“Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other in the integration of the human being because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the Soul on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the Soul of him who is rightly educated truly graceful.” – Plato
I wonder whether most of us, performers and listeners alike, fall in love with the sound of an instrument before we even know how and why it has such an effect upon us. The primacy of sound—its essential fascination—indicates a deep internal need for the connection to life, first of all in the womb where the heartbeat of the mother is heard, then after birth as the newborn is attuned to the sound of its mother’s voice, and much later as the creative drive manifests, in a longing to make something of our own out of the sounds that surround us. Just about every great musician relates the tale of when they first heard that sound of the instrument that would become their life companion. To put the importance of sound in perspective, on the opposite end of the spectrum is the terror of the prisoner in solitary confinement deprived of every form of vibration—the human voice, the sounds of Nature, and of course music, which has become as omnipresent as speech in our modern world. Without sound, where is our echo? Sound—vibration—is food for the sensory nervous system and ultimately for the soul.
I became fascinated with how to produce sound at the cello upon hearing one of my teachers for the first time. His sound possessed a certain radiance and vibrancy, a shimmering and deep resonance, and once that quality of sound took hold in my ear, it did not let go of me, not for years. I had to find out how such beauty was possible to create.
It took me most of my life to understand what it means to ‘embody’ a sound, to allow an instrument to ring with one’s whole body, from head to toe. The Alexander Technique has been an important discipline along the searching path; later when I read the writings on music by the Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan, I understood the idea of sound as an expression of soul, not only emotion. My teacher at The Juilliard School used to say that sound is a vehicle for emotion, but it is more. In the properly resonating string, there are vibrations which form the food of sensory impressions, and this food is as essential to our body and soul’s well-being as the food of Nature is to our cells.
So the question began to turn on how to produce that resonance, and later as my understanding deepened, on how not to get in the way of it. We have to come into the right relationship with an instrument, not smothering it, pressing it, dominating it, or abrogating its laws. And of course the Alexander Technique opened my eyes to what I was doing to myself before I even picked up the cello. As in every true partnership, when one begins to look inward, the relationship changes. As I learned how to put my hands on the cello quietly, listening instead of imposing, the sound began to change. As the inner tension and contraction lessened within myself, there was room for the vibrations to be created on the instrument. One makes the sound in keeping with the being that one is becoming.