The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music interview: How the Feldenkrais Method improves the physical and artistic sides of making music. Part 2 of 2. | June 4, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Starting this Saturday, June 5, and running through June 19, UW cellist Uri Vardi and his flutist-Feldenkrais practitioner wife Hagit Vardi (below), will be conducting major workshops at the University of Wisconsin School of Music about using the Feldenkrais Method, and its application to voice and other instruments and especially to the cello.


Since The Ear knows little or nothing about how this modern methodology works, I asked Uri Vardi to explain about it and to recap about his history with it and his experience with it.

So, for the next two days, I will post a question-and-answer session, done via e-mail, with Uri Vardi, who at the end of July and beginning of August is going to record — with Chilean pianist Paulina Zamora, violinist David Perry of the UW Pro Arte Quartet and his clarinetist son Amitai Vardi — the three Piano Trios by Brahms (which they performed here this past spring) plus the Clarinet Trio for the Eroica label

I also hope to attend some sessions myself and report back on them.

Members of the public are invited to audit individual cello master classes  (with Timothy Eddy from Juilliard, Steven Doane from Eastman, and Uri Vardi), and seminars on a range of topics.

Some of the topics besides the Masterclasses are: “Creating the Foundation: Tools for the Developing Cellist”; “Mind-Mapping the Fingerboard:  toward a Systematic Approach to Intonation Practice”; “Kinesthetic sense for fluency and  tone production”; “Natural Resources”; “Kinesiological Considerations for Musicians”; “Brain Plasticity and its Relevance to Musicians”; and a Baroque Dance seminar, conducted by a professional Baroque dancer who will teach participants the actual steps and gestures of the dances from Bach’s Cello Suites.

The cost is $20 per session and $60 per day.  Students and seniors may attend for $15 and $50, respectively. Detailed schedule information can be found on the National Summer Cello Institute’s website http://www.music.org/feldenkrais.html and at http://www.music.org/cgi-bin/showpage.pl?tmpl=/profactiv/profdev/2010strad/schedule&h=117

Background about Uri and Hagit Vardi can be found at http://www.harmoniousmovement.com

I hope you find it as informative as I did.

Feel free to ask questions and add comments, so that the Vardis can respond:

How does using the method manifest itself in music-making?

Physical flexibility allows for the shaping of sound.  The color palette and tone variations expand. It also improves intonation and spatial issues such as shifting, and string crossing for string players.

The flexibility of the body encourages creativity of the mind. I find that musicians become more imaginative and tend to experiment more with interpretation. Generally with flexibility and awareness come greater coordination, overall technical proficiency, security and confidence.

Musical expression encompasses the whole range of human emotions.  Although the exploration of expressive nuances does not necessarily lead directly to the ultimate mastery of a composition, it frequently results in the expansion of the performer’s personality and music-making abilities.

This way of learning is organic rather than linear.  Instead of setting concrete, simple goals and learning the prescribed tools to attain them, in organic learning the experimentation with different ideas provides the player with the freedom to choose among a whole array of options for expressing a musical intention.

What changes or results have you seen in professional musicians?

I am constantly fascinated by the change in sound that I get from my cello when I make slight changes in movements while playing. When my students make similar discoveries in their own playing or observe audible improvement when a performer attends to subtle changes in body movement, it fascinates and excites both them and me.

In order to gain the ability to meet any composition’s demands, instrumentalists must have a vast repertoire of movements that will give them the freedom to use their bodies with maximum efficiency.

Most of us accept the ways in which we move as if they are a part of our genetic makeup.  In reality, we learned to move by trial-and-error, and our nervous system is wired according to our experiences. Unless we challenge ourselves to question this wiring and explore new possibilities of movement, we limit our range of expression.

How can it be useful to amateur musicians or the public?

This method is very useful to anybody.  I believe that amateur musicians can have more fun playing when they don’t need to struggle so much playing their instruments.

Auditing the Workshop could open a window not only to the relevance of Feldenkrais in music making, but to a range of topics related to cello playing and teaching that will be presented during the Institute.

Are there other things the public should know about you, the method and the conference as well as your plans for the future?

I’m passionate about playing music of different genres: the traditional “Classical Music” and ethnic music (especially the combination of western music and Arabic art music). I have collaborated with my colleague/friend and Oud artist Taiseer Elias, in both chamber music settings, and solo performances of a double concerto, “The Forty Steps” by Joel Hoffman.  Last season, we performed this composition with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain.

My other passion is helping young cellists discover themselves, and providing them with good tools to communicate their musical ideas with their audience. I love to attend concerts of former students, but my greatest joy is to listen to good students of former students, who audition to the UW School of Music. This is a bit like having “music grandchildren.”

The National Summer Cello Institute is my attempt to help young cello teachers, or prospective teachers from around the country (and other parts of the world), explore different ideas about cello playing and teaching. We have a group of 29 musicians who registered to take part in this journey. The College Music Society (a national organization for higher music education with over 40,000 members) co-sponsors this event, and is in charge of the administrative and promotional aspects of the NSCI.

Still need more information?

Here is a video of Hagit Vardi talking with the head of the UW Integrative Medicine Department:


Posted in Classical music

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