Our bodies are our primary intersection with our perceived realities. As a musician I am acutely aware of this fairly universal truth. Perhaps it is not something I have always been consciously attuned to, but I have nonetheless been dealing with it for more than 40 years. The idea of studying the body may conjure images of things such as competitive athletics, exercise and fitness, sexual contact, and other such more overtly and over-hyped forms of physicality while downplaying the more subtle interplay of the body and every day existence, but it is in the latter areas where we may find a wealth of wisdom. We tend to study every nuance of the mind, thoughts and psychology, yet intellectually neglect the vessel that carries it forth, the vessel we deal with, for better or worse, every minute of every day.
My beginnings as a musician were in the 6th grade and probably came about as a reaction to the basic human need for recognition. Although a large child, I was a slow runner and a woefully unskilled athlete. Proficiency in these sorts of physical endeavors was the primary source of self-esteem, and for the information required to establishment a pecking order among 11-year-old boys in my neighborhood. Although not registering high on the cool-o-meter, the clarinet was my personal savior. I was at least cool in my tight circle. I’ve worn many hats over the course of my life since my beginnings as a musician. I’ve been a student, a teacher, and a soldier. I’ve tried to be a writer, a husband, and a father. I am, however, always a clarinet player.
Where does Bodylore fit into the arts, and particularly the world of a clarinetist? There are many surface issues one can address that are related to fashion/apparel and even accessories. Often when we attend a performance of “serious” (a loaded term in itself) music we see that the musicians of the ensemble are wearing all black. The statement here is “I don’t want to be a distraction, you should be focusing on the aural experience.” Conversely, the conductor may be more lavishly attired or sporting a flowing mane, and the soloist may also be clad in a more flamboyant manner. They are the stars of the show and that is the signal being sent and received.
To get to the real heart of the matter vis a vis Bodylore and clarinet performance, one must think of what clarinet playing fundamentally is. Like all melodic music making it is a form of singing, consequently the instrument must become an extension of one’s body. In order for this phenomenon to occur it is first necessary to be acutely aware of the body we have, even before we plug an instrument into it, as well as the synergistic relationship we have between body and extension that can create something aesthetically worthwhile. Daniel Bonade, widely considered the creator of the American style of clarinet playing addressed this in a 1951 lecture.
What is more beautiful than to hear a well-phrased solo played seemingly without effort? A phrase should be like a song, as though produced by a divine voice, without any reminder of the difficulties the player has to cope with. Of course, I have to admit that at certain times, the physical side of the instrument is quite impossible to hide; but if the player has the desire to make his sound as close as possible to perfection, then a great deal has already been achieved. This desire is what will keep one forever improving; trying to reach the unreachable perfection (Bonade 1951).
Of course some basic anatomical literacy is required in order to provide the proper breath support, fluid use of the lips and tongue and, the seamless hand/finger dexterity required, but I firmly believe that the relationship needs to be on a more spiritual level, one that is enhanced by a thorough understanding of Bodylore. The concept of sound first exists in the mind but can only be effectively produced by a melding of mind, spirit and body through ample time searching, reflecting and honing in on that sweet spot where the body and the instrument resonate as one entity.
Want to know more? Check out:
The Signature Sound of Daniel Bonade and his Students: Its Evolution and Attainment:
Body Mapping and Clarinet Pedagogy: https://libres.uncg.edu/ir/uncg/f/umi-uncg-1307.pdf
Thoughts on Studying with Robert Marcellus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giuwB3Q_VTE
Bonade, Daniel. “The Art of Slurring” Internayional Clarinet Association, http://clarinet.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Bonade-The-Art-of-Slurring.pdf