The Breath of Life

I realize I haven’t written in a while. Nothing has been going on that has been particularly noteworthy. My routines have been just that–routine. To routinely write about routines would become routinely boring and then I would routinely lose what few routine readers I have routinely gained by routinely writing about routine things. Hmm, that was really quite unnecessary, I think. Ah well, I’m too lazy to go back and fix it.

Anyway, I’ve felt the need to write some things which have been on my mind, instead of the usual “I did thus and so on such and such date because of blah reason” bit. So, here it goes.

The word “eccentric” has several different definitions listed in the dictionary, but the overall meaning of the word is simple: off-center. We, as a society, have naturally decided to complicate it by linking it to what it could mean within human nature. When most hear the word, it’s usually spoken in an almost hushed tone. It is used to very politely call somebody “one hell of a weirdo.”

As a rule, our society has put musicians within the “eccentric” category. While there is a rather broad range of just how eccentric a musician (or anyone for that matter) can be, the meaning is the same. All musicians have some social habits and ways of thinking which everyone else thinks are outright weird. Now that I think on it, it’s the same way for anyone who has been given any sort of social label. That includes everybody in this strange world of ours. In so many words, I’ve just said that everybody has their oddities—myself included—and because everyone has eccentricities, you won’t mind a bit if I share mine with you… well, one of them.

I’m one of those musicians who try to put musical meanings to everything. Actually, a better way of putting that would be that I tend to take the nonmusical experiences in life and try to apply or link them somehow to music. I also can understand unfamiliar concepts a lot easier if they are explained to me in musical terms. As a result, I often times will hear a particular phrase in the English language which sticks in my head, like a fragment of a familiar piece, and my mind is always trying to figure out some way to “internalize” it and apply it to other experiences.

I know, I know, I’ve worded things far too abstractly. I tend to do that sometimes. My point is that I have been feeling the urge to write some of these musical thoughts down as they come to mind. Hence, the new category in this blog. I will often times either think of some way to apply a general concept to music, or apply a musical concept to a general one. It helps me find ways to solve problems. For you scientists, it’s basically my shortcut to solving life’s little equations.

Today’s thought happens to be a nonmusical concept applied to a musical one. I have been reading some interesting flute-related articles on breathing, and I’ve just had this particular phrase running around my head as a result. Actually, it’s not really so much a phrase as it is a title, a title of four simple words: “The Breath of Life.”

The phrase didn’t initially appear until I found myself remembering an interview I had with KSL Five, back in 2009, as part of the publicity which came with winning a particular competition. I couldn’t remember exactly what had been said, but I did remember the reporter had said something about breathing life into something.

I did a bit of research and found the article, which I was able to link to above for your convenience. I found the phrase that had caught my attention, and my mind began to create a train of thought around it. Here are the reflections which have stuck most firmly in my head.

The Breath of Life is not just used as reference to the famous biblical moment wherein God gave life to Man. It is common terminology for a medical practice in which one breathes into another individual’s mouth in order to revive him if he has stopped breathing.

The flute is an instrument which requires breath to produce its sound. While there are several other components which assist in achieving a clear, solid tone, the breath is the primary component. The breath is the foundation of obtaining that rich, golden tone that is the goal of every woodwind or brass instrumentalist. This means that if you do not have a solid foundation, you won’t have a solid tone.

Every single aspect of playing an instrument requires a percentage of your focus. Too many people seem to either exclude or put too little focus toward that first breath just before the opening notes of a performance. As a result, the first bars of that performance are marred, and the audience loses the initial excitement which comes with the composer’s opening notes.

Don’t just pay attention to how your body is feeling just before your opening breath. Pay attention to what your mind is doing. What are you focused on? Are you focused on a face in the audience, a particular pain splotch on the wall, the couple whispering a few rows back? Are you focused on the possibility that you might screw up your first note, perfecting that middle passage once you get to it? The more stable focus points are going to help you find the mentality needed to take a deep, confident, stable breath. Avoid visual distractions, if at all possible. Close your eyes if you have to, and try to go into yourself, rather than reaching out to the little sounds of the concert hall.

I have trouble with these things myself, believe it or not, and like all things, practice is going to help perfect them. The more I perform, the better I will get at finding my focus points and centering myself enough to take that first breath and make the opening breath as important as the opening note. It is additionally important that you don’t take too long to do this, because there is at least one member of the audience who will feel that slightly odd awkwardness which comes with taking too long to center.

Once you find your center and take that opening breath, don’t let that tiny space of time before your first note make you lose confidence! If you take the Breath of Life scene in the bible, try to imagine God taking this nourishing, stable, deep breath, and then letting it sort of trickle out. Even worse, what if God held back? When you breathe, use that tiny space of time before the opening note to show yourself who’s boss. Mankind didn’t get up and start walking around because God got scared or distracted. What if you were reviving someone with CPr and Mouth-to-Mouth? Would you hold back?

When you inhale, you’re preparing to revive your instrument. For instrumentalists who don’t need to breathe to give their instruments life, you can still breathe just before you play. It will help you find that center point of focus which gives life to the opening notes which the composer has written.

I used to wonder if that news reporter was right in saying that I breathed life into my instrument. When I began paying attention to my breathing, I began to understand what I should have been doing ages ago. Don’t just breathe, breathe life. Don’t just give, give life. Instrumentalists, don’t just play—play life! When you choose a piece to perform, you choose it because there is something in it that you can relate to. The fact that you can relate to this piece makes it a part of you, and that piece becomes a part of your life. Play your life, don’t just play. It all starts with your first breath, and it should end with your last. Dazzle your audience! Make your finale one to remember.

Forever Eccentric,