Opinion: Relaxed body, focused mind | Prime ❘ Debate
All art forms are mirrors of ourselves. From writers to composers, dancers to musicians, artists to actors – the moment we are touched by inspiration, time stops and we focus inward to create a transcendent artistic experience. It is the goal of every musician to communicate from the soul through music.
Ancient Chinese ideology taught that a cultured person should study in six areas: etiquette, musicology, archery, chariot driving, literacy, quantitative methodology, and cosmology.
To explain each area in more detail:
- The label encompasses human and social behavior. It includes law, management and communication sciences
- Musicology includes musical performance, popular culture, ceremonies, rituals, and spirituality
- Archery broadly represents martial skills, sports and men’s competition
- Tank driving is synonymous with martial arts and physical culture
- Literacy includes reading, writing, literature, history and philosophy
- Quantitative methodology and cosmology are synonymous with physics, arithmetic and mathematics.
Music comes second in this ranking and is considered in the same category as spirituality. How appropriate! Because it is through spirituality that a musician finds his true voice.
String players use their bodies asymmetrically. A good set of strings is a combination of excellent left hand action and a musical right arm. It’s interesting to think about how our brains would have to work in order for the two parts to break free from each other. A tight left hand often means a tight right hand, which could result in a stiff arch. A stiff right arm often means a lack of internal flow, which can manifest as a stiff neck or inflexibility in the left arm. The key is to cultivate a sense of flow from within.
As a child, I loved Chinese calligraphy. Each training session lasted two hours. During this time there was often only silence. I would sit down with my black ink stone, my rice paper, and my study book, and I would practice line by line, character by character. It was one of my favorite activities and I was good enough to represent my school at local competitions. This discipline involved cultivating a relaxed body and a focused, clear mind, as well as a conscious way to couple each stroke with the breath. The right hand established a relationship with the brush pen in much the same way as with a bow – gently guiding, while still allowing it to direct. Calligraphy has become an opportunity for meditation in my busy college schedule.
In Chinese calligraphy, every little factor affects the overall result. For example, when you wet the ink stone and grind it, the amount of water in relation to the number of turns you give the ink stick affects the intensity of the darkness. Like other art forms, once the brush pen touches the paper, there is no turning back. There is only one direction and one test. If you linger too long, even half a second! – the ink penetrates through the rice paper and the shape of the line is ruined.
The process of writing Chinese calligraphy requires us to think about the strokes before the pen touches the paper. You could say there is a good “tempo” and a good “rhythm” for a specific move: when to go fast and slow, when to pause just the right amount, when to end with a flourish. Watching great masters at work takes immense patience: the act is timeless, and they often seem to know exactly how it will end.
Calligraphy and string playing have a lot in common. They both require that we activate “the eye of the mind” and “contemplation of the mind”. By strengthening the eye of our mind, we practice imaginary movement in our head before action. Through contemplation of the spirit, we reveal the spiritual and transcendent aspects of calligraphy and music. A novice calligrapher practices “unity” over and over again before moving on to more complex strokes. The unit is represented by a point and a horizontal line – which literally means number one (Yi) in Chinese. It’s kind of like playing strings when we have to start by feeling the strings for articulation, then move on to open strings practice over and over again – cultivating the flow – before we can even add the left hand.
The modern western arc evolved from the Byzantine Empire in the mid-5th century. These primitive arches were convex like an archery bow. In the Baroque era, playing techniques developed further and the structure of the bow had to change in order to improve control. Instead of calling the arc directions “up” and “down” in today’s terms, the French use push (push) to indicate the arc up and shoot (shoot) to indicate the arc down. When we imagine pushing and pulling, suddenly the feeling of weight in the sound becomes present. Like a brush stroke, it is by pulling and pushing back the hair so carefully that the calligrapher manages to master his writing.
There is a Chinese saying 字 如其 人; it means “you can read a person by his calligraphy”. If the mind and the brush are united, then calligraphy has a soul and communicates the heart of the artist. Isn’t it the same with sound? We know we can instantly identify the sound of great players. The indescribable quality of hearing an honest voice – it can be expressive, loving, happy, humorous, grieving or grateful, but most of all, it’s the vulnerability of sound that touches us. There is no hiding place on stage; we are here to write our own musical calligraphy.