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Owning the stage & communication in ensembles at Verbier

Verbier Academy and Festival

I feel so privileged to have worked at Verbier for six days in July and it was a wonderful experience. My work was wide-ranging which I love. The Manage your Performance Nerves talk and master class was well received by around 40 Academy students, aged between 18 and 29 and exceptionally talented. But these talented musicians also have their insecurities, as do we all. Two of them courageously volunteered to participate in the master class at the end which was illuminating for everybody. When I asked each of them how they felt when they were playing/singing, each said: “Terrible – so nervous.” The audience was palpably shocked because it wasn’t evident by their performance. But as we worked and I helped them free up, with the support of their colleagues in the audience, they started letting go, and the music became noticeably more expansive and expressive.

A view of the Swiss Alps in Verbier

The workshop I gave, which we called Owning the Stage, was a new one for me, although I have been doing similar work in my performance class with students at Leeds College of Music over the last year. It was to help students present themselves well on stage in terms of speaking and general body language. The music we left alone. The students were a mix of string players, pianists and singers, and I have to say that the singers’ contribution was wonderful; they were so game for everything! We worked a lot on how they would present themselves to a panel in an audition. A native French speaker was impressive in her presentation generally, but garbled anything spoken in French so that it was inaudible. Another singer could sing superbly, but her body language told another story – that she was shy and lacking in confidence. All improved dramatically with some great feedback from their colleagues. Then the singers, a number of whom were also teachers, fed their knowledge of breathing techniques to the string players which was well received. Over all it was a stimulating and delightfully collaborative workshop.

Charlotte Tomlinson coaching chamber group in Verbier

I gave my talk and master class Tension, aches and pains: why musicians should pay attention to the Verbier Junior Festival Orchestra and the Verbier Festival Orchestra, again, an incredible bunch of players, who were so responsive. I had two string players and two brass players volunteer to play. It was gratifying to see a violinist who played superbly right from the beginning play even better once she had let go of her physical armouring, and a trombone and trumpet player feel more comfortable and at ease, once they had let go of their tension in their necks and shoulders.

I’m glad to be doing more of this physical/body work. As I wrote in my last newsletter, I feel that in the past, the musical world in general has only believed that the medical community can help musicians from a physical perspective and when it gets so bad a musician can’t play. I hope it is changing. So much of the support musicians need when they are having aches and pains needs to be very simple: it needs to come from a good, healthy use of their body along with a strong body awareness. It’s what the athletes do in abundance, but it doesn’t seem to be part of the culture for musicians until an injury occurs.

Charlotte Tomlinson coaching chamber group in Verbier

Along with individual coaching sessions, I also spent an hour with each of the 10 chamber ensembles. This was to support them in finding ways to rehearse and communicate with colleagues with emotional intelligence. What fascinating work! I started by giving them what I feel are the basics of good communication: trust, respect and belief in yourself and the others in your ensemble, along with taking responsibility for your own feelings. When you have the basis of trust and respect, it is much easier to communicate in a way that doesn’t cause distress to the other members; it leads more naturally to clear, straightforward

communication. Taking responsibility for your own feelings means that if you are in a bad mood, you know it’s your stuff and that you need to deal with it. You don’t automatically dump it on other people in the group, which can cause a lot of problems.

Two violinists playing back to back

I also encouraged each group to play ‘musical games,’ all of which helped their communication and trust of each other. Everything we explored was put in the context of playing music. With each group, there was a before and after, and every group noticed how much their playing had changed after the games and discussions, just in the course of an hour. I love this work and seeing musicians change: roll on a whole load more!


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