Jenny's Waldorf Homeschool Classes

April 8, 2010

Of Running and Music

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Jenny Sage @ 9:05 pm

This story begins with a new pair of running shoes. I ran on them yesterday for the first time, and found the experience to be utterly disheartening. Barely a mile out, and my feet were in excruciating pain, my whole body felt like collapsing, and I was miserably short of breath. My first run of the season, after a long, cold winter of not running at all, was three miles, and it was easy. So why this sudden frustration? I blamed it on the shoes. I took them off in despair, and carried them home, my bare feet hating me the whole way. Back in my apartment, I collapsed into my favorite papasan chair, ruthlessly upset at myself for having thrown away the receipt.

But after a short nap, and after summoning up the determination not to give up yet, I turned to that one, great dispenser of all knowledge that has come, in our time, to be revered above most other things: The Internet. (Those who are adept runners will know where I am going with this. But bear with me. There’s more.) On the internet, I discovered that my shoes do, in fact, fit. Perfectly. So what was the problem? For one thing, all sites offering advice to new runners say never, ever to pull a new pair of shoes right out of the box and go for a long run in them. It’s important, I learned, to break them in first. This had me convinced partially, but I still had the feeling that there was more going on. These shoes felt sloppy on my feet.

But to make a long part of this story slightly shorter, I discovered, in my searchings, that perhaps it was not my shoes that were sloppy, but my running technique. So I read up on that some more, and found that I had, in fact, been doing the wrong thing with my feet all along. Of particular interest to me was Barefoot Ken Bob’s website (http://therunningbarefoot.com/). He explains that, if you run barefoot, you cannot help but run correctly. So this morning, still highly skeptical about this claim, I took a couple of barefoot laps around my tiny living room. To my surprise, I found out instantly what he was talking about!

Feeling inspired, I laced on the new shoes again, and headed out. What a different world! I had to think hard each time a foot came down, and it took a while to get the hang of it. But as running well started to come more naturally, I also began to realize that now, these shoes were supporting and going with my movements, instead of resisting them. So there it is. These shoes were built to require me to run properly. As I jogged easily homeward, I thought to myself, I think I would like to try running a 5k.

But wait. Hold on there. This statement means little when coming from many people. But the fact that it floated into my mind is nothing short of miraculous. For all of my life, running has been my arch nemesis. The one thing I truly hated. Even as a child, I hated to run, or even to walk or stand. After my persistence in lying down in a corner while shopping in department stores, and collapsing to the ground near to tears while waiting in lines, my parents brought me to a podiatrist, who diagnosed me as a severe overpronator. For whatever reason, I never had custom orthotics or corrective surgery; I did receive better sneakers, and when I was a teenager, I discovered athletic shoes that could  help with my particular problem. But for the most part, I simply learned to deal with the pain that happened whenever I had to be on my feet. I accepted it as part of my life. Whenever someone mentioned running, I would screw up my face and express my hatred. I hated even watching other people run.

Then, about a year ago, I got incredibly sick. Whatever I had, it was a high fever that kept me unable to get up for an entire month. Not having health insurance, I simply laid on the couch, waiting it out. Even after I got better, it was a long, long time before I was able do very much. I had grown into a habit of lassitude; I lacked ambition and felt depressed.

Then one morning I woke up and decided that I had to do something to get out of this rut that being sick had put me in. Therefore, I was going running. Was I crazy? I amazed myself when I realized that I was actually going to do it, and I amazed myself even more when I ran, with a couple of short walking breaks, for two miles. After that, running became my utmost joy. I ran every day that I possibly could.

This morning, as I jogged home in my new running shoes, I smiled as I thought these things over, and realized how far I have come. Back in college (and before that as well, come to think of it), my relationship to my body was tenuous at best. I did not consider myself to be flexible, coordinated, or athletic. I should mention that I WAS headed in that direction: I took up swimming laps, and learned various kinds of dancing. But my body was more like a loose cloud that I inhabited; my relationship to it was not real, focused or immediate.

Since college, that has changed. I took up skiing, after not having skied for ten years, and found the experience to be revelatory and exhilarating. Next, I took up kayaking, and, as we’ve seen, the following summer I took up running. People who have not seen me for a long time all think that I’ve lost weight. But in fact, the number on the scale has remained constant, to within five pounds, for the last ten years. So what’s happened? My body certainly has changed. It is more condensed, more focused, in a way, than it was. It belongs to me more, and I belong in it more. To experience this is to experience being more fully alive, more fully human.

So why am I writing all this in a blog about my professional education program? The answer lies in the fact that this story has a dark side, which has shadowed everything I’ve written so far. You may have guessed it, if you read the title.

All my life, since I was a young child, I have been a musician. Back in college — in a prestigious Music Conservatory, to be precise — I was on the fast track towards becoming a professional musician. I practiced for five hours every day, played the most virtuosic Vivaldi concertos at 132, and was headed (or so we all believed) to the very best graduate schools in Europe. I was one of the best performers in my department. Until suddenly, due to several disastrous chains of events that aren’t worth delving into here, that ball got dropped. I plummeted, hard and irreversibly, right out of that scene. Although I have taught music lessons, in the years since then, I have not touched my instrument or played for myself, in my own right. Often I ask myself what life would be like right now, if I were graduating from The Hague, in the Netherlands. I wonder, sometimes, if I gave up on my true task.

But while running this morning, I could not help but ponder the correlation between giving up music, and gaining this new relationship with my body. I remembered how many aches and pains and injuries, even serious digestive upsets, I used to have when I played music. Now, those are all gone.

So what does it mean? In the Conservatory, my body was ignored, treated as nonexistent. There is certainly a direct correlation between practicing for five hours a day, and having a dysphoric association to one’s body. On top of this, my instructors did nothing to help. It was a sad fact that, although we use our bodies to produce music, our bodies really are ignored in typical institutions of higher musical learning. I took a music theory class with a professor who delved into new scientific research, to suggest that music affects us physically; at the time, this was considered to be groundbreaking and radical. For the most part, we were asked to approach and play music, not with our bodies, but in the most intellectualized, abstract, theoretical parts of our brain we could access. When I was unable to breathe in the way my teachers wanted, they were quick to tell me, repeatedly, that I was doing it wrong. Their attempts to get me to breathe correctly involved complex, abstract theoretical concepts, with no direct application to skill development. They were completely unable to tell me, in concrete, physical terms, what I was supposed to be doing in order actually to breathe correctly. While all of this was going on, my involvement in music was actually making me physically ill, and preventing me from developing my body’s potential.

So, is music inherently bad for our physical health? I don’t believe so. People love music that they can dance to. The very best popular/folk/independent bands move about like crazy when they play. So there must be something wrong with classical music, not in itself, but in the way it is being taught. We use our bodies to make music, and yet traditional music lessons are being taught as if our bodies are not a part of the picture.

So what can we do? Is it best simply to wave goodbye to any truth there might have been in classical music, as we watch it go swirling away into the plumbing like an expired pet goldfish? I believe that this utter death of music instruction can be viewed within the context of the larger set of ailments that are currently gripping the world. Only the most blind would say that everything in the world is fine right now. But rather than being crushed by the state of things, I would like to side with those who meet these challenges with creativity and renewal. I, specifically, am proposing the renewal of music, as it is a vital part of our human existence. I would like to return to a way of producing music that produces, and utilizes, the way I felt while I was running this morning, rather than preventing or suppressing it. As a graduate of the Resonare foundation course in music (http://www.resonare.org/RESONARE__Foundation_Course_of_Music_and_Anthroposophy/Home.html), I feel that I can see the right direction to start out in. As a student of Spacial Dynamics (http://www.spacialdynamics.com/english/), I can see the ways in which our physical bodies MUST be used, in a conscious, awake manner, if we are to play music that has any meaning in it.

My run this morning helped to clarify my mind, and put into words my goal in teaching music lessons. I have been teaching “traditional” lessons for the past twelve years, but now I am opening the doors to students who want to participate in the development of a whole new system of music education. Using concepts gleaned from my own classical training, from my mother, who has spent over thirty years revolutionizing the business of piano teaching, from the Resonare and Spacial Dynamics courses I have been privileged to be a part of, and from my own teaching experience, I am proposing a system that may appear similar to, but will in fact be the opposite of, this death sentence that music has been subjected to in higher institutions. Ultimately, this system will be designed to contribute to, rather than detract from, our physical, emotional, and mental health. It will not be just a derivation of what goes on in conservatories, handed to amateurs who play as a hobby, because instructors know no other way to teach them. This will be for everyone.

So what are you waiting for? I can’t do this alone, and summer is the perfect time to start learning a new instrument. Grab your spouses, children, parents, grandchildren, grandparents, friends, and jump on board! You won’t be disappointed.

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