who plays in a team as well. I think my focus has to be everywhere actually. I don’t know biologically if you can do that, but I think the micro stuff, so your own technique… your main focus has to already have been done on that, with your practice, your personal practice, then the rehearsals in the orchestra. (…). Maybe that’s partly what creates the moment of Flow is that you can lift it. It really feels like a moment of poise to me with the group thing, that you have that time of balance and you can go in any direction, and your concentration is wide as well as being very centred.

Cameron: Yeah. You’re describing the many paradoxes of Flow, where we feel out of control but completely in control, and action and awareness kind of merge, where you’re feeling intricately a part of every second that’s going on, but at the same time it’s almost as if someone else is doing the actions and performing for you. It is very much a paradoxical state, because biologically speaking the prefrontal cortex and the conscious mind is not really in charge of the functioning and the operation at that time, so they’re kind of the logical and critique side of our brains that wants to analyse that experience and understand what’s going on isn’t in the room. It’s the subconscious that’s working that experience. And then when we come back to experience it, we look at it from a conscious brain as we’re talking now and it tries to make sense of these things that would normally happen through the conscious brain. They feel and sound so paradoxical, but in the world of experiencing a moment and performing through the subconscious, it’s a very normal experience to be looking at the minutiae but also taking in the bigger picture.

So, what out of the 9 dimensions to Flow… I know you’ve had a quick look at them. What are the ones that really resonate for you in terms of practically finding Flow?

Lucy: I had a look at your list, and one of the main things is about level of challenge actually. Certainly with playing the bass, if there’s a level of challenge that is strong but not overwhelming, that’s key for me personally. If the challenge is overwhelming, I’m kind of in my head, saying, “You need to do this, you need to play it this way, play it this way, you’ve got to prepare, you’ve got to get your elbow in the right place, your fingers have got to be strong, you’ve got to play this faster, you didn’t practice this enough!” the little voice on my shoulder is going 100 miles an hour. So if the challenge level is strong but manageable and I’ve done the pre-work, then that is very likely to lead to a sense of Flow I think for me personally, not necessarily the group thing. So that’s really important.

And also, the other thing is we do repeat performances quite a lot if we’re doing a show or dance work or something, so you might do 30 or 50 performances of exactly the same show and they want it the same every night (…) The danger there is that you get very bored, so then you have to crank up the challenge and obviously technically you can’t because it’s the same music. So I personally do that by imagining the situation to be more alarming or scary  (…)That can sometimes give it a slightly different state of… Yeah, very different state to the one I described earlier, a different state of Flow, but it’s a kind of… It then frees me from the boredom of what’s happening, and the repetition becomes almost like a sort of meditation, focusing in on each part but also then again being able to lift your mind away from it to other things and see the bigger picture. (…)

Cameron: Yeah, absolutely. And the challenge-skill balance that you’ve just discussed is one of the primary dimensions of Flow, and the applied elements to Flow that the Flow Centre has come up with, one of the elements is sufficient challenge. Us as performers need to take responsibility and manage that, whether that’s in our mind or the environment or the context, or playing around with our equipment to make it a little bit more challenging or less challenging, familiarising ourselves with it before a performance so we’re not distracted by the nuances of a grip or this, that or the other, as I’m sure you do when you get a new piece of equipment.

So what leading up to a performance, either these performances or other performances that you’re thinking of… You’ve mentioned a couple of times you’re lifting your mind, almost stepping up a gear into Flow if you like, so you’re playing and the event is happening and then you move on. What, in your experience or opinion, helps that happen? So in terms of preparation leading up to the event, so the morning of, an hour before, and then during, how do you… What do you focus on? What rituals do you use? Any tips that you can share with others that you might have adopted over time?

Lucy: I think the preparation for me is all done in advance really, so the practice and the learning of the skills and the deepening of the skills, and that’s done, as I said, the day before, the week before, but 30 years before as well. So, with rituals… (…) I need to get my head backstage probably half an hour before a performance and keep it there in the interval, because if you come out it’s strange, it disrupts the bubble in a way that… that I inhabit anyway, I just talk about myself.

I think it’s probably quite common, but I only know for me, that you kind of inhabit this bubble during concert. And the minute it’s over, then it’s fine, you can do anything, but before it I need… In a way it’s a quiet space. It might not be quiet orally, but it’s a quiet space inside me. And often we put our instruments on the stage before the concert so they’re already on there, maybe from the rehearsal or something, but a lot of people have their instruments in their hand to warm up with backstage; we don’t have that luxury because our instruments are big. So it’s quite nice to make sure your hands are warm and clean and actually get them active… I’m sitting here while I’m talking to you, squeezing my hands. If you have a juggling ball or something, it’s quite nice to have that, or just need something with your hands. So they’re kind of physical preparations, and the mental one is more about staying in that bubble really.

(…) So I suppose for me physicality brings me into the moment, and then that is more likely to create a sense of flow.

Cameron: Thanks for that – really, really interesting. I know many people believe that’s the whole purpose of the body, to kind of anchor us to the moment. Our mind is always wanting to go into the future and the past, and it’s staying with that breath, or, as you said, feeling your feet on the floor and back against the chair can really kind of bring us back into that moment where we can stretch time, as opposed to running into the future or critiquing the past. We’re coming to an end now, but a little golden nugget for any young musicians out there in terms of what advice you could give to them towards finding Flow, not necessarily as a career but finding Flow in their music when they’re practicing, when they’re spending the hours at home, burning their fingers away, practicing? How could you kind of say, “Maybe try this and that might lead you to more Flow experiences.”?

Lucy: I think one of the things, which we haven’t actually talked about, is do something you love, and if that is playing your instrument, then do it; if it’s not, then maybe look at doing something else, or do it in a way that you can love it. I think really one of the key things is practice, getting the technical challenges really nailed down as soon as you can. To a musician this will make sense: if there’s a piece of music, don’t practice it from beginning to end. Look at the bits that are going to really challenge you and really focus on them, so that when it comes to it you know exactly what you’re doing with your fingers and you can lift your concentration to what else is going on. So focus on the bits that you don’t want to go anywhere near. I suppose that would be my key message.

Cameron: Perfect. Which leads me nicely to our closing question, which is for you what is you going beyond, what is a fear for you, either in your performance world or not in your performance world, where you feel is going beyond?

Lucy: I think for me just passion actually, to do something that I’m passionate about and that stretches me, and actually I love doing those two things usually so my bass playing is that, and a lot of other things I do in life are things that fit those two things. Yeah, so passion and stretch probably.

Cameron: Okay – thank you very much, Lucy! We’ve had a fantastic conversation looking at all sorts of topics, from collective Flow to the challenge-skill balance, to integrating training and ensuring the biology and the muscle memory is all there. Lots of really interesting points, and we’d love to get your opinions, any musicians out there, on Lucy’s comments, so please get in touch and we look forwards to speaking to you soon – thank you very much!

 

Click here to listen to the full interview

 

We would like to thank again Lucy Hare for sharing with us her story and I would recommend to go and see her in action and feel that group flow experience that she talks about.

 

Your Soundtrack To Flow – Fraser Pash

Your Soundtrack To Flow – Fraser Pash

Music Performance Skills

Fraser Pash gives us the low down of his recent performance.

 

I sat there sipping on my drink wondering ‘what the hell are we listening to?’ I’m up next and I still haven’t decided what I’m going to play. I’ve spent weeks practicing a song. Trying out different tunings and transpositions to get the best sound out of my guitar and my voice. But I’ve started to doubt; not myself, but my song choice. Everyone else who has gone up to the mic and chortled out some recent pop song has been mediocre at best.

It was at this point that I decided, f*ck it. I’m going to play my own song.

Maybe I’m more comfortable playing my own music, maybe I enjoy the higher risk of judgement from letting people hear it. I’ve never been able to pinpoint exactly what it is about playing my own music that triggers flow. But as I sang every note perfectly, ad-libbing to great effect, I felt happy. An almost endless happiness, totally in flow. That was of course until the song finished and I was left standing alone in a room of three hundred people.

 

Immediately afterwards, I answered some questions about the song. As my memory glanced back to the song I had been playing minutes earlier, I started to think about how it felt like it had been weeks ago, not minutes ago. I also realised that I cared a bit more about playing that night than I thought I had. The outcome is not really important, but the performance is.

 

Guitar & Music

Whilst there is little to no research done to consider the correlation between playing one’s own music and playing someon e else’s, there is plenty done to reveal the relationship between flow and music as a whole (although there’s always opportunity for more). We mentioned a study done not too long ago discussing the correlation between length of time playing an instrument and the actual instrument played and flow. Finding that string players and those who have been playing for a longer time, particularly with extensive practice hours, are more likely to reach a state of flow. But it is research from the University of London that is of particular interest to this article.

Their findings revealed “flow was predicted by the amount of daily practice and trait emotional intelligence”. Now the first part of this should really be a given. The more we practice, the greater our myelin production, the better our muscle memory, the more skilled we become, the higher the ability-challenge level we can set for ourselves, and ultimately the greater intensity of flow we can feel. However, emotional intelligence still needs a lot more research before its relationship to flow is fully understood. The aforementioned study also notes a link between the style of music played and flow, with a positive correlation between the romantic styles of Chopin in particular and flow. Now this could be due to increased exposure to a certain composer or style, but equally it could be that the pianists in the study found flow whilst playing music they liked.

It is here that the research gap exists. If we assume that the music created by an individual is also liked by that individual. Does playing your own music have a positive impact on reaching a state of flow?

If we throw ourselves into a performance situation, suddenly we have high risk, immediate feedback and a rich environment priming us for flow.

So why not try it? Today, instead of practicing someone else’s piece, write your own. Just play what comes out of you and gradually structure it into a composition. You might find you reach flow sooner than you think.

 

Thanks for this Article to Fraser Pash and friend of The Flow Centre.

Whiplash – How To Reach Perfection

Whiplash – How To Reach Perfection

Music Performance Skills Stories Tips and Training

After watching a fantastic film called ‘Whiplash’ I feel almost obliged to inflame a topic that is wide open for debate in many modern day performance arenas. How do we push people beyond their limits?

The film brilliantly depicts the relationship between an ambitious student jazz musician and an abusive, yet highly respected instructor. The student, Teller, is seeking to be more than just a great drummer, but ‘one of the greats’. His teacher, Simmons, equally is only looking to shape and mould the next musical genius. Simmons methods of coaching are outrageous and would send most psychologists into red alert, as his abusive conduct produces heart-broken and dysfunctional teenagers.

His position as Head of Music for the most prestigious school in the country is undoubtedly the reason these students remain in his class despite being physically, mentally and emotional abused in the hope that one day they will graduate as a name to remember. Teller’s remarkable talent is questionably furthered by Simmons who pushes him to his limits and in the process opens up much food for thought and topics for debate surrounding performance.

 

perfect

 

His methods of gutting their confidence, and putting their heads under the guillotine every time they play installs a fear induced motivation that ironically leaves the musicians driven to train harder and faster than they have before. Simmons uses his power to great effect and yields nothing but exceptional results, yet causes the musicians a life of discontent, isolation, and madness. Simmons power-plays back Teller into a corner where he is either forced to perform or crack. Teller like most of us does both over time but at the end his anguish and determination ignites a mind-blowing peak performance just when he needs it most.

The story is fitting with much of the training that we associate happening decades ago and is still publicly rife in places like China, as they arguably abuse young athletes until they reach a level of perfection. The obvious commentary is that these methods are not only inhumane but also unsustainable – the performers are the ones who have to live inside their twisted minds and bodies long after the lights go out.

This approach leaves behind many broken minds and bodies that given alternative training may have blossomed into something quite unique and amazing. However, Simmons argues the point in the film, that anything else will simply not produce the next genius that will be remembered for generations. This strategy of work harder, faster, until you drop, at a lesser extent is undoubtedly a typical go to response for most coaches, even today. I see it on tennis courts, in fitness instructors, and corporations reminiscing a hangover from World War II that never went away. Although coaches have adopted the social norms and limits that counteract these extreme teachings the underpinning philosophy still bubbles underneath the surface – I see fear installed in many students and workers all around me.

As performers or coaches it forces us to answer the question: How do we go about pushing our limits and of those around us? Do we use fear as a motivator, which always seems to get short-term results but continuously fails to generate lasting desire. Telling ourselves to pull our socks up and do better for the fear of looking like a fool or being somehow belittled is no doubt one of our go-to strategies. One that many of us have been brought up with and use on a day-to-day basis. If we are to not use this strategy, and change a lifetime of conditioning, then what do we use?

With flow as our central ethos there is another method, one that produces self-generated motivation, fulfilled performers and doesn’t reduce the bar of excellence that is needed to be ‘one of the greats’. When our focus is 100% committed on being the best version of ourselves, do we expect anything less than hard work, determination and resilience? Absolutely not. If we do then I would question whether we are seeking flow or an excuse to go easy on ourselves.

Being in an intense state of flow requires our mind and body to be completely congruent. That means every fabric of our body being aligned to achieve the same goal. In this space there is no room for conflict, fear or separation, instead we are completely immersed and at one with the task at hand. To attain this state repeatedly, it would seem logical we need to have our minds and body congruently primed in our training and life as a whole. If otherwise, these conflicts no matter how small will act like splinters, which will undoubtedly lead to cracks in the system and when the pressure mounts most likely cause us to crumble.

We can reach flow through fear or hatred by erupting to a point where we snap and either find our true magnificence or a road to destruction. This snapping point tips us into a place where we transcend out of our body and into the zone that is ironically free from fear and anger. The fear can increase our arousal to a point where we are forced to plug into the moment and let go or be crippled by it and fight, fly or freeze. Although this strategy is possible, dare I say, still commonplace, an alternative more sustainable, fun, and contagious option is readily available – flow.

 

 

Aucamthor: Cameron Norsworthy – Performance Director