Friday, July 15, 2005

du calm


Today was the yearly trip over the shoulder of the Ventoux to inspire purple smells and to exhale; to be in the burr of the bees' industry whilst they make our royally scented jelly. Today was lavender day. Whilst fortunes are being made selling 'du calm' in bottles of essential oil and eau de linge I got to thinking about how, short of droplets of oil on the fingerboard, we can attain a sense of inner calm in performance:

In a recent concert I was observing the continuo cellist. It was a hairy aria - one in which there are frequent exposed soli, mostly which arise from silence. I noticed that for my colleague these silences were not part of the music but rather a hellish public preparation for each ordeal to come. Uncharacteristically for her, none of her preparatory movements were in rhythm or character; her hands, frozen in a vast span, gripped the fingerboard; her thumb was white with tension; her elbows were locked, her wrists rigid and fingers sweaty. Most critically, her lungs were on hold and every cell of her was holding on till it was all over.

We've all been there.

Everyone's journey with stage-fright is a different one, I'm sure. For me the clue to recovery lay in hatha yoga - a philosophy of breath and movement, in which I learned to inhale air (inspiration) and then let go of movement (expression).

I used to hyper- ventilate when I played. This, I now see, was probably symbolic of my general control freak nature. I learned, through yoga, to let go physically of that which I had taken in and my breathing problems stopped, as did my nerves. When I think about that young insecure cellist, I conjure up the image of a tennis player making a finely-tuned preparatory back swing but, rather than hitting the ball and allowing it to follow through freely, she takes the ball and places it where she wants it to be.

As instrumentalists, the paradox of trying to hold on to movement is just as extreme. However, unlike the tennis player on the wrong side of the court, we usually succeed in playing the notes anyway, with bow shakes and intonation problems the only indications of our resistence.

Yoga taught me, essentially that all expressive movement happens by letting go, on the release, and it's a joy....

...on the cello that is. Life is another matter, and as I walked in-between the combed mounds of two-tone blues, inhaling nature's very own 'du calm', I wondered how long before I learn to feel this liberty elsewhere than on a fingerboard and a gut string!

It's time to train the mind.



Blogger Karen said...

I'm mostly happy to stay at home these days, but I admit I would love to see and smell all that lavender. Oh, my.

Thanks for the yoga thought, too.

3:01 AM  
Blogger andrea said...

Sara Genn has done some lovely pastel drawings of the "lavender roads" of Provence. They're very simple and strong. Take a peek:

4:27 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

Sorry about the URL. Try:

If this doesn't work and you're still curious, click on the archives link on her "paintings" page.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Daisy Mae said...

The pictures of the lavender fields are absoutely beautiful! It looks like paradise on earth.

1:08 AM  
Anonymous seo said...


Cela fait plaisir de voir de si belles photos. Si je rentre un jour en France, je retournerai en Provence a coup sur!

2:22 AM  
Anonymous Becca said...

such thoughtful writing and extraordinary photos ... I have always loved lavendar - the color and the scent.

6:13 PM  
Anonymous roger said...

Ruth - check out this story about Lavender in Carshalton (Surrey) of all places! I linked you in...

7:58 AM  
Blogger Tessa said...

Surrey Lavender Please have a look at

Thanks to these people a lovely bit of our local history and heritage has been reintroduced.

Lavender has been grown in Britain for centuries brought here by the Romans and grown extensively in the S. London/ Surrey area in the 18th and 19th centuries only to move to Norfolk when the land was needed for housing.

1:04 PM  
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Anonymous prague lodging said...

Wow very lovely lavender fields..Looks very relaxing..

4:54 AM  

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