On Being Fluid And Deliberate


A fair many years ago at one of my music lessons my teacher, Russell, suggested that I make my body movements more fluid, more deliberate. I was playing a multi-percussion piece for marimba and some tom-toms, moving from one instrument group to another, probably rather abruptly. Russell suggested making the tempo of my gestures match the tempo of the music. He spoke of how the time of the music continues even in the silences between sections as I move among the instruments. He also spoke of the concept of theatricality: it was a question of good optics intersecting with how I might conceptualize the music differently—more holistically—and bring more power to my playing. He demonstrated so I could see what he meant, moving from the drums off to one side over to the marimba in the middle in one fluid shift of body weight and focus. As I watched I noticed that he held my attention as much when he wasn’t making a sound as when he was. It was a kind of theater because there was something magical, or at least deeply intentional about it.

Sometime recently I noticed that I had begun playing differently. Maybe it started a few years ago, but I became conscious of it only a few months ago. I noticed that my gestures at my instruments were expanding, even though no one but me can see them. The tambourine roll had become a grand left to right arm arc as I traced the jingle-jangle with a calibrated shape. The marimba playing was more relaxed, more playful. The hand drumming was more economical and easy. What I noticed in particular was how I moved from the marimba to the drum behind me. After the last chord my hands came slowly upwards off the keys, as if my mallets were wands. At the same time I pivoted 180 degrees in slow-motion—slow enough to make use of the bars of rest—to face the drum and bring my hands down just in time to play.

All this was a little theatrical: as my gestures sought flourish I had finally heeded that long ago lesson to be more fluid and deliberate.

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